April 27, 2009

Vanilla Cheesecake with Graham-Pecan Crust

Its time for all us Daring Bakers to reveal our challenge for the month of April. Drum roll please....... The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge. We were required to bake a cheesecake and were allowed great freedom and creativity. The recipe given was for a basic vanilla cheesecake on a graham cracker crust.

This is my 11th Daring Baker Challenge. I decided to stick with the basics as this was my first cheesecake ever! So I made a Vanilla Cheesecake on a Graham-Pecan crust with home-made strawberry coulis. My creative juices were not flowing this month..... AT ALL.... Somehow I was deadly afraid of the challenge this time. I am still wondering why I was so scared of this challenge since the recipe seemed pretty much straight forward, and I have gone through with tougher challenges before! I guess the anticipation of my new work at the U and leaving my lil one at the school is getting to me even before I have started. I was procrastinating my challenge completion and finally mustered up enough courage to tackle it last Friday!!

I decided to make only 1/3 rd of the recipe so that I will have to make use of one 8oz block of cream cheese and adjusted all the other measurements accordingly. The crust was made as given in the recipe, but I added 1/4 cup of pecans to the food processor along with the graham crackers (1/3rd recipe) and crumbled it. The preparation of the cheesecake batter went without incidents. I baked the cake in a tart/quiche pan with fluted sides and removable bottom. I was planning to make some swirls on top with a different colored batter containing either chocolate or strawberry puree, but honestly in the end I just forgot!!

The cheesecake was baked in a water bath at 350F. In 20 minutes, when I checked the cheesecake seemed to be pretty much well-set without much jiggle in the middle. Maybe I should have checked it even before. Eventhough I thought I screwed everything up, it seemed pretty nice and well constructed. The gradual cooling helped and did not cause any cracks or craters on the surface and it turned out real nice and uniform.

After spending a day in the fridge, it was finally ready to be devoured on Saturday. JM was anticipating the tasting of the first home-made cheesecake and so was lil LM. She wanted the sprinkles more than anything!! When I took it off the pan for serving it seemed as if the crust was soggy. I thought that water had leaked in despite the double layer of foil and a layer of cling wrap!!

Usually when I stick to the original recipe without much creative changes, I try to bring some variety to the final presentation of the dish. This time my mind once again was totally blank. I couldnt come up with anything exciting. And those ideas that I had were too time-consuming and I honestly just didnt have enough energy to go through with it. So I finished the cheesecake with a simple topping of colored sprinkles and whole strawberries on the side. The individual servings were topped with a swirl of cool whip and a cherry with a chocolate garnish on the side and a bit of strawberry coulis. The second flower shaped cheesecake serving was a cut out from the original cheesecake, using a floral cookie cutter. I originally wanted to do a praline topping with chocolate drizzle.


JM and I are not really cheesecake people, though we do enjoy it very rarely. But I must say that both of us enjoyed this cheesecake. I thought that the recipe was really simple and quick. The cheesecake was really smooth, beautiful to look at and delicious. I could proudly say that my first cheesecake experiment went without any major hurdles. My only complaint to myself was that since I reduced the recipe by 1/3rd, I couldnt get any traditional/typical pictures of the mile-high cheesecake slice!! :-) But the reduction in the recipe made the portions that we had, really enjoyable. Eventhough the crust appeared a bit dark and I thought that it was soggy, that was not the case. It was probably a bit moist (not soggy at all), because of the pecans? Anyways, I regret that I forgot to make swirls on the cheesecake and I couldnt make any exotic combinations this time. But I am happy that we fully enjoyed our first home-made cheesecake and I would suggest this recipe to my friends!!

Hope you all enjoyed reading through my experience and comments. Check out all my previous Daring Bakers Challenges here.

Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake:


2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract


3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.

3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

Pan note:

The creator of this recipe used to use a springform pan, but no matter how well she wrapped the thing in tin foil, water would always seep in and make the crust soggy. Now she uses one of those 1-use foil "casserole" shaped pans from the grocery store. They're 8 or 9 inches wide and really deep, and best of all, water-tight. When it comes time to serve, just cut the foil away.

Prep notes:

While the actual making of this cheesecake is a minimal time commitment, it does need to bake for almost an hour, cool in the oven for an hour, and chill overnight before it is served. Please plan accordingly!

Some variations from the recipe creator:

** Lavender-scented cheesecake w/ blueberries - heat the cup of heavy cream in the microwave or a saucepan until hot but not boiling. Add 2 tbsp of lavender flowers and stir. Let lavender steep in the cream for about 10-15 minutes, then strain the flowers out. Add strained cream to cheesecake batter as normal. Top with fresh blueberries, or make a quick stovetop blueberry sauce (splash of orange juice, blueberries, a little bit of sugar, and a dash of cinnamon - cook until berries burst, then cool).

** Cafe au lait cheesecake with caramel - take 1/4 cup of the heavy cream and heat it in the microwave for a short amount of time until very hot. Add 1-2 tbsp. instant espresso or instant coffee; stir to dissolve. Add this to the remainder of cream and use as normal. Top cheesecake with homemade caramel sauce (I usually find one on the food network website - just make sure it has heavy cream in it. You can use store-bought in a pinch, but the flavor is just not the same since its usually just sugar and corn syrup with no dairy).

** Tropical – add about a half cup of chopped macadamias to the crust, then top the cake with a mango-raspberry-mandarin orange puree.

** Mexican Turtle - add a bar of melted dark chocolate (between 3 and 5 oz., to taste) to the batter, along with a teaspoon of cinnamon and a dash of cayenne pepper (about 1/8 tsp.). Top it with pecan halves and a homemade caramel sauce.

** Honey-cinnamon with port-pomegranate poached pears – replace 1/2 cup of the sugar with 1/2 cup of honey, add about a teaspoon or more (to taste) of cinnamon. Take 2 pears (any variety you like or whatever is in season), peeled and cored, and poach them in a boiling poaching liquid of port wine, pomegranate juice/seeds, a couple of "coins" of fresh ginger, a cinnamon stick, and about a 1/4 cup of sugar. Poach them until tender, then let cool. Strain the poaching liquid and simmer until reduced to a syrupy-glaze consistency, then cool. Thinly slice the cooled pears and fan them out atop the cooled cheesecake. Pour the cooled poaching syrup over the pears, then sprinkle the top with chopped walnuts and fresh pomegranate seeds.

Some variations from Jenny (from JennyBakes):

**Key lime - add zest from one lime to sugar before mixing with cream cheese. Substitute lemon juice, alcohol, and vanilla with key lime juice.
**Cheesecakelets - put in muffin tins, ramekins, or custard cups. Try baking 20-35 minutes, or until still a little jiggly, and cool as before.

Dont forget to check out the wide array of flavor combinations in the DB cheesecake factory this month!

Come back soon for more recipes from Tasty treats! Have a great day!!


Khaugiri said...

Wow it's looking lovely.....very tempting!!!!!

Parita said...

Wow the cheesecakes looks amazing..beautiful pictures and presentation

Madhumathi said...

Cheesecake looks fantastic..You have decorated it sooooo well..And the pictures are great!

Ramya Vijaykumar said...

Wow wow look at the cheese cake decked up really nice and served in different shape... No wonder why there is just nothing left in a lil while... Yummy

A_and_N said...

the cheesecake might be simple but the adornments with the chocolate drizzle and fruits surely make it look fancy :) great work JZ!

anna said...

That's so cute! It looks like a little sundae!

Archy said...

Wow, what a presentation.. tempting to have it..
Hey,can u tell me a eggless version of cheese cake.. wud love to have it !!

Anonymous said...

You are really talented. Should consider becoming a professional food stylist.

ice tea: sugar high said...

Sometimes the basic is always best =). Love your cute star/flower cheesecake.

Lauren said...

Mmm, your cheesecake looks amazing!! I love your decorations =D.

Jenny said...

Congrats on making your first cheesecake. It isn't my favorite dessert either, but this is my favorite version. Thanks for being a part of the April Daring Baker's Challenge!

Jenny of JennyBakes

Jenny said...

Sometimes the simple is the best. Lovely presentation with beautiful decorations, and very nice photos! Glad to hear your first cheesecake baking adventure turned out so well. Great work!

Debbie said...

Your presentation is wonderful ... people eat with their eyes first! I have always been fearful of reducing baked goods recipes ... good to know that this one successfully reduced.