Thursday, August 30, 2012

Much Ado About Mocha (Mocha Cheesecake)

This post is also available as an article in the 8/29/2012 Williamsport Sun Gazette.

August marks the beginning of one of my very favorite times of year, as blistering heat ebbs and gives way to fresher air, bluer skies, and cooler breezes. Living in the valley, our mornings are often deceptively shrouded in thick fog, only to burn away into the clear light of day. As the season turns, my sister-in-law Sarah and her husband, Seth, take different tasks on their farm, like gathering fresh honey from their many hives. While I had originally intended to feature that glowing, liquid sweetness for today's article, an even more momentous occasion cropped up: Aaron's birthday.

Increases happiness by at least 5%
As we both tend to just buy whatever we want throughout the year, choosing gifts can be hard, but one thing I knew for certain was that I couldn't go wrong with cheesecake. Not content with simple crumb and icing, he craves something a little more involved and the first cheesecake I ever made was for his birthday. It was actually the early prototype of this recipe: smooth, rich, espresso-flavored cappuccino cream layered atop a chocolate wafer crust and drenched in a tawny flow of salted caramel.

Heavy lifting
Cheesecakes present their own challenges and, as I imagine has been the case for many, the thorn in my side has always been the precarious combination of springform pan and hot water bath. With many cheesecake recipes, the importance of the hot water bath cannot be overstated. Hot water buffers the heat of the air around the cake, so it cooks more gently and evenly, while the extra steam and moisture ensure it doesn't crack. Unfortunately, given the nature of springform pans, this may often result in a dishearteningly waterlogged cheesecake. To avoid disaster, make sure you choose a pan with thick, sturdy construction and a large, tight lip. You can also reinforce the seams by lining the outside of your pan with aluminum foil.

In the end, your diligence will be rewarded with this especially sophisticated treat. Crisp chocolate crust crumbles against the luscious, melting mocha filling, spiked with hints of dark espresso, bitter chocolate, and fragrant vanilla paste. The salted caramel sauce is the height of excess, but a simple swirl adds extra sweetness to the deep complexity of the dessert, bringing it into balance. Perhaps not the simplest of my recipes, but certainly a showstopper.

Pour on as much as you like
Mocha cheesecake, salted caramel drizzle
Adapted from Williams Sonoma

Make sure you have a leak-proof springform pan (or one heavily armored in aluminum foil), a large roasting pan it fits within, and a large kettle or saucepan with a spout, for easily pouring in the hot water. Thick silicon oven mitts are likewise invaluable.

For the crust:
16 tbs (2 sticks) cold butter, diced
1/2 c granulated sugar
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour (white would be fine, too)
1/2 c cocoa powder
1/2 tsp sea salt

For the cheesecake:
1 1/2 lbs cream cheese, room temperature
1 c granulated sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 lb sour cream, room temperature
2 tbs instant espresso powder
1 tbs cocoa powder
2 tsp vanilla paste or vanilla extract

For the glaze:
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 tsp sea salt

Pulse the butter, sugar, flour, cocoa powder, and salt  in a food processor until the mixture resembles lightly dampened sand. Press the dough into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Rich, chocolatey doughvaltine
Preheat an oven to 300 F and bake the crust for 30 minutes. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Set a large pot or kettle of fresh water on the boil.

Sunny side up
Using a wire whisk or electric mixer, whip the cream cheese until smooth and flowing. Pour in the sugar and beat until smooth, the mixture will begin to seem more fluid. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until fully incorporated. Stir in the sour cream until smooth.

Silky swirls
Add the espresso powder, cocoa powder, and vanilla, then whisk gently until fully emulsified.

Thick ribbons of batter on a craggy crust
Pour the cream cheese mixture into the prepared crust and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Place the cheesecake pan into the roasting pan and position on the oven rack. Slowly and carefully, fill the roasting pan with hot water until the cheesecake pan is immersed halfway.

Bake the cheesecake for 1 1/2 hours, until the cake expands and rises. The center should be lightly set, with just some slight gelatinous wobble, not the liquid ripple of raw batter. It should smell distinctly heavenly.

Carefully remove the cheesecake pan from the water bath to a wire rack and cover loosely with a sheet of parchment paper. Allow to cool to room temperature for at least 1 1/2 hours, the pan should be cool to the touch, and the cake should deflate slightly and pull away from the edges of the pan. Cover closely with plastic wrap and transfer to a refrigerator to chill overnight.

For the glaze, warm a small, heavy saucepan over low heat. Add the butter and stir until completely melted, then stir in the brown sugar and salt. Heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil. Stir constantly until the sugar dissolves completely into the butter and forms a rich, thick, creamy caramel; then remove from the heat. Allow to cool to just above room temperature, about 10-15 minutes.

One could cut the tension with a knife
To serve, remove the cheesecake from the refrigerator and dust the top with cocoa powder. Soak a long, sharp knife in hot water. Quickly dry the knife and run the warmed blade along the inner edge of the springform pan, freeing the cheesecake from the sides.

Remove the outer ring of the springform pan and transfer the cake to a serving plate. Cut slices with a hot, dry knife and drizzle lightly with warm salted caramel. Serves 10 to 12.


Unknown said...

Any day would be a celebration with this cake on the menu! Love the idea of using the caramel sauce with other desserts, too.

TK said...

This looks delicious! Love seeing your new recipes.

Jp1083 said...

Thanks! We've been delinquent. With the rain sweeping in, though, we should be back in the kitchen more often. :)