When asked what I think the ultimate decadance is in food, my mind invariably goes to cheesecake. Silky, creamy, tangy and smooth, cheesecake is a beautiful canvas you really can do anything with. Sweet, savory, topped, filled, crusted, even deep fried. (Yes I said deep fried cheesecake...ignore the gasp from your arteries, it's worth it. Recipe coming soon)
I love cheesecake. In culinary school, we had to come up with restaurant concepts and for my cafe I really wanted to do a cheesecake of the week. In talking this over with classmates, they all thought I was crazy. Trying to find and/or come up with 55 different cheesecake recipes ( wanted a few spares) on top of the rest of the menu would be a monumental task, but I couldn't get the idea out of my head. My non-culinary school friends were thrilled, of course these were the ones who gleefully signed up to eat my home work whenever necessary. So the great recipe hunt began... I tested, reformulated and invented probably close to a hundred different cheesecakes, dwindling them down to a current collection of about 60 before giving up. After making so many cheesecakes I no longer need a recipe. I, the unofficial cheesecake queen, just make them from memory for the most part. But there are a few of the more complicated 'cakes' that still require a reference and this is one of them. Here is my loose interpretation of a turtle cheesecake.
Chocolate Cheesecake with Caramel, Ganache & Almonds
For the crust:
1 1/2 cups Chocolate Cookie Crumbs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 Teaspoon ground cinnamon
For the filling:
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/2 tablespoon butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon espresso or coffee, at room temperature
2 pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
16 Ounces Caramel Candies, cut small or use the caramel bits
2 tablespoons cream
For the ganache:
1 1/2 pounds semisweet chocolate
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 tablespoon butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 Cups Chocolate Covered Almonds, crushed moderately fine
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. To make the crust:
Place the graham cracker crumbs, butter and cinnamon in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until combined. Pour into a 9-inch springform pan. With your hands, press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 12 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
3. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F.
4. In a heat proof bowl over simmering water or in microwave heat caramels with 2 tbs cream for about 3 minutes. Let the bowl sit, undisturbed for a few minutes to distribute the heat then stir to see if the mixture is smooth. If it is, carefully pour over cooled crust and allow to sit until filling is prepared. If it isn't continue to heat in 1 minute intervals until completely smooth.
5. Meanwhile, chop the bittersweet chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl with 1/2 tbs butter. Set over a pan of simmering water and heat until completely melted and smooth. This too can be done in a microwave, but it will only take about a minute, be careful not to scortch the chocolate. Set aside until cooled to room temperature.
6. To make the filling:
Cream the cream cheese, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla and almond extracts, coffee and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed of the mixer to medium and add the eggs, 1 at a time, mixing well. Scrape down the bowl and beater, as necessary. With the mixer on low, add the sour cream, and the cooled chocolate mixture. Mix thoroughly. Carefully pour filling over caramel layer on crust, smoothing the top before placing in the oven.
7. Bake cheesecake for 1 hour. Turn the oven off and allow the cake to sit in the oven with the doora few inches open for 1 1/2 hours. Take the cake out of the oven and allow it to sit at room temperature, until completely cooled.
8. For the ganache:
Place semisweet chocolate cream and butter in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water(or again, do this in the microwave). Add the cream and stir until just melted. Set aside until cooled to room temperature.
9. Remove the cake from the springform pan by carefully running a hot knife around the outside of the cake. Leave the cake on the bottom of the springform pan for serving. Drizzle the ganache over the edges of the cheesecake. Sprinkle the almonds onto the wet ganache as a glue.
10. Drizzle the extra ganache over top of the cheesecake or top with caramel sauce if desired...sometimes I do both.