Friday, March 30, 2012

Baking Challenge Week 13 - Cheesecake - Madeira Cheesecake with Salted Caramel and Walnuts

I love cheesecake.  It has to be said.  If there is one class of desserts I favor above all others, it's cheesecake.  I like cookies and cakes just fine.  Pie is generally good, though keep that evil banana cream away from me.  I loathe bananas.  Some things I've never had, like souffle, but I'd be perfectly willing to try.

When in doubt, however, give me cheesecake.

This is also the shot at redemption for a cookbook slated for my Neglected Cookbook Project.  My mother-in-law, having seen my love affair with cheesecake firsthand, thoughtfully gave me The Ultimate Cheesecake Collection as a gift.  It's light on production value (no photos, poor printing quality) but heavy on recipes (over 400!)

It gave me the disastrous appetizer cheesecake for the savory-themed baking challenge two weeks ago.  It's pretty rare at this point that something comes out of my kitchen that's completely inedible, but this....this was beyond disgusting.

Still, it was a stretch to begin with.  Can the cookbook be saved?

Yes, yes, it can.  (To be fair, I didn't make the recipe exactly as written, but we'll get to that!)

This cheesecake is not the best cheesecake I've ever had.  That distinction belongs to the cheesecake with summer berry compote I had at Amore's a few years back, visiting my then-future husband while he was a grad student across the pond.

But this is the best cheesecake I've ever made, hands down.

I can't take credit for the salted caramel syrup, though--I saw it over at smitten kitchen and promptly made it for a dutch baby.  Instead of making the caramel topping detailed in this cheesecake recipe, I used what was left over from that batch.  Too good to go to waste!

Madeira Cheesecake with Salted Caramel and Walnuts
(heavily adapted from The Ultimate Cheesecake Collection's "Brandied Praline Cheesecake")

  • 1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted and cooled
  •  2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup Madeira
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 300 F.

In a small bowl, mix together the graham cracker crumbs, finely chopped walnuts, and melted butter.  Press the mixture evenly over the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan.

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth.  Add the eggs and beat at low speed just until the eggs are fully incorporated.  Add the brown sugar, Madeira, and vanilla, and beat at low speed until thoroughly combined.  Pour the mixture into the prepared crust and smooth the top with a spatula.

Place the pan on a cookie sheet (in case of leaks!) and bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour.  Turn off the oven, open the door several inches, and allow the cheesecake to cool at least an hour before proceeding.

Meanwhile, make the caramel if you haven't already.  It needs to be warm enough to pour easily onto the cheesecake, but not hot.  Spread it evenly over the top of your cooled cheesecake, and garnish with the coarsely chopped walnuts, like so:

Refrigerate at least two hours before serving.  Slice with a long, sharp knife, wiping the knife clean in between cuts.  Eat!

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