Salted Caramel Cheesecake

salted_caramel_cheesecake_plate

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.

salted_caramel_cheesecake_slice

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!