Monday, January 23, 2012

Fluffy New York Style Cheesecake with Salted Caramel Sauce

In my medical School we do a PBL (problem based learning) curriculum. This means that we learn by going through real cases in small groups. Every 8 weeks, each student has to be "Quarterback" for one case, meaning that you lead the group. What this really means for me, is that I get a great excuse to make delicious unhealthy food that I can eat, and feed to other people (so I don't eat the entire cheesecake myself)!

Up until now, I had never made a cheesecake before. And considering it is one of my favorite desserts AND that I love to cook... that is pretty much just an atrocity! So I figured this was as good a time as any. I made a cheesecake for my group and it turned out AMAZING!!!!! OH MY GOSH BEST CHEESECAKE EVER!!!

I should preface, that I didn't pick a particularly easy cheesecake recipe, because I wanted it to be a great cheesecake. Go big or go home, right? So I didn't want one where you just mix together cream cheese and sugar and refrigerate it in a pre-made graham cracker crust. Don't get me wrong, those are still tasty, but I wanted to really do it right and make a real cheesecake.

I did run into my fair share of bumps in the road. Most of these were my fault, for not reading the recipe well  enough before I started making it, but I also had some bad luck tossed in there. For your amusement I have listed my mishaps in short:
  1. The original recipe was in metric units. Bleh! Yeah, I am a sciency person, so I understand metric and can convert stuff... but that doesn't mean I have any clue how many cups is equal to 273 grams of flour... SO I had to convert all of that a few times to make sure it was correct.
  2. The chocolate shortbread crust made WAY too much, so you were supposed to save half of it and toss out something like an additional fourth... something crazy. So I converted all of that into a normal amount of crust for one cheesecake. 
  3. I didn't read the cheesecake recipe well enough, almost put the eggs in whole, before realizing they needed to be separated. Also didn't realize I was supposed to use a giant roasting pan, which I don't own, until it was time to bake the cake. Don't stop here, crisis averted, just made do with what I had (instructions below).
  4. Worst of all: My mixer stopped working in the middle of whipping up the batter. You cannot make a cheesecake without a mixer!!! So I ended up having to go borrow a neighbors mixer at 10 PM, and re-paid them in left-over cheesecake!
However, many mishaps, crazy conversions, and one extremely messy kitchen later, the cheesecake was done. It was TOTALLY WORTH IT!!! 

Hopefully I have laid out the recipe well enough here with all of  my little tips that will help you not make the same mistakes I made. Let me know how it goes for you, and if you come up with any extra tips! One more time, in case you're intimidated by my crazy mistakes and mishaps.. it really is totally worth it, and it isn't a big scary recipe now that it's already converted and laid out step by step for you here, by yours truly!

Chocolate Shortbread Crust
  • 6 and 2/3 Tbl. Butter, cold cubed small 
  • 2 Tbl. Sugar
  • 2/3 cup + 4 Tbl. Flour
  • 4 tsp. Cocoa Powder
Preheat the oven to 350. Using a fork and your fingers, mix all the ingredients into a pebbly, sandy type  mixture. If you have a good food processor, this makes it even easier, but mine is a huge hassle to put together and clean, so I used a fork and fingers. Less fancy, worked great! Press the dough into the bottom of your 10 inch springform pan. Bake the dough for 35 min. Let it cool completely while you're mixing up your other stuff!

Cheesecake Batter
  • 2 pounds Cream Cheese, softened 
  • 1 stick Butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup Creme Fraiche or Sour Cream
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 5 Eggs 
  • 3 Tbl. Flour
  • Zest of one Lemon
Notes before you start: 
  • I used half regular, and half reduced fat. By all means, feel free to use full fat!
  • Eggs will need to be separated into yolks and whites for this recipe (just a heads up, I didn't realize until I was ready to put them in... could have been a major SNAFU)
  • Don't get excited and try to start before the cream cheese and butter are fully softened, if you're tempted just set them both on the stove top while the crust bakes and walk away! It will get all lumpy, and you will have to clean your mixer out a bunch in a row... just wait. They will be soft soon enough.
  • Another place I was unprepared... this recipe calls to bake the cheesecake in a water bath in a big roasting pan. I don't have a big roasting pan (you know, the whole student thing, limited kitchen space, a roasting pan never seemed like something I really needed... whoops!). BUT I made it work, and it turned out great, so don't fear if you end up in this situation. You don't have to go buy a roasting pan! Just see my notes below for what I actually did. 
Once the butter and cream cheese are fully softened, cream these together and add the sugar, lemon zest, and sour cream. Mix these together until just combined. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and mix in until combined. This is my first cheesecake to make, so I'm no expert, but I hear if you over-mix them they get lots of air in them and crack open in the middle when you bake them. So I made sure to just mix it until it was all combined and creamy.

Now you are ready for your separated eggs. Add in the egg yolks one at a time and combine with the creamy mixture. In a separate bowel whip the egg whites until stiff. Once stiff peaks have formed, fold the egg whites into the batter until it all comes together in a big fluffy batter!

Pour the batter in the springform pan, over your baked, cooled, crust. 

Wrap the bottom of your springform pan in aluminium foil to keep water out while you bake it in the water bath. If you have a large roasting pan, you will put the cheesecake in it and and add enough hot water to come halfway up the side of the pan. 

Here's where if you don't have a large roasting pan you can improvise like I did. I tested all my cake pans, and dishes to see if they were big enough. Of course they weren't. So I used a cookie sheet with edges to set the cheesecake down in and filled water up to the rim of the cookie sheet. This will at least keep the bottom from burning on the metal racks, and made sure it cooked evenly with the water. Then I took a big 9x13 cake pan and filled it with water and put it on the bottom rack, below the cheesecake, and this did a great job of helping to steam up the oven and cook it all evenly. 

I'm sure if you have a roasting pan that is slightly superior, but this cheesecake turned out great, so I really don't know how much of a difference it makes. 

Bake the cake at 325 for 1 hour 30 min. Then turn the oven off and open the door just a crack and let your cake cool in the oven for 30 more minutes. Once it has cooled, Remove the cake from the oven and refrigerate for at least a few hours, or overnight if possible!

Salted Caramel Sauce
  • 1 cup + 4 tsp. Sugar
  • 1/3 cup Water
  • 1/2 cup Salted Butter
  • 2/3 cup Heavy Whipping Cream
Let me just begin by saying that this stuff is money! You will probably have left overs after the cheesecake, so it would be awesome on ice cream, or marbled into brownie batter, or by the spoonful, or on asparagus...ok, maybe that is going a little far. But, you get the point!

So in a small-medium sized sauce pan over low heat combine the sugar and water and stir. Heat this over low heat until the sugar fully dissolves in the water. At this point add the butter. Melt it in and stir to mix it all together. Let it come to a boil and cook until it reaches a golden caramel color. You may have to turn the heat up to about a low-medium for this, but keep it pretty, low temperature still. Once the mixture is a nice caramel color, remove it from the heat and add in the cream. Whisk it to combine and put it back on the stove. Once more, let the mixture come to a boil over low heat and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes until it is at a good creamy consistency.

A couple things about the sauce (other than it's delicious-ness). The recipe says to cook until a golden caramel color. This will not happen quickly. It will need to cook off almost all of the water before it starts changing colors, and will get a little clumpy and not look like a sauce (this will fix when you add the cream, though). Take a book with you when you make this, I get nervous when making caramel and want to stir it every 2 seconds, but it will be fine, it won't boil over, and it's kind of hard to burn if you keep it on low heat, so don't hover over it waiting for it to turn colors like I did. It will likely take nearly an hour for the right color to happen (well worth the wait, though).

Once you add the cream, though you only need to cook for a bit longer to get the nice saucy texture. The spoon-test method works great for this. If you're not familiar with the spoon test, you dip a spoon into the sauce and pull it out. Run your finger down the back of the spoon with the sauce. If it runs back together over your finger mark, keep cooking it. If it stays on separate sides of your finger mark, it's done.

Pour it into a jar and refrigerate until you are ready to use it. When you're ready just microwave it or re-warm it on the stove!

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