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4 Aug 2010

The ultimate Cheesecake and August PaperChef

The ultimate Cheesecake

The past July I was honored to win the monthly PaperChef challenge with my Seared salmon fillet glazed with a raspberry sauce and served with a zucchini and rice timbale and black-eyed peas cooked with mint and garlic. Karen of Prospect the Pantry was so surprised by my raspberry and cumin sauce that she passed me the honor of co-hosting this creative challenge for the month of August. My duties will be to choose the 4 new ingredients and the monthly winner to whom to pass the palm for September's challenge. How do these ingredients get chosen? The hosts of this challenge Ilva of Lucullian Delights and Mikey of Spikey Mikey’s will post a list of ingredients over at PaperChef to which everybody can add their owns simply by commenting.
Back to August challenge, I decided to sort alphabetically the final ingredients that Mikey emailed me this morning allowing me to eliminate a few doubles, was then appointed with the hard job of drawing the four random numbers out of the 56 ingredients. And the winning ingredients for PaperChef's 55th round are:
  • #28 dried dates;
  • #25 cranberries;
  • #33 flour;
  • #11 candied orange peel.
Your duty now is to create a yummy recipe with these 4 ingredients. I know they scream dessert all around, but let’s try coming up with some savory alternative too; this is a creative challenge after all. You will have time till next Tuesday August 10th to post your contribution on your blog and email its link to paperchefATgmailDOTcom. If you do not own a blog, email the whole entry and it will be posted.
Best inspirations to everyone!

And now, dessert time!
I am excited to share with you what I find one of the most unusual and satisfying cheesecake I have ever had. It is fluffy, rich and light, the slight hint of vanilla brings it alive and the glamorous glaze adds a total new dimension to each bite. Did I mention that it has also chocolate in it?
I started the journey to the perfect fluffy cheesecake few years ago inspired by the popularity that this dessert has here in Germany. Even though the rich texture and tangy aroma given by quark to German cheesecake is quite enjoyable, I wanted a choice other than between the grainy dry and the rich smooth texture usually spanned by local restaurants’ offer. I started then looking oversea for new inspiration. The local US coffee shop chain features what seems to be the most commonly found across the ocean: a brick of dense cream cheese that will happily glue your mandibles together better than a dental cast. Don’t get me wrong, it is tasty and surely perfect for somebody on a diet (you really can’t eat more than a thin wedge for the physical strain) but not what I would call The cheesecake.

Cheesecake, as every custard based creation, has that luscious, sensual and at the same time comforting dimension to them that I couldn’t easily find in my samplings. The other problem is the serving temperature, cheesecake is usually eaten cold ok, but I would get ice-cream if I wanted such a level of frigidity in my mouth!
These two problems are actually linked together: dense uniform matter has a higher heat transfer capacity than a fluffy one (that’s why your cappuccino stays hot for a longer time than a normal coffee does, as long as you don’t eat the foam straightaway). Baked Alaska is another example of this effect. Some of you might ask what a baked Alaska actually is; it is a sort of ice-cream cake composed of an ice-cream center wrapped in sponge cake, topped with marshmallowy meringue that is browned with a blow-torch, baked or flamed with alcohol. Both the meringue and the cake work as insulator for the central ice cream when the cake is heated.
So, to summarize, a dense cheesecake gets colder than a fluffy one and it does so faster. The symmetrical problem arises as well; a dense cake will warm up faster than a fluffy one. This is not a real problem if you get your fluffy cheesecake to the right serving temperature; the wedge will keep its ideal temperature for longer for the best of your enjoyment.
Another interesting effect of this kind of behavior is that the surface of your fluffy cheesecake will get faster cooler than the interior so you will be able to glaze it with more ease without the risk of having the whole cake too cold.
Ok, enough with this thermodynamic mambo-jumbo let’s get us some cake!

The ultimate fluffy cheesecake with caraway chocolate nuggets and a Zinfandel-juniper berry glaze

The ultimate Cheesecake

The ultimate fluffy cheesecake:
Ingredients (serve 12):
  • 190g flour;
  • 1/2tbsp sugar;
  • 1 pinch of salt;
  • 125g butter, cut in little diced and very cold;
  • 1 egg, very cold and lightly beaten;
  • Enough icy water to bring the dough together.

Caraway chocolate:
  • 40g dark chocolate, chopped;
  • 1tsp caraway seeds roughly crushed.

Custard filling:
  • 300g cream cheese, at room temperature;
  • 4 eggs;
  • 130g sugar;
  • 1 pinch of salt;
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract;
  • 1tbsp cornstarch;
  • 300g whipping cream, very cold.
Let’s start with the crust. Mix together the flour, sugar and salt by hand or using an electric mixer. Using your hands or pulsing the mixer paddle, combine the ice-cold butter with the flour mixture till nice and crumbly, add then the egg and mix lightly/pulse till the dough comes together when you squeeze a handful of it; use a little icy water if needed. Press down the dough in a disk, wrap in cling film and let it rest in the fridge for 15 min at least.
Warm up the oven at 180 C (350 F) and roll down the dough in a thin disk big enough to line a 26cm (10”) round spring form; wrapping the rolled dough on the rolling pin, cover the spring form pressing the dough down. Prick the bottom and sides with a fork and line the crust with baking paper, fill it with rice, beans or pie weight and bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove now the weights and baking paper and bake for another 15-20 min or until the crust start taking some color.
If the crust will have developed some holes or fissures, close them with a flour-water mixture while it is still hot.
While the crust is cooking prepare the caraway chocolate.
Melt the chopped dark chocolate with the crushed caraway seeds in a small saucepan placed over some hot water (not boiling preferably). Let the chocolate infuse with the caraway for roughly 15 minutes replacing some of the cooled down water from the bowl with some hot one to keep the chocolate hot and fluid.
When the crust will be ready and slightly cooled down start sprinkling the chocolate on it, be sure to make little uniformly distributed mounds of chocolate here and there. Let it solidify while the crust is cooling down to room temperature.
Warm up the oven to 200 C (390 F).
For the filling whisk together the cream cheese with the sugar and the eggs, one at a time; add now the vanilla and the salt. Using a fine mesh sieve, sift the cornstarch over the mixture little by little and mix till well combined.
Whip the cream till it holds soft peaks; if possible, store the whip and bowl that you will use in the fridge for a good 30 minutes (or freezer for 10 minutes) before using them.
Fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture one third at a time.
Fill the crust with the cream cheese filling and bake at 200C (300 F) for 15min and 20min at 160C (320 F). The cake should have a lovely golden color, still be wobbly but look more like a jelly than a liquid. Let it come to room temperature before refrigerating it overnight before serving.

Red-wine Juniper sauce
  • 180 ml full bodied red-wine (Zinfandel, Syrah);
  • 1tsp fructose or sugar;
  • 1/2 tsp maple syrup;
  • 1/2 tsp powdered gelatin;
  • 10 juniper berries, crushed;
  • 1tsp sugar, caramelized;
  • Ca. 1/2tsp cornstarch.

Bloom the gelatin in the wine for 10-15 minutes in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to simmer and add to it the fructose and the maple syrup; let the wine reduce to half on medium-low heat.
While the wine reduction is still hot add the crushed juniper berries and let steep, covered and out of fire for 20 minutes.
In the meantime prepare the caramel with the other teaspoon of sugar and a little water. When it will attain a lovely amber color plunge the bottom of the saucepan in cold water to stop the cooking process. Melt back the caramel with few teaspoons of red wine.
Strain the red wine reduction into a clean saucepan (or just a bowl tipping it back into the cleaned saucepan). Tasting, add the melted caramel to the sauce a little at a time. Dissolve the cornstarch in a little extra red wine; bring the reduction to a boil and add the cornstarch slurry a little at a time, stirring until the sauce will coat the spoon. Remember that the sauce will get denser upon cooling; if it will get too dense dilute it slightly with some red wine.
To serve the cake, you can either spread the glaze over the entire cake or dribble a teaspoon full of it over each slice. To cut the cake it is better to use a knife that has been plunged into hot water.

The ultimate Cheesecake

There are still two important points in these recipes that I would like you to grasp for future use.
You might have noticed the addition of a little cornstarch to the cheesecake filling, this allows you to bake the cake in a hot oven without causing the eggs to curdle (it is thought that starch granules get in the way of protein strands trying to form clumps). Without starch, you would have to bake it in a lover temperature oven or in a bain-marie. Think at English custard versus pastry cream.
The second point regards the glaze. Here the odd looking ingredient is the gelatin. When you reduce a liquid containing gelatin for quite some time, chance will have that the latter will be quite modified by the end to not be able to form a gel anymore; so why adding it? Here the reason lies in the wine. Red wines are full of tannins that contribute to their mouthfeel; they do so by clinging to the proteins loose in your mouth. This is what we call astringency.
These compounds will get far too predominant in a reduced wine so to render the final sauce often too astringent. The addition of the proteins coming from the gelatin will cause the tannins to coagulate with them rather than with those in your mouth.
You will obtain the same result by reducing the wine with some other kind of protein like ham, if doing a savory sauce that is.


  1. Man, what an interesting post, Ale! Informative and explorative! I am digging your scientific twists! And your pics get better and better! Chapeau!

  2. This is perfection! I can't think of a more brilliant dessert than cheesecake and your alterations have made this truly unique!

  3. Luscious and enticing, well done A.

  4. that looks INCREDIBLE. i want some!

  5. Alessio, I am so excited, I posted a recipe for Paperchef. :-) And it's a sweet one, sorry, but I had fun coming up with the idea. What about you?

  6. Oh, my I love the sound of the Red Wine Juniper sauce. Your cheesecake looks and sounds divine.

  7. Wow! I think I would love that sauce (and cheescake too!) I instantly got the drift to go out and look for some juniper berries. Although they might not be ripe yet. Did you use fresh ones or mabye dried?
    I will try it out sometime, but, without any gelatin.

  8. I've seen so many recipes lately for carrot cake! So far, I think yours must be the best! The other one I really like is this Pure Pumpkin Cheesecake. What do you think? Happy Baking!