Sunday, October 31, 2010

- Say cheese (cake)

I'm not sure why I don't watch "Good Eats" as much as I used to ... somehow it went off my radar when we moved to Texas. But Alton Brown, the Bill Nye of cooking, has been the source of many culinary successes over the years. So when I needed to figure out a birthday treat for a co-worker on a paleolithic diet, I turned to an Alton-inspired cheesecake recipe that worked well with Splenda in our South Beach diet days. Since said co-worker is partial to stevia-based sweeteners, I bought some SweetLeaf, crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best.

Now there are also several college students in our office who have no caloric concerns, which led me to make two batches of cheesecake ... one with stevia and one with old-fashioned cane sugar. And not knowing who liked what with cheesecake, I decided to use mini-cake pans so I could use a variety of toppings. In other words, I hedged my bets.

The unbaked batters tasted equally good to my sugar-addled tastebuds, and the final products disappeared from the office fridge in short order. A sure sign of success. So I kept the stevia in the cabinet for future use.  But I must confess, when Meg came by the following weekend, it was the cane sugar version that got the nod for a reprise of cheesecake four ways: with ganache, dulce de leche, strawberry jam, and cherry preserves.

And this time, the camera was ready ...

Cheesecake a la Alton 
  • 1/2 cup finely ground almonds
  • 1-2 Tbs. melted butter
  • 1-2 tsp. sugar (or 1/8 - 1/4 tsp. stevia sweetener)
  • 8 ounces cream cheese (regular or low fat)
  • 1/2 cup sugar (or 1 Tbs. stevia)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 - 1 tsp. almond extract
  • 1 egg and 1 egg yolk
  • 1-2 Tbs. cream (or half-and-half)
Preheat oven to 300. Spray Baker's Joy into 4 mini-cake pans.
Since a lot of this recipe depends on taste, the crust ingredient amounts are open to interpretation.  Just grind a handful of almonds in the food processor, stir in some melted butter and sugar, adjust to taste, and lightly press into the bottom of each cake pan.  Put in the oven for 10 minutes to toast the nuts while you mix up the batter. Then take out the pans and let them cool slightly. Lower the oven to 250 degrees.
Beat the cream cheese and sugar together, then continue to beat in the sour cream, almond extract (more or less, depending on your taste), eggs, and cream. The batter should be light and all ingredients fully incorporated.
Divide the batter into the mini-cake pans and put the mini-cake pans into a roaster or large cake pan with 2-3" sides. Put into the 250 degree oven and carefully pour hot water into the large pan to a depth of  1 inch, creating a water bath.
Bake for 1 hour. Turn off the oven. Open the door for one minute to release some of the heat. Close the door and leave the cheesecakes in the hot water bath for another hour.
Take the pans carefully out of the water bath to avoid dripping water on the surface of the cheesecakes. Cool for 15-30 minutes, then brush sour cream lightly on top of each cheesecake, cover with plastic wrap, and put in the refrigerator for 4-6 hours. 
To serve, run a thin-bladed knife around the edges of each cheesecake, then turn onto a serving plate. If you want the almond crust on the bottom, put plastic wrap over your hand, turn the cheesecake onto your palm, then carefully turn it crust side down onto the plate. Top with your choice of jam, ganache, dulce de leche, or all of the above.