I guess I was due for a disaster. I have raved about so many perfect creations, so many therapeutic, relaxing days in the kitchen….but sometimes, things go wrong. Sometimes, you end your evening frantically stopping the flow of cheesecake batter that’s spreading all over your kitchen counter. It’s just the way things go.
Remember when I told you that I was a little nervous about making caramels a few weeks ago, but it ended up being pretty simple? Well. I’ve lied to you guys. I’ve led you wrong, and I truly apologize. But now I know better. Caramel is a scary, scary thing. Caramel can go horribly wrong.
Ok, now that I’ve prevented any of you from ever attempting to make caramel, let me tell you what happened. There were a few friends whose birthday celebrations I had shamefully missed out on…four birthdays in one month and I hadn’t made one birthday cake! I know, what has happened to me? So I decided to make up for it by making a decadent, over-the-top, chocolate caramel cheesecake (from Deb’s impressive collection of beautiful celebration cakes).
The very first step is to heat a cup of sugar until it melts into caramel. Sounds straightforward enough. Well, I stood over the stove for over 40 minutes, stirring the sugar with a fork, until I had a pan of solid chunks of sugar.
This was not right. It seemed completely beyond repair. I was way behind schedule, frustrated, and lost. I read online somewhere that stirring encourages sugar crystals to clump together, so I turned the pan on very low and left it alone. I still wasn’t optimistic about those little brown rocks of sugar ever melting, so I took out another pan and started over.
After a couple minutes, though, I noticed the sugar clumps just barely starting to melt! So I turned off the second burner and watched my caramel slowly, slowly, melt into a deep amber sauce. I couldn’t believe it! It was an amazing feeling to rescue this caramel and fix such a bad mistake.
So after that I was feeling pretty good (especially after tasting the caramel, chocolate, sour cream mixture – Oh. My. God.), even though this mess had cost me about 2 hours. The only problem was that I didn’t exactly know how to use my food processor. I mixed together all the ingredients in it, and was ready to pour the batter into my prepared crust. So I reached in and pulled out the blade- ignoring the nagging feeling in the back of my head that I was doing something horribly wrong. You are not supposed to pull out the blade. The blade covers up a big hole at the bottom of the food processor. I immediately poured as much of the batter as I could into the pan, but it was too late. Cheesecake batter was everywhere, covering the bottom of the food processor, flowing onto the counter.
I wish I had pictures of this crisis, but I was a little preoccupied with stemming the flow of the cheesecake batter from dripping into the silverware drawer, plus it’s enough that I get flour all over my camera on a daily basis.
Not my proudest moment. But at the end of all this I somehow had a cheesecake to slide into the oven.
Then I over-baked it a little.
In the end, people seemed to like it. It was hard for me to judge it after the debacle of putting it together, but I’ll call it a hard-earned success. The main problem I had with it was a little bit of graininess in the texture. I am not sure if it’s because I used some ricotta cheese (and maybe didn’t pulse the ricotta long enough in the food processor), or because it was over-baked, or a combination of the two. Regardless, people had a great time, and it was worth the effort to celebrate my friends’ birthdays.
So, I guess I still have a few things to learn in this baking game. As far as disasters go, this wasn’t so bad. But it might be a while before I face up against caramel again.
Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen (I used a Giada recipe to figure out how to incorporate the ricotta. I’ve done this before, and I love the combination of cream cheese and ricotta.)
PLEASE read this webpage before proceeding with this recipe. David Lebovitz gives great instructions for making a dry caramel: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2008/01/how-to-make-the/. I don’t think you’ll have any problems with this recipe if you follow these instructions.
Serves 8 to 10
- 1 crumb crust (recipe below)
- 1 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 8 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
- 1 (8 ounce) container whole milk ricotta, drained
- 4 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Make crumb crust as directed in separate recipe below, using chocolate wafer cookies instead of graham crackers. (Deb recommends using chocolate teddy grahams, which is what I used.)
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Cook sugar in a dry heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally until melted and pale golden. (See website above for clear pictures and instructions.) Cook caramel without stirring, swirling pan, until deep golden. Remove from heat and carefully add heavy cream (mixture will vigorously steam and caramel will harden). Cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until caramel is dissolved. Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate until smooth. Stir in sour cream.
Blend the ricotta in a food processor until smooth. Add the cream cheese and blend well. Then beat in chocolate mixture on low speed. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, then vanilla, beating on low speed until each ingredient is incorporated and scraping down bowl between additions.
Put springform pan with crust in a shallow baking pan. Pour filling into crust and bake in baking pan (to catch drips) in middle of oven 55 minutes, or until cake is set 3 inches from edge but center is still slightly wobbly when pan is gently shaken.
Run a knife around top edge of cake to loosen and cool completely in springform pan on a rack. (Cake will continue to set as it cools.) Chill cake, loosely covered, at least 6 hours. Remove side of pan and transfer cake to a plate. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Do ahead: Cheesecake keeps, covered and chilled, 1 week.
(Deb recommends doubling the crust. Also, I cut the sugar in half. It seemed unnecessary for the already-sweetened cookies, but I’ve included the original recipe here.)
Makes enough for a 24 centimeter cheesecake.
1 1/2 cups (5 ounces) finely ground cookies such as chocolate wafers
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
Grind cookies in a food processor. Add melted butter, sugar, and salt. Combine. Press onto bottom and 1 inch up side of a buttered 24-centimeter springform pan. Fill right away or chill up to 2 hours.