I started running the idea for this week's Mood Food past some people at work and I got the same response from each and every one of them. Everyone loves cheesecake but “why is it so hard to make?” Well, for one reason or another this question got me thinking. There are a lot of little questions out there that need answering. So I am giving you cheesecake that is easy to make and in return I would like answers to some of these questions. I think it is a fair deal.
This week has actually been all about questions, not the lighthearted "I think the person asking may be a little crazy" questions like those below, but the big stuff. It is this same big stuff that got me thinking about cheesecake. What better food is there to have on your lap while you ponder the meaning of life. So, a few little questions for you and then Tiramisu Cheesecake to ponder them by.
How can something be "new" and "improved"? If it's new, what was it improving on?
Why are all of the Harry Potter spells in Latin if they're English?
Why do people say "heads up" when you should duck?
What type of animal is Snuffaluffagus?
Is there another word for "thesaurus?"
Even as I ask, I think, perhaps it is better to not tell the world the goofy things that go through your head. In my defense I do a lot of repetitive work on our computers in the summer and goofy things help pass the time. At any rate ...
For all the things that we've been through, let's treat ourselves to Tiramisu.
Cheesecake is intimidating, unlike the questions above. I don’t believe for most people that the ingredients themselves are the kicker; it is the many ways that cheesecake can go wrong. Just remember, pastry is like science. It is possible to add ingredients to the formula to achieve a different result, but messing with the base plan can result in catastrophe. Cheesecake follows these rules but only to a point, which makes it far less scary than many other confections. I will start with a basic cheesecake and really if you want to you can stop there, top it with anything you would like and it will be delicious. I am adding the recipe for the Tiramisu topping because it is so delicious that I would feel as though I were depriving you if I left it out. I am also including a substitution for the espresso in the tiramisu recipe for my boss Eric Curts who is the only tireless person on Earth who dislikes coffee.
Spring form pan (if you do have or want one, use a rectangle or square pan with sides three inches or higher and follow along)
Oven at 325
For the cheesecake
5 pkgs cream cheese at room temp
¾ c sugar (a little more or less to taste is fine)
2 tblsp vanilla
Zest from one large lemon (or juice of half a lemon if you cannot zest)
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg or pumpkin spice
½ c flour
For the crust
2 c of graham cracker crumbs or Nilla wafer crumbs
½ stick butter melted
Putting it all together
Take the graham cracker crumbs and mix with the melted butter. The crust should feel sticky but not wet, add more of the graham cracker if needed or a little more butter if it feels to dry. Pour the mixture into the spring form pan and press into a crust. Be sure to allow the crust to go up onto the sides of the pan. Not only does it look great but it helps the cheesecake stay put. Take the crust and set aside.
In the mixer start by whipping the cream cheese until it is smooth. Add your eggs one at a time keeping the mixer on low. You do not want to add too much air. More air means more bubbles which leaves the cake fluffy instead of thick and creamy. Continuing on low speed add the sugar and give it a taste. If it is not sweet enough for you add a ¼ cup more. Now stop the mixer and use a rubber spatula. Add the rest of your ingredients and fold in. The batter should look smooth and creamy. Now add the flour and fold it in as well. The flour will help thicken the cake but will not add any flavor. Now you may need to add a little more flour. The batter should hold away from the sides of the bowl for a few seconds when it is thick enough. I have had to add as much as a cup. Pour into the spring form pan on top of the crust and smooth. Bake for about an hour and a half at 325 degrees. You will know it is done when the top just starts to turn golden. Take it out let cool and refrigerate over night.
Now wasn't that easy. At this point you could top it with chocolate or cherries or both for that matter and have a delicious dessert. However, I am never happy with the simple things so let’s add the topping.
Pan of hot water (turn the heat off before putting the bowl on the steam)
2 bowls for mixing
1 small bowl for wine and coffee
6 egg yolks
6 tblsp sugar
1 pound mascarpone cheese
1 ½ cups espresso or strong coffee cooled (alternative at the bottom)
2 teaspoons Marsala Wine (available at the grocery usually with the vinegars)(for alcohol free boil for 15 minutes or so and cool before using)
12 packaged ladyfingers (available at the grocery) (any light airy cookie will sub)
2 tblsp chocolate shavings or sweetened cocco
Put the wine and the coffee in the small bowl and set aside. Put the egg yolks and the sugar in a metal or glass bowl and beat with the mixer until light and frothy. Now if you are totally grossed out by the traditional raw egg in this recipe there is a solution. Take the mixture right now and place the bowl over a pan of steaming water. Do not let the bowl touch the water. Mix continuously with a whisk over the steam being careful not to let the egg scramble. The mixture will start to become light and airy with a custard like consistency. At this point your eggs are cooked and you can continue. In a separate bowl whip the mascarpone until it is smooth. Fold the mascarpone into the egg mixture until combined. Add a tsp of the coffee and wine and stir. Now take the lady fingers and dunk them briefly in the coffee/wine mix and place them immediately on the cheesecake. Continue until you have an even layer. Sprinkle with coco or chocolate. Next top with the tiramisu custard and spread evenly. Top the whole thing with a generous amount of chocolate cover with plastic wrap and chill for two hours before serving.
As a great add on top with whipped cream before serving.
No Coffee Option
Take one cup of sugar and one cup of water and add them to a sauce pan. Bring them to a boil and over medium heat simmer until the liquid is combined and a little thicker. This will make simple syrup. Cool the syrup slightly and add one tsp cinnamon, one tsp nutmeg and a pinch of ginger. Allow to cool completely before using. Let this be the substitute for the coffee. It will not sub for the wine.