Thursday, September 07, 2006

Cooking School: Extra Creamy Cheesecake

Even though there are many kinds of cheesecake in the world - ricotta cheesecake, vegan cheesecake, marbled cheesecake - the one that springs to mind at the first mention of the word is not the light, airy version that is a delight on a hot summer day, but the velvety, ultra-indulgent, creamy cheesecake. This would be that kind of cheesecake.
The recipe comes from one of the cookbooks of a favorite food blogger of mine, David Lebovitz's Ripe for Dessert. The book is all about fruit and fruit desserts, with recipes from the fairly basic, like Apple and Quince Tarte Tatin, to the more unusual, such as Mango Napoleons with Lime Custard and Coconut Flatties. Of course, the cheesecake itself has no fruit in it. David meant for it to be served with mixed berrries, which I omitted out of sheer laziness. By all means, feel free to slice up some berries of your choice for serving.
The cheesecake has a secret ingredient that contributes to its texture: mascarpone. The use of mascarpone makes the cheecake a little lighter and a little silkier than one you would get if you used all cream cheese. The technique used to bake the cake is a little unusual, as well. It is cooked in a water bath and then, after the appropriate amount of time, the oven is turned off and the cheesecake continues to "cook" for another 30 minutes. This slow cooking means that the cheesecake stays smoother than most and seems just barely done when it comes out of the oven. It sets up more as it cools.
I decided that a thicker crust than originall called for would complement the creamy cake best, so I doubled the small amount David called for. You can halve the crust recipe below, but since I love crust, I can't really imagine that you would want any less. Use the best graham crackers or cookies you can find. Gingersnaps would work well here, but cookies with too much cinnamon might be overpowering.
This is really a fantastic cheesecake, especially if you like your cheesecakes to be rich. It has a fairly mild flavor and a slightly yellow color due to the number of eggs used. This cheesecake must be served cold or it might just melt itself right off your fork. It does seem a bit lighter once it has warmed up, however, so the very best option might be to slice the cake cold and let the individual slices warm up for a few minutes before serving.

Creamy Mascarpone Cheesecake
(from Ripe for Dessert)
16-oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 large eggs, room temperature
16-oz mascarpone, room temperature

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 tbsp sugar (optional, if your cookies need it)

Make the crust:
Preheat oven to 375F. Combine crumbs, butter and sugar and stir together. Press mixture into the bottom of a 9-inch round springform pan and bake for about 10 minutes. Cool completely before filling.

Make the cheesecake:
Heat oven to 325 F and get out a large roasting pan that will fit the springform pan. Cover the sides and bottom of the springform pan very, very well with aluminum foil.
In a food processor, blend sugar and cream cheese until smooth. Add in vanilla extract and the eggs, one at a time, until blended and smooth. Add in mascarpone and process again. Pour into the crust and place in roasting pan. Place the pan in the oven and fill halfway up the sides of the springform with warm water.
Bake for 55 minutes at 325. Turn off the oven and leave the cake inside for 20-30 minutes, until the center just seems set but will still ripple when the pan is jiggled (I left mine in for a bit longer, about 35 minutes, since it seemed a bit loose).
Remove from water bath and cool compeletely on a wire rack. When it has cooled, refrigerate overnight or until cold, before serving.

Serves 12, but it could be more or less depending on how much you like cheesecake.