New York Cheesecake


My biggest complaint about New York cheesecakes is that they are often too dry and crumbly for my taste.  On the opposite side of the spectrum, my signature cheesecakes are generally soft and creamy and do not tend to hold their shape very well when sliced, but I’m okay with that because I just love the creamy custardy (is that a word?) texture.

That being said, variety is nice, so today’s post is my take on a New York cheesecake.  It’s a bit firmer than my normal cheesecake recipe, but is still fairly light and creamy.  It is cooked in a water bath and is differentiated from most cheesecakes by the inclusion of mascarpone cheese and kefir labne cheese (which  seems to be somewhat of a cross between cream cheese and Greek yogurt).  My local grocery store has kefir cheese in the yogurt section, but be sure you get the cheese, not the kefir drink. And if you can’t find kefir cheese, this recipe will work just fine without it. With cheesecakes, it is the foundational ingredients and the method that are most important, not the added ingredients.  You can experiment tremendously by adding and subtracting things without affecting an overall successful outcome.  As an added touch, you can also add the cherry sauce, but the cheesecake works quite well on its own with no topping added.  You could also utilize any other topping of your choice.  A matter of personal preference, I would say.

Two more notes..

You will notice this recipe does not use a crust.  That is by design, as the focus is on the light lemony flavor and smooth texture. If you absolutely must have a crust on your cheesecake, feel free to utilize the basic graham cracker crust from one of my other cheesecake recipes. However, I think you’ll like the purity of flavors on this version.  It also contributes to the lightness of it all, and makes this cheesecake perfect for a brunch or afternoon tea.

The other key difference between a New York cheesecake and my signature cheesecake style is the baking heat sequence. Instead of baking at a single temperature for one hour, a New York cheesecake is blasted with high initial heat, then baked long and slow at lowered heat, and given a final heat blast to create the traditional golden top of a New York cheesecake.

Filling Ingredients:
3 8 oz. pkgs Philadelphia regular cream cheese (at room temperature)
1 package (8 oz.) mascarpone cheese (at room temperature)
1/3 cup kefir (labne) cheese
1 cup baker’s (or granulated) sugar
2 tbsp. all purpose flour
¼ tsp. salt
3 large eggs and 2 egg yolks (all at room temperature)
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. fresh lemon zest, finely chopped
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup sour cream
Butter and sugar sufficient to line the pan
Boiling water

Cherry Topping Ingredients:
2 cups jarred cherries (I use Morello cherries from Trader Joe’s)
1 cup juice from the jarred cherries
3 tsp. cornstarch
3 tsp. sugar

Cover the top side of the removable bottom panel of a 9-inch springform pan with aluminum foil. Put it back into the springform and wrap the foil edges up around the outside of the pan.   Wrap additional foil as necessary to enclose the outside of the pan, the ultimate purpose being to keep the pan watertight.  Grease all inside surfaces of the pan with butter and toss in about 2-3 tablespoons of sugar.  Shake the pan around in all directions to ensure all inside surfaces are coated with sugar.  Add more sugar if needed.  Set pan aside while you make the filling.


Preheat oven to 500˚.   Start boiling a kettle or pot of water that we will use for the water bath. Beat cream cheese, mascarpone, and optional kefir cheese with an electric mixer at low speed until smooth.  Add sugar, flour, and salt and beat until smooth and combined. Add eggs and egg yolks one at a time, beating and combining well after each addition. I also recommend that you scrape down the sides of the bowl and clean the beater bar and spatula after each egg to minimize and hopefully eliminate lumps.  Add vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest.  Mix at low speed until combined. Add sour cream and heavy whipping cream and combine at low speed until mixture looks beautiful and ready!

Remove bowl from mixer and pour into prepared springform pan.  Do NOT scrape the bowl, as it will introduce lumps that are stuck to the side of the bowl.  Place cheesecake in the center of a large roasting pan and pour boiling water around it, bringing the water level approximately 1 inch up the outside of the cheesecake pan.  Bake the cheesecake at 500˚ for 12 minutes.  Turn the heat down to 200 and pen the oven door for a few minutes to allow the temperature to drop faster.  Close the oven door and bake at 200˚ for 2 hours.  If you like, after 1 hour you can run a thin knife around the edge of the cheesecake and pan to help prevent cracking.  The cheesecake should pull away from the side easily.  After the 2 hour baking sequence, raise oven temperature to 350 and bake until the cheesecake starts puffing up and the center starts turning golden. Turn off heat and prop the oven door open about 3 inches; let cake rest in place for 1 hour. Remove from oven and let rest for 1 more hour. Refrigerate overnight.  Remove cheesecake from the refrigerator about 30 minutes prior to serving.  Slice with a thin bladed knife, wiping down blade between each slice.

Optional Cherry Topping: In a small saucepan, whisk corn starch into the cherry juice until no clumps remain. Heat on medium heat until almost boiling. Add cherries and sugar, stir, and continue to heat until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat and let completely cool before serving.  When ready to serve, place sauce in a bowl so guests can spoon desired amount of sauce on top of cheesecake.



Salted Caramel Cheesecake


I’ve been wanting to post this one for awhile.  As with many of my inspirations, this one came courtesy of my youngest son.  He loves salted caramel everything, and for over a year now he’s suggested I make a salted caramel cheesecake.  I initially did a little research on it and was not happy with what I found, so I pushed it off and gave him some lame excuse about why I couldn’t make him a salted caramel cheesecake.  The critical moment came this year in June when he announced that he didn’t want Mom to make him a birthday cake; he wanted Dad to make him a salted caramel cheesecake. The gauntlet had been thrown down and my son looked expectantly at me to see what my reaction would be.  Well, being the dad that I am, I sat down and designed what I hoped would be the best salted caramel cheesecake ever.  I am happy to say that, not only was the result a hit, but I have made it at least four times since June, and it has been a huge hit. I think it could even be called my signature cheesecake.  At least for the moment.

In designing this cheesecake, I took the basic recipe for a dulce de leche cheesecake and expanded it.  The icing on the cake (pun intended) is the salted caramel topping.  As an added bonus, it beautifully covers any flaws in the surface of the cheesecake, giving it a beautiful color and sheen that is really pretty amazing.

Crust Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup blanched almonds, toasted (about 6-7 minutes at 350°)
  • One 10-ounce box Lorna Doone shortbread cookies
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Filling Ingredients:

  • Three 8-ounce packages regular cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4  teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 can dulce de leche, split into two equal portions
  • 1/2  teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4  cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4  cup regular sour cream
  • Boiling water, for baking

Caramel Topping Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter, sliced into several pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Kosher salt to sprinkle on finished cheesecake

If you’ve followed any of my other cheesecake recipes, this part is standard procedure.  Cover the top side of the removable panel of a 9-inch springform pan with foil. Put it back into the springform and wrap the foil edges up the outside of the pan.   Wrap additional foil as necessary to enclose the outside of the pan.

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Lay the blanched almonds on a baking sheet and toast for about 6-7 minutes, or just until you see the edges start browning.  Watch them closely or they will burn.  Using a food processor, finely chop the cookies, toasted almonds, brown sugar and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Add the melted butter and pulse until just combined. Press into the bottom of the prepared springform pan and bake until set, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Start boiling approximately a tea kettle full of water for the water bath.  Lower the oven temperature to 300°. Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese at low speed (I use the second from the bottom speed for my entire cheesecake process) until softened, about 2 minutes. Beat in the flour, sugar, and salt. Beat in the eggs and egg yolks, 1 at a time. Wipe down the sides of the bowl and the beater after each egg.  Mix in 1/2 of the can of dulce de leche and the vanilla until thoroughly mixed.  Blend in the heavy whipping cream and sour cream until smooth.

Pour about 1/2 of the cheesecake batter into the crust. Heat up the remaining dulce de leche in the microwave at low heat in 15 second increments until it is noticeably softer.  Pour it into a Ziploc sandwich bag, cut off a very small piece of the bottom corner of the bag, and then squeeze the dulce de leche into the cheesecake, distributing it somewhat equally throughout the cheesecake. Pour the remaining cheesecake batter into the pan, covering the dulce de leche distribution you just performed. Place the cheesecake in the middle of a large roasting pan and pour enough boiling water into the roasting pan to reach a depth of about 1 inch up the outside of the cheesecake pan. Bake the cheesecake until set at the edges but slightly wobbly in the center, about 65 minutes.

Turn off heat and prop the oven door open about 3 inches; let cake rest in place for 1 hour.  Remove from oven and let sit for another hour.  Refrigerate overnight.  If the cheesecake is cool enough, you can add the salted caramel topping before you refrigerate it.

Remove cheesecake from the refrigerator and set aside while you create the topping.

In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water and swirl gently to combine.  Remember to mix gently and try to keep as little as possible from climbing up the side of the pan.  Once combined, it is best to just let it cook without moving it too much.  A light swirl every now and then is okay, but no more than that.  Continue cooking until the mixture starts darkening. It could take anywhere from 4-12 minutes, depending on your actual heat.  Be patient. You’re looking for the mixture to turn the color of medium to dark honey.  The moment you see that coloring taking place, remove it from the heat.  A moment longer will result in burnt sugar instead of perfection.  Don’t do it.  Whisk in the butter, then the cream.  Don’t worry about any foaming.  Once combined, add the vanilla. Don’t worry about any clumping, as it will melt away when you put the saucepan back on the heat. Return the saucepan to low-medium heat and whisk until smooth.  Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 15 minutes.

Pour the caramel over the cheesecake.  I start in the center and go around the cake in a circular swirl until the entire cake is covered to the edge, filling in any empty spots that I might have missed.  Stop once the entire cheesecake is covered and either dispose of any excess caramel or save it for caramel junkies that might want more on their serving.  Sprinkle kosher salt gently over the caramel surface, ensuring even coverage.  You want enough that there will be the taste of salt in each bite, but not enough that salt is the dominant flavor.  Be more conservative than generous.  Return the cheesecake to the refrigerator and let cool before serving, although overnight is fine too. If you add the salted caramel topping right after cooling from the oven, you definitely want to refrigerate the cheesecake overnight.


When ready to serve, remove the springform and slice the cheesecake. As when cutting any cheesecake, use a thin sharp-bladed knife and wipe down the blade with paper towel after every slice.  Enjoy it, and don’t forget to share!

Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake


I’ve been saving this recipe for awhile, meaning to post it but somehow never getting around to it. As with many of my recipes, this one was requested by my youngest son.  I have always loved Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but because what you visually see is mostly chocolate until you bite into a peanut butter cup, I had always assumed chocolate was the dominant flavor.  Now mind you, there is nothing wrong with a chocolate-dominant cheesecake, but it won’t taste like a Reese’s peanut butter cup.  I have since realized that the dominant flavor of a peanut butter cup is… here it comes… peanut butter!!  It’s also important to use a milk chocolate instead of a bittersweet or dark chocolate.  Lindt makes a beautiful creamy milk chocolate bar that works perfectly in this cheesecake.  This cake takes a little work, but I think it’s worth it.


Crust Ingredients:

  • 1-1/4 Cup shortbread cookies, such as Lorna Doone (or graham crackers or other soft cookies)
  • 1/4 cup dry-roasted peanuts
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Chocolate Ganache Layer Ingredients:

  • 2 oz. high quality milk chocolate, chopped
  • 1/4  cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Chocolate Filling Ingredients:

  • 4 oz. high quality milk chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2  cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1-1/2 8-ounce packages regular cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk (at room temperature)
  • 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream (at room temperature)
  • 2 tablespoons regular sour cream (at room temperature)

Peanut Butter Filling Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 8-ounce packages regular cream cheese (at room temperature)
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk (at room temperature)
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream (at room temperature)
  • 2 tablespoons regular sour cream (at room temperature)

Topping Ingredients:

  • 4 oz. high quality milk chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2  cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 12 oz. package miniature Reese’s peanut butter cups, lightly chopped into chunks


Cover the top side of the removable panel of a 9-inch springform pan with foil. Put it back into the springform and wrap the foil edges up the outside of the pan.   Wrap additional foil as necessary to enclose the outside of the pan.

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Crumble the cookies by hand into the bowl of a food processor.  Add the nuts, brown sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Chop until no large chunks remain.  Add the melted butter and pulse until just combined. Press into the bottom of the prepared pan and approximately one inch up the side.  Bake until set, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool. Lower the oven temperature to 300°.  

Set a tea kettle or small pot of water on the stove to boil.  This will be needed for the water bath when the cheesecake is ready to go in the oven.

Chocolate Ganache Layer: Place 2 oz. chopped milk chocolate in a medium bowl.  Heat 1/4 cup heavy cream in a small sauce pan over medium low heat, stirring frequently, until it just begins to boil. Pour over chocolate and allow to sit untouched for about 5 minutes.  Whisk until smooth.  Pour to evenly cover bottom of cheesecake pan and place in freezer for about 30 minutes to harden.

Chocolate Filling: Place chopped milk chocolate in a medium bowl.  Heat 1/2 cup heavy cream in a small sauce pan over medium low heat, stirring frequently, until it just begins to boil. Pour over chocolate and allow to sit untouched for about 5 minutes.  Whisk until smooth and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese at low speed until softened. Beat in the flour, sugar, vanilla and salt. Beat in the eggs and egg yolk, 1 at a time, at low to medium speed, stopping to scrape the bowl and beater thoroughly after each egg.  Mix in the chocolate mixture until thoroughly mixed.

Blend in heavy cream and sour cream. Pour the batter into the crust. Set aside.

Peanut Butter Filling: Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese at low speed until softened. Beat in the flour, sugar, vanilla and salt. Beat in the eggs and egg yolk, 1 at a time, at low to medium speed, stopping to scrape the bowl and beater thoroughly after each egg.  Mix in the peanut butter until thoroughly mixed.  Blend in heavy cream and sour cream. Pour the batter into the crust. Do not scrape the bowl or you will have lumps in your cheesecake!

Set the cheesecake in the center of a large roasting pan and pour enough boiling water in the roasting pan to reach a depth of about 1 inch. Bake the cheesecake at 300° until set at the edges but still slightly wobbly in the center, about 55-65 minutes.

Turn off heat and prop oven door open about 2 inches; let cake rest in place for 1 hour.   Remove from oven and allow to cool for another hour.  Refrigerate for at least an hour before making topping.

Peanut Butter Cup Topping: Place chopped milk chocolate in a medium bowl.  Heat ½ cup heavy cream in a small sauce pan over medium low heat, stirring frequently, until it just begins to boil. Pour over chocolate and allow to sit untouched for about 5 minutes.  Whisk until smooth and set aside. Arrange chunks of peanut butter cups to cover top of cheesecake. Pour chocolate mixture over top of cheesecake until entire cake is covered.

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. Remove from springform and serve.


Key Lime Pie


There’s something about lime that generates a special craving inside me.  Limes are cool and tangy, full of flavor, providing a great contrast against added sweetness.  Perfect partners, you might say.  Key limes even more so have a beautiful aroma, unique taste, and are tiny, setting them distinctly apart from common Persian limes. Key limes (citrus aurantifolia) originated in Southeast Asia, were brought by traders to the Middle East and by Crusaders to Europe, and brought to the New World by explorers and conquistadors, making themselves at home in the ideal growing conditions of Mexico, the West Indies, and southern Florida.


In the late 1800’s, someone in Florida discovered a magical flavor combination by matching the tangy key lime together with sweetened condensed milk, and it is that result that has brought us together today.  Note that traditional key lime pies were not baked, as the chemistry of the lime actually cooks the egg.  If you’ve ever had ceviche, it’s the same chemistry concept at work, as in ceviche the lime cooks the fish.  However, in this era of health concerns, we bake our pie.  Just to be sure.  Going back to the key lime pie tradition, there is argument as to whether it should be created with a pastry crust or with a graham cracker crust, and there is argument as to whether it should be topped with a meringue, or with fresh whipped cream.  Instead of arguing, let’s get baking.  ‘Tis better to eat than to argue.  Just for the sake of clarity and full disclosure, we will be using a graham cracker crust and a fresh whipped cream topping.

Crust ingredients:
1-1/2 cup graham crackers
4 Tbsp. granulated (or baker’s) sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
1/4 tsp. sea salt

Filling ingredients:
4 egg yolks
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
3/4 cup fresh Key lime juice (for a very tangy pie!  For less tang, lessen to 1/2 to 2/3 cup)
1 tsp. grated key lime zest

Topping ingredients:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 Tbsp. confectioners’ (powdered) sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

I recommend your first step be to zest your limes, then squeeze them, as it is a bit time-consuming to squeeze the 30-40 key limes it takes to fill 3/4 of a cup (or 1/2 cup if you want less tanginess).  Key lime pie is actually quite easy to make, so you might as well get the most time-consuming part out of the way first.  I also recommend you use a small size Mexican lime juicer.  They’re cheap and are made specifically for this purpose.  Just cut the lime in half and place it in the juicer upside down and squeeze the handles together, just like a garlic press.


Preheat the oven to 375°.  Break up the graham crackers in your hand and place them in a food processor, processing until they are mostly crumbs. Add the melted butter, sugar, and salt and pulse until combined. The mixture should be slightly clumpy yet still somewhat crumbly.


Press the mixture into the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan, forming an even layer covering the bottom, sides and edge. Bake the crust for 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool while you mix the filling.


Lower oven temp to 325°.  In a medium to large bowl whisk by hand (or use an electric mixer with the wire whisk attachment) the egg yolks and lime zest until thoroughly mixed and somewhat fluffy. Add the condensed milk and continue to whip until mixed and thick. Add the lime juice and whisk until fully incorporated. Pour the mixture into the cooled crust.  Bake for 15 minutes, until the filling has just set. Remove from oven and allow to cool, then refrigerate for at least two hours (overnight is even better).


To make the topping: The easiest way is to use the whisk attachment on an electric mixer.  You can do it by hand, but your arm will be pretty tired before you’re done.  Whip the heavy whipping cream, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla until nearly stiff and it starts to form peaks.


Evenly spread the whipped cream on top of the pie and serve.  For an added touch, place in the freezer for 20-30 minutes prior to serving.  Enjoy!

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake

My cheesecake obsession was launched a very short couple of years ago.  My beautiful bride had always expressed a craving for the Dulce de Leche cheesecake we would eat at The Cheesecake Factory, and it was a favorite of hers when celebrating her birthday.  Being a semi-competent cook but with little to no baking experience, I eventually decided it was time to attempt making a cheesecake on my own for my wife’s birthday.  I did extensive research on the internet and pulled out any cookbooks I had that covered the subject, discovering there are many approaches to making a cheesecake.  I took the combined wisdom I collected and put it to work in the kitchen in attempting my first cheesecake.  When a beautiful and delicious dulce de leche cheesecake emerged, I was amazed and delighted.  My wife said it was wonderful, my sons said it was wonderful, my friends said it was wonderful, and my cheesecake obsession was born!  Since then, I have experimented with many variations of cheesecake and have developed a basic method that I use for most of them.  Once you have a method, you can play endlessly with the ingredients and extras. 

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake

For this posting, I made the dulce de leche cheesecake again for my wife’s birthday (she’s 27 again, in case you were curious..).  I decided to make it a bit taller than my original recipe, which basically meant making ingredient adjustments to accommodate three bars of cream cheese instead of two.  I’ve decided that two-stick cheesecakes are too thin and I like thicker cakes.  I didn’t attempt any fancy extras, as there is a certain flavor purity to the basic dulce de leche cheesecake.  The cheesecake itself doesn’t even have any added sugar, as the dulce de leche is generally sweet enough.  Just like my beautiful bride..

The good news is that dulce de leche cheesecake is not only delicious, but is one of the easiest cheesecakes to make.  There are no complexities other than following the basic cheesecake method.  This is a great choice if you’ve never made a cheesecake before.  Follow the instructions closely and your friends and family will think you’ve been baking these for years!


Crust Ingredients:
1 box (10 oz.) shortbread cookies, such as Lorna Doone
1/4 cup blanched almonds
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Cheesecake Ingredients:
3 8-ounce packages regular cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks, all at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 can dulce de leche
1/4  cup heavy whipping cream, at room temperature
1/4  cup regular sour cream, at room temperature

Boiling water, for baking

Before you begin, it is important that you prepare by setting out the cream cheese, eggs, heavy cream, and sour cream a couple hours ahead of time to bring them close to room temperature.  Then, right before you start mixing ingredients, using a tea kettle or pan, start boiling water that will be sufficient to reach about a half inch up the outside of the springform pan when placed in the center of a roasting pan.  One full tea kettle is usually about right, but you will want to at least have this queued up or you will slow down the process before the cheesecake can be placed into the oven.

The first step is common to all of my cheesecakes.  Prepare your 9 inch springform pan by wrapping the removable bottom piece with aluminum foil.  Cover the flat part and wrap it back over the lip, pinching it tightly over the curve so you can then insert the piece back into the springform.  When you look straight into the springform pan, the foiled bottom should be flattened and shiny.  Take the foil that is sticking out the bottom of the pan and carefully stretch and wrap it up the sides of the pan.  Don’t stretch it too hard or the foil will rip.  As the foil will be used to seal water out of the pan, ripping is not a good thing.  Take another sheet of foil and wrap it over the bottom of the pan and up the sides, helping to basically make a double seal.  I bring it all the way up the side and then I just crimp the excess into a kind of rim at about the same level as the top edge of the pan.  You can fold back the excess or just crinkle it up.  Your pan is now ready and can be set aside.

Now let’s make the crust.  First pre-heat the oven to 350˚.  Spread the blanched almonds on a cookie sheet and bake for around 8-10 minutes, just until toasted.  Watch them closely, as you don’t want them to burn.  Place the almonds into a food processor along with the shortbread cookies, brown sugar, and salt.  Process just until there are no large cookie chunks remaining.  Add the melted butter and pulse until the butter is mixed in well and ingredients appear moist and start clumping.  Dump the cookie mixture into your prepared springform pan and spread out evenly to form the crust.


Form the crust about a half inch up the walls of the pan, and then flatten the remainder out evenly across the bottom of the pan.  Some people just use their fingers to do this, but I like to use the back of a large stainless serving spoon, which helps me carve and form a nice flat surface to the crust.  Bake until set, around 12 minutes.  Set aside to cool while you mix the cheesecake ingredients.

If you haven’t started boiling the tea kettle full of water, now is the time to get it going.

Lower the oven temp to 300˚.  Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until softened, about two minutes.  I use a low speed on my Kitchen-Aid mixer, the second speed from the bottom, using the same speed throughout the entire process. If chunks of cream cheese are sticking to the mixer, stop and scrape down the beater and continue until the cream cheese looks somewhat smooth.  Add the salt and the flour and mix until combined.  Add the eggs and egg yolks one at a time, stopping to scrape down the sides and the beater after each.  The goal here is to ensure each egg is fully mixed in prior to moving on to the next one. 


Yes, I admit that I actually take the beater paddle off and wash and dry it and the spatula between each egg.  Overkill perhaps, but my cheesecakes turn out pretty decently, so I see no reason to cut corners.  I just look at it as an extra dose of love that goes into each cheesecake!  You will notice that the mixture becomes very creamy as the eggs are added to the process.  Add the vanilla and empty the contents of the can of dulce de leche into the mixture and continue to mix until fully combined and smooth with no lumps.  If you are not familiar with dulce de leche, it is basically caramelized sweetened condensed milk and is very popular in many Latin American cultures.  It is found in most grocery stores packaged in small cans on the shelf next to the condensed milk.  The last step is to stop the mixer and add the heavy cream and sour cream.  Continue to mix until everything looks incredibly beautiful and you have this sudden urge to stick your finger in and taste it.  Don’t do it, as your hand might get mangled by the mixer.  Just saying..

The next step is to pour the batter into the prepared springform pan.  I will interject here that my one pet peeve about cheesecakes is that I want them to look perfect, but frequently during baking, air bubbles will rise to the surface and make tiny craters.  No one has ever complained, but in the interest of perfection, after I remove the bowl from the mixer, I raise it about an inch from the counter or floor and let it drop it gently to release some of the bubbles.  I do this several times and let it rest a few moments in between dropping to allow more bubbles to rise to the surface.  Pour the mixture into the springform pan and let it spread evenly.  I tend to pour it all in a single stream in the very center so the waves radiate out evenly across the pan.  As much as your brain screams at you that you’re wasting batter, do not scrape the excess that won’t pour naturally into the cheesecake pan.  If you do, you will scrape the lumps that were hiding on the side of the bowl directly into your perfect cheesecake.  Don’t do it.  Besides, your family is usually more than willing to lick some of what’s left in the bowl.  You can now tilt the pan a little to spread any batter did not spread evenly during the pouring process.  At this time I go through my little drop test again, but this time with the cheesecake pan itself, once again to get out a few more bubbles as they rise to the surface.  I warned you I was anal retentive, so leave me alone.  Thanks.

Place the cheesecake pan in the center of a large roasting pan and pour boiling water around it.  The water should reach about an inch up the outside of the cheesecake pan.  The exact depth is not important, but you want at least a half inch of water.  The water bath will help the cheesecake to bake evenly and will help prevent cracks.  Loosely cover the springform pan with aluminum foil (I fold a sheet in half and make a little tent like a carport over the pan) and slide the roasting pan into the oven, being careful to not slosh water into the cheesecake.  Bake for about 65 minutes, until the cheesecake is set at the edges but still slightly wobbly in the center.  Turn the oven off, but leave the cheesecake in the oven (you can remove the foil tent if you wish, but don’t let any water drip into the cheesecake).  Prop the oven door open about two or three inches and let it cool for another hour.  Then remove from the oven, lift the cheesecake pan from the roasting pan, and let it cool on a rack or sitting on top of the stove for an additional hour.  Slow cooling is the key here.  Making cheesecakes requires more patience than any great culinary skill.

After the cheesecake is completely cool to the touch, place in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours to finish the setting process.  I usually remove the excess aluminum foil before placing in the refrigerator, but I don’t think it will hurt anything if you leave it until you are ready to serve.  Prior to serving, remove from the outside of the springform pan and let sit at room temperature for about an hour before serving.  Slice the cheesecake with a smooth-edged knife and wipe off the blade with paper towel after every slice.



For some additional Cheesecake 101 tips, you might want to review my original posting for Dark Chocolate Cheesecake.

Louisiana Bread Pudding with Rum Butter Sauce

I’m on a bit of a dessert craze right now.  My sweet tooth is tingling and I’ve been dreaming about bread pudding.  Not that dry flavorless stuff you get at the buffet, but moist deep flavored goodness that leaves you begging for more. This post is based on a recipe from my favorite cookbook of all time; “Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen.”

If I was stuck on a desert island with only one cookbook (a desert island with a kitchen, of course), this is the one I would want.  I get hungry just thinking about the recipes in this cookbook.  Paul Prudhomme takes his flavors very seriously, and will stop at nothing to ensure they are richly developed.  My kind of chef.  My recipe below is very close to the original, but not exact.

Louisiana Bread Pudding

I have loved bread pudding as long s I can remember.  My mom whipped up a pretty good bread pudding when I was a child, and ever since then, if I see bread pudding on a menu, I immediately think about trying it.  Unfortunately, I have eaten far more disappointing bread puddings than I have eaten delicious ones.  A sad situation, which I am guessing has not done much to elevate the stature of bread pudding in the public eye.  I think this bread pudding can change that.  Spread the word.

3 eggs + 1 egg yolk
1-1/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (don’t you dare use the fake stuff!)
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (freshly ground is nice if you’ve got it)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) melted butter
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup raisins (regular or golden)
1/2 cup toasted pecans, chopped (Trader Joe’s sells them ready to use)
5 cups stale white bread with crust on, cubed (I use Challah bread, but other types like French or Italian are fine)

Butter Rum Sauce Ingredients:
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons rum (or bourbon or brandy)

First, ensure your bread is nice and stale.  If you slice good bread into 3/4” cubes and leave them out overnight, you should be good to go.

Preheat oven to 300°.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolk until they are extremely frothy (and you are tired of whisking at 100 miles per hour).  You can do it in an electric mixer if you prefer, but this is the only ingredient that requires any serious energy, so I say “why bother.”  Add the remaining ingredients (except the bread) and mix thoroughly.  Grease a loaf pan and distribute the bread cubes evenly.  Based on the photos, you can see that I used a 9×13 cake pan, but the end result was not thick enough for me, although certainly tasty.  Next time I will use a loaf pan or a smaller cake pan.  I have no idea why I chose this cake pan.  Pour the mixture evenly over the bread cubes and then toss them by hand or with a spatula to ensure the mixture is evenly distributed in the pan.  The goal is to ensure all bread is wet with the mixture.  Dry bread pudding will not be served in my casa.  Let the mixture sit on the counter for about 45 minutes to ensure the bread soaks up all that delicious liquid.  Are you hungry yet?

Bake for 40 minutes, then increase the oven temperature to 425° and bake another 15-20 minutes, until the top is nicely browned and puffy, but not burnt.  The very edge might look a little burnt, but if the center is burnt, you have overbaked it.  Watch it closely after it’s been at 425° for 10 minutes and make sure it’s just right.

Louisiana Bread Pudding

You may serve warm or at room temperature.

Now it’s time to make the sauce.  Paul Prudhomme has a beautiful Chantilly Cream sauce in his book, but I also like a butter rum sauce based on a recipe I found on a site called “Bread Pudding All Day.” Lightly beat the egg and place it with the sugar and butter in a small saucepan.  Whisk continuously over low heat until mixture thickens.  Do not boil.  Once the mixture thickens, remove from heat and stir in rum.  Pour a small quantity of sauce over each slice of bread pudding as it is served.  Your challenge is to see if you can eat only one slice.  If you can, you are a better person than I am.  I love this stuff!

Flan de Tres Leches

My wife is from Costa Rica, and when we were visiting family there this past summer, I was looking for a dessert that I could make with locally sourced ingredients that would “wow” guests but still be easy to make.  When my research uncovered several recipes for flan de tres leches, I think I struck gold.  It looks and tastes elegant, but uses only a few ingredients and is ridiculously easy to make.  Since the summer, I have refined the recipe and it has become one of my favorite go-to desserts because it’s so easy to make, and tastes sooo good!  As an added bonus, tres leches cake is a very popular dessert in Costa Rica and certain other Latin American countries, so just saying the words “tres leches” gets the salivary glands working in anticipation of delicious flavors.
Flan de Tres Leches

“Tres leches” is Spanish for “three milks,” and three different kinds of milk are the foundation for this flan; condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy whipping cream.  It is a rich and creamy custard delight, and is not for those looking to drop a few pounds this week.  Of course, I’m recovering from cancer right now and recently lost 25 pounds while going through treatment, so I’m under doctors’ orders to eat this stuff.  It’s true.  Really!

1 cup sugar
5 eggs + 3 egg yolks
1 can (12 oz.) evaporated milk
1 can (14 oz.) condensed milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream (whole milk will also work in a pinch)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (don’t use the fake stuff..  Really.)
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier liqueur (optional, but adds a nice complexity)
Pinch of sea salt

This recipe will make two pans of flan.  I buy the disposable 8-1/2” round cake pans (they usually come in a set of 3), which means less clean-up at the end (yay!). You will also need a roasting pan to facilitate the water bath.  In Costa Rica, we didn’t have a roasting pan, so I just set the cake pan inside a very wide sauce pan, and it worked just fine.  I have also used a 13×9 cake pan instead of a roasting pan.  If you don’t have two of them (to bake both flans at the same time), you can simply bake one after the other.  I suppose you could split the recipe in half and only make one, but if you have a few people around, this flan gets eaten so quickly you’ll regret not having two.  Trust me on this..

Preheat oven to 350°. Separately, get a tea kettle of water boiling (or a large saucepan of boiling water will work fine).  This will be used for a water bath when we’re ready to put our flan in the oven.  On the stovetop, pour one cup of sugar into a medium size non-stick coated frying pan.  Using a wooden spoon, stir sugar frequently at medium high heat.  Eventually the sugar will start to melt.  Be patient.  When it does start to melt, parts of it will first liquefy and will then re-harden into nugget-like chunks.

At this point, you will think you messed up and things aren’t working, but as the sugar continues to heat, the chunks will then start melting into a liquid caramel. The caramel will turn medium dark brown, but you definitely do not want it to burn, so keep stirring.  I also recommend scraping off your wooden spoon with a knife as soon as little bits start to harden on it.  Once the bits harden on the spoon and are not quickly removed, they will harden like rock and will not come off until you later soak the spoon in hot water, and will make the stirring more difficult in the meantime.  Once the caramel is fully liquefied, pour into the disposable cake pans, splitting the amount between the two pans. Immediately tilt the cake pans to ensure the caramel covers as much of the pan bottom as possible.  It will harden quickly and you only get a few moments to ensure pan coverage.  Set the pans aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolks until they are fully combined and frothy, as if you were making scrambled eggs.  Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and fully combine.  Pour the mixture into the pie pans on top of the hardened caramel, splitting the quantity evenly between the two. Either earlier in the process or while pouring the mixture into the pans, you might see or hear the caramel cracking.  Ignore it, as it has no effect on the end result.  Place the cake pan with flan mixture in the middle of the empty roasting pan and pour boiling water into the roasting pan until it comes about halfway up the outside of the cake pan, about half an inch or so.  Place the roasting pan in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes.  You can easily test when the flan is done by sticking a toothpick in it.  When the flan is fully baked, the toothpick will come out fairly clean.  If it is covered with flan, bake a little longer.  Do not overbake.  Once done, remove from the oven and let cool for about an hour.  Once the flan is fully cooled, place in the refrigerator overnight.

After chilling overnight, your flan is ready to serve.  I think flan tastes best when it is not too cold and has been out of the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.  First, using a thin knife, separate the edge of the flan from the pie pan.  Be careful as you trace around the edge, but don’t worry too much about how beautiful it is.  Once it’s upside down and caramel is dripping down the sides of the flan, no one will notice any errors in your knife work.  Choose a rimmed serving dish that has a flat bottom just slightly wider in diameter than the inside diameter of the cake pan.  If you don’t have a serving dish, many dinner plates are almost perfectly sized to use as a serving dish.  Your guests will be so busy eating the flan, they won’t even notice the dish!  Place your serving dish upside down on top of the flan pan, and holding both together tightly, flip quickly so the serving dish is right side up and the flan pan is upside down.  Do not remove the flan pan yet!  Let it sit for at least 15 minutes while the caramel drips from the pan all over the top and sides of the flan.  When you finally lift off the flan pan, you will gasp with delight at the spectacular dessert you just made.  And you don’t have to tell anyone how easy it was to make.  It will stay our little secret.  Enjoy!

Dark Chocolate Cheesecake

I apologize that this food blog has been a bit slow getting off the ground. Around the time it was launched, I was diagnosed with throat cancer, and have spent most of the past two months receiving treatment in Houston, Texas. Now that I’m back home in Orange County recovering, it seems like a good time to try out a few recipes. Over time I have continually revised and tested my chocolate cheesecake recipe, and I think this one is probably as developed as we’re going to get. I’ve tested the latest tweaks twice this week, and am pleased with the results.

Cheesecakes are fairly simple things. The devil is in the details. Just a few slight deviations from form can ruin an otherwise perfect cheesecake. On the other hand, there is incredible latitude in what ingredients you can use to put a cheesecake together, and how you can tweak the flavor profile. Every cheesecake I make is slightly different than the one before. However, there are certain procedures I always follow.

In the baking instructions, I’m going to assume that you are not a cheesecake expert. If you are an expert, the ingredient list is probably all you need. If you are aspiring to be a cheesecake expert, I will try to share every secret you need to make a perfect cheesecake and join the ranks of those who find great pleasure in crafting beautiful cheesecakes. This post should serve as a good “cheesecake how to” or “cheesecake 101.”

Crust ingredients:
1 cup graham crackers
4 Oreo cookies (white centers removed)
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
½ tablespoon cocoa powder
6 tablespoons melted butter (3/4 of a stick)
10 chocolate covered espresso beans (optional ingredient – I buy mine at Trader Joe’s)

Filling ingredients: Please note the ingredients that must be at room temperature. Set these out a couple hours before starting.
3 bars cream cheese (8 oz. each) at room temperature. Do not use reduced fat!
1 tub mascarpone cheese (8 oz.) at room temperature
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1-¼ cup baker’s sugar
2 tablespoons brewed coffee (I use the boldest coffee or espresso that I have)
3/4 teaspoon dark cocoa powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 eggs at room temperature
3 egg yolks at room temperature
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate (I use two Ghirardelli 60% baking bars)
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream + 1 tablespoon at room temperature
¼ cup sour cream at room temperature. Do not use reduced fat.

Ganache ingredients:
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate (I use 1-1/2 Ghirardelli 60% baking bars)
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon dark corn syrup
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier liqueur

The first step is to prepare your 9 inch springform pan. Take out the removable bottom piece and cover the top side of it with aluminum foil. Wrap the foil back over the lip of the bottom insert just enough to enable you to place the pan bottom piece back into the springform, with the flat piece of foil looking up at you from the bottom of the pan as you look into the top of the pan. Lock the pan in place and fold the excess foil up around the edges of the pan. I like it to come all the way to the top edge of the outside of the pan, and I just fold any excess back. Then, for extra sealing, I rip another piece of foil the same size as before, and wrap it up around the whole pan, right to the top edge again. This helps keep water from seeping into the edges of the pan during baking. Some condensation will get in anyway, but I do not like soggy cheesecakes. One tip: I buy the 18 inch wide aluminum foil, which makes this whole process easier. Also note that I do not coat my pan with butter for this cheesecake. You may if you like, but I don’t like the greasiness when it’s all done, and the crust should have plenty of butter in it already.

Preheat your oven to 350° and prepare the crust by crumbling the graham crackers and cookies into a food processor. Add the salt and sugar (and espresso beans if desired). Pulse chop ingredients in the food processor until no large chunks remain. Mix ½ teaspoon of cocoa powder in a small bowl or cup with 1 teaspoon of water. Once fully mixed, drop into the food processor along with the melted butter (I just put the butter in the microwave for 30-50 seconds to melt). Continue to pulse chop all ingredients, scraping at least once to ensure all ingredients combine. Mixture should clump together somewhat, but not be mushy. It should have both a dry look and a sheen from the butter. It is better to under-process than to over-process. Press the mixture into the springform pan, ensuring even coverage over the bottom and about 1/3 to halfway up the sides, checking to be sure there are no lumps or gaps in coverage. You may use your hands, but I prefer using the back of a large serving spoon to spread and form. Once you are satisfied with your crust work of art, place the pan in the oven for about 7 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool while you prepare the filling.

Lower the oven to 300°. Separately, start a tea kettle to boil water, or boil a small pot of water separately. The boiling water will be used for the water bath when the cake goes in the oven. Also, set aside a large empty roasting pan. Finely chop the bars of bittersweet chocolate and place in a small mixing bowl, flattening out the top of the mixture. Slowly heat 2/3 cup of heavy whipping cream in a small sauce pan just until starting to boil around the edges. Immediately remove from heat and pour over the chocolate bits. Use only enough cream to just cover the chocolate. Any additional cream may be discarded. Allow chocolate mixture to sit for 5 minutes, then thoroughly mix with a fork or whisk. Set aside to cool. In a large mixing bowl (I use a 6 quart stand mixer), place the cream cheese and mascarpone cheese. Mix at medium low speed until somewhat creamy, probably about 2 minutes, stopping once to scrape bowl and beater to ensure ingredients combine. Add salt and about half the sugar and continue mixing, stopping once to scrape bowl and beater. Add the remaining sugar and mix until fully combined, stopping once to scrape bowl and beater (you’re going to start seeing a theme here..). Once mixture looks nice and smooth, add the vanilla. In a small bowl or cup, mix the dark cocoa and coffee together, adding to the mixing bowl and mixing until fully combined. Add each of the 3 eggs one at a time, stopping to scrape the bowl and beater thoroughly after each egg to ensure no lumps and thorough combining of the mixture. After the eggs, the 3 egg yolks may be added at once, again ensuring thorough mixing. When complete, thoroughly scrape bowl and wash both the beater bar and your spatula to ensure there are no lumps. Resume mixing another minute or two to ensure a smooth mixture. Add the chocolate mixture that you previously set aside and thoroughly combine, stopping at least once to scrape down the bowl and beater. Once everything looks smooth, remove the mixing bowl from the mixer and add the sour cream and tablespoon of heavy whipping cream. Fold in by hand with a clean spatula until thoroughly combined, with no white spots or lumps.

Pour the mixture into the springform pan, but do not use a spatula. If you scrape the bowl with a spatula, you will introduce lumps into the cheesecake that have instead chosen to stick to the mixing bowl. I’m sorry, but you’ll just have to lick part of the bowl and discard the remaining batter. It’s the price of maximizing the quality of your cheesecake. Place the springform pan gently in the center of the roasting pan and pour boiling water around the outside of the springform pan, being careful not to splatter water into the cheesecake batter. The water should be about 1 inch up the side of the springform pan, approximately halfway. Carefully slide the roasting pan with cheesecake into the oven and bake for 70 minutes. After 70 minutes, shake the roasting pan slightly. The cheesecake should jiggle in the center but not on the outside edges. If it looks too jiggly overall, bake for another few minutes. Do not over-bake! Turn the oven off and prop the oven door open about 3 inches or so, just enough to let the cheesecake cool down very slowly. Let sit for 60 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for another 60 minutes. Remove cheesecake from roasting pan and peel back excess foil from the sides. I usually set it on a folded kitchen towel to help absorb some of the water and melted butter that has accumulated around the outside bottom of the pan. Once the cheesecake is sufficiently cooled, place it in the refrigerator overnight. Note that during this time, any excess jiggliness will firm up.

Okay, our cheesecake has sat in the refrigerator overnight. Let’s take it out of the fridge and make the ganache. Chop up the chocolate and place in a small mixing bowl. Slowly heat the heavy whipping cream in a small sauce pan until it just starts to boil around the edges. Immediately remove from heat and pour over the chocolate. Allow to sit for 5 minutes, and then thoroughly combine using a fork. Add the salt, dark corn syrup, and Grand Marnier, and thoroughly combine until smooth and a single color throughout. Pour mixture evenly over cheesecake. Quickly tilt cheesecake by hand to fill in any spots along the edge of the pan. Note that because cheesecake is cold, mixture will harden quickly. Once the ganache is cooled, place cheesecake back in refrigerator.

Cheesecake may now be served, or may sit in the fridge up to one or two days before serving. At least an hour before serving, remove cheesecake from refrigerator, and gently start releasing latch on springform pan. As cake is starting to release, gently go around edge of pan with a paring knife or other thin non-serrated knife to cut the cheesecake away from the pan. Once fully released, push the cheesecake up and out of the springform and set cake down on a serving platter, with any loose foil tucked back underneath the pan. At this point, you might be disappointed that a few bits of cheesecake have stuck to the inside of the springform pan. You can gently scrape these pieces from the springform and push them back onto the cheesecake with a knife. If you want to clean up the outside of the cake, a slightly wet knife will shape cheesecake and crust nicely. Just don’t get any drops of water on the top of the cheesecake, as it will leave a water stain (it won’t affect the taste though!). Nothing major, but be careful if perfection is your goal. You may now slice your cheesecake for your guests that are tingling in anticipation to taste your work of culinary art. Use a long non-serrated knife to slice the cake, and wipe the knife down with paper towel between each slice. If you don’t wipe the knife down, the cheesecake on the knife will grab and ruin the edge of the next slice. Not pretty.

Dark Chocolate Cheesecake

Well, those are the details needed to make a perfect chocolate cheesecake. Once you understand most of these methods, you can vary the ingredients and make just about any kind of cheesecake. The cheesecake techniques described in this article will provide a smooth velvety texture. If you are considering a New York cheesecake, keep in mind that is a whole different animal, with a drier texture and utilizing a different baking technique. We’ll attack that in another episode. In the meantime, happy baking (and eating!!).