I love cheesecake. The delicate balance between sweet and tangy, the silky texture and the overwhelming decadence, but I have never been able to create anything that even closely resembles a cheesecake. It’s the one aspect of baking that has stumped me time and time again. The last cheesecake I made ended up being smeared on our morning bagels because it tasted like a block of straight cream cheese with a dash of sugar. Fine for jazzing up a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel, but borderline disgusting when you take a huge bite expecting cheesecake bliss. From this epic failure, I have been forced to slow down and take a bit more care in my baking. I tend to get an idea of a perfect recipe in my head that prompts me to rush immediately to the nearest grocery store, fill my cart and move through my kitchen like a hurricane covered in flour and paying little attention to my measuring cups and spoons. I have had some of my greatest culinary successes using this method, but I have also created some truly inedible dishes as well (please refer to the above mentioned fancy bagel spread cake).
This holiday season, I had a mission. This mission had two objectives. First, to conquer the seemingly impossible task of creating a cheesecake that doesn’t taste like a block of cream cheese.A respectable cheesecake requires more finesses than I am used to in the kitchen. It requires patience, attention to detail and know-how. If I wanted to fulfill the first part of my holiday mission, I had to slow down and swallow my pride a little, do some research. I read countless recipes and reviews, pulled all the baking cookbooks off my kitchen shelf and took notes, lots and lots of notes.
The second half of my mission was simple: wow them. Every year, I have grand ideas of the masterpieces that I am going to bring to the Christmas dinner table. My daydream involves me sauntering to table, show-stopping dessert in hand, everyone’s jaw hitting the floor. I am wearing a glittery holiday gown with an adorable little apron, grinning from ear to ear as everyone admires my creation. It’s all very Stepfordesque.
Reality: I spend 6 hours in the kitchen fiddling with a double boiler, sweating bullets, wondering why the heck I thought one of the biggest meals of the year was a good day to try baking with lychee fruit. The story ends with me throwing in the towel (literally throwing kitchen towels on top of whatever ghastly concoction is sitting on my countertop), running to the grocery store to buy a plastic box filled with whatever baked goods have green and red sprinkles on them, and showing up for the party in sweat pants.
But not this year. This year, their jaws are going to hit the floor. I will probably still wear sweat pants to dinner though.
There aren’t any complicated techniques in this recipe, but it is time consuming. I recommend laying out all the ingredients before you begin putting everything together to minimize time spent running to your pantry for items. Choose your favorite eggnog for this recipe. I like to use a mellow eggnog with just a touch of spice, but any eggnog will work. Choose the one that best fits your palate.
- 1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
- 7 tablespoons melted butter
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 3–8 oz. packages of cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons dark, spiced rum
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ¾ cups eggnog
- ¼ cup flour
- 2 eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wrap the bottom and outside sides of your 10’ springform pan with two layers of tinfoil. The goal is to make the bottom of your pan water tight so make sure that there aren’t any holes or gaps. Grease the inside of the pan.
- In a small bowl combine crust ingredients until well combined. Evenly pack mixture into the bottom of your pan. Bake for 10 minutes and then leave to cool on a wire rack. Drop the temperature of your oven to 325 degrees.
- In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese at medium speed until smooth and lump free, 4-5 minutes. Scrape down the side frequently to make sure that all of the cream cheese is incorporated. Once smooth, slowly add the sugar and continue to beat until sugar is fully incorporating.
- In a small bowl combine rum, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla and eggnog. Slowly add to cream cheese mixture and beat on low until just incorporated.
- Slowly add the flour and beat on low until just incorporated.
- In a small bowl, lightly beat eggs and egg yolks. Stir into cream cheese mixture. Make sure not to over stir at this point. You want the eggs to be well combined, but you don’t need to stir or beat beyond that point. Pour mixture into pan, over crust.
- Place pan in a roasting pan or other pan that is at least two inches deep. Place in the oven. Add warm water to the roasting pan until the water level is half way up the side of your springform pan. Be very careful not to let the water go up past the tinfoil. If it does you will have a watery cheesecake. Bake 45-60 minutes. The middle of the cheesecake should jiggle when you gently shake the pan. It will continue to set after cooking. Turn off your oven and crack open the door, leaving the cheesecake inside. After 10 minutes run a sharp knife between the cheesecake and the oven. Keep the cheesecake in the oven with the door cracked open until the oven is completely cool. Refrigerate for at least three hours before serving. Garnish with caramel sauce or whipped cream.
Photos: Kasey Ahlquist