The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

I hate to admit, but I am not a fan of cheesecake.  I love cake.  I love cheese.  I love cream cheese (particularly on bagels!), but not a fan of cheesecake.  (I am also not a fan of ice-cream cake though I love ice cream and I love cake.  Go figure…)

My sister’s husband, on the other hand, is a big fan of cheesecake.  So cheesecake has featured a couple of times as my selection of birthday cake for him in the past.  My first attempt though was disastrous.  I found a seemingly simple baked cheesecake recipe and managed to make a mess of it. I prepared and baked it per instruction, but was left with a massive crack or two along the top.  I fondly termed it the San Andreas Cheesecake to play up the error.

After the failure, I obviously needed to do some troubleshooting.  I identified the problem.  No water bath.  So when another birthday for my brother in law rolled around, I gave the cheesecake another whirl.  This time, I am pleased to announce success.

So for this month’s Daring Baker’s challenge, I was quietly confident I could produce a ‘crack free’ cake.  The only question was how creative could be.  After considering a few outrageous flavour combinations, I settled on a simple caramel cheesecake.  I always seem to opt for simple.

Why caramel?  Mostly because I have never filled a cheesecake before and wanted to trial that outcome.  Also, because my lovely Chilean friend K. is always thinking about caramel so the flavour was top of mind.

As challenges go, this for me was pretty simple having made cheesecake before.  I was secretly grateful given some of the more time intensive baked goods I have been tackling this month (sourdough, bagels, brioche and croissants).

If you love cheesecake, this is a perfect recipe.  Proof?  After taking photos for this post, the cake was practically inhaled.  Major contributors include my partner (another cheesecake lover), my brother-in-law (of course), and my little Easter helpers, my nieces.  Every time I turned around another chunk had disappeared.  So proof enough for me!

Here is the basic recipe.

{ Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake }

* Ingredients *

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

* Directions *

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.