Fish and game recipes are great, but it’s hard to make a dessert with tripletail or venison. Since most of us like a bit of something sweet to finish off a meal, this week I would like to share the way I make cheesecake with you. I always use the same basic measurements for all my cheesecakes; I just add ingredients to change the flavors or textures.
This recipe is an almond joy cheesecake, inspired by the candy bar. When it’s finished, you can top it with toasted coconut and roasted almonds — along with a big fresh-from-Florida strawberry, because it’s getting to be that time of year when I start seeing Plant City stickers on the strawberries I order. The California ones are good too, but being a native Floridian I always look forward to seasonal fruit and vegetables from this area.
I was taught that the keys to good cheesecake are whipping one egg at a time into your batter and using a spatula to scrap the sides of the bucket and push the batter down to the bottom of the mixing bowl.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before you start to add eggs, you have to whip the sugar into the cream cheese. I usually just slowly increase the speed of the mixer until it’s on full power and let that run for around a minute. Just so you know, if you increase the speed too fast, you might get sugar and cream cheese all over yourself and your kitchen.
I like to take the cream cheese out of my fridge a couple hours before I’m going to make the cake so it has time to soften and it’s less stress on my mixer.
As for the mixer, I have an old KitchenAid mixer that I got at a thrift store for $60. I took it home and looked up the serial number, and I learned that it was made between 1969 and 1973. So it’s as old as me, and it works just fine.
This recipe calls for almond extract. It’s not hard to find, and it’s a cool ingredient to have on hand if you want to jazz up some BBQ sauce. Try it sometime.
I think cheesecake should always have a topping of some kind. Ganache — equal parts heavy cream and semi-sweet chocolate — is a go-to for me. The trick to it is that you have to melt the chocolate in a double boiler and not get any water in that bowl while melting. One drop of water will seize the chocolate into a gummy paste and it won’t turn out the way into supposed to.
So carefully melt the chocolate and warm the heavy cream to a simmer. Once the chocolate has melted, use a whisk to stir the warm cream into the chocolate. It will start out looking like chocolate milk but will soon turn shiny and appear more like what you’re look for.
Ganache is useful for more than just cheesecakes — it can be used in candymaking or for topping a cake instead of frosting. Just remember that it’s what you want to prepare last, but it will need enough time to be chilled so it sets up and becomes firm.
When you pour the ganache on the cheesecake, it will have bubbles in it. You can leave them in if you want — but if you have a torch like you would use for crème brûlée, you can blow them out. A neat chef trick I was taught years ago.
The crusts for my cheesecakes are always graham cracker and sugar with a little melted butter to bind them together. Before add the batter, I pre-bake my crusts for 8 to 10 minutes at 350 degrees so they have a toasted flavor.
When you make a cheesecake, you have to have a water bath around your cake to help gently cook the batter without burning the top of the cake. A water bath a culinary term for something sitting a small pool of water and being baked. I use spring-form pans to make these cakes, and I’ve learned to line the outside of the pan with aluminum foil to make a barrier between the cake and the water so I don’t get a soggy crust. I don’t like soggy crust.
I rotate my cheesecakes 180 degrees about halfway through the baking time. A lot of ovens have spots that are hotter than others, and this helps it make for a better, more evenly baked cake.
One last tip: I like to fold some sweetened coconut and chocolate chips into the cheesecake batter to give it texture and added flavor.
Alright, go make a cheesecake. Let me know how it turns out!
Chef Tim Spain is a Florida native and has years of experience cooking professionally, both in restaurants and in private settings. He offers private catering and personal culinary classes. For more info, visit ChefTimSpain.com or call 406-580-1994.