It’s a cheesecake challenge… Bring it on!!
Last night, I had a girls’ night with some of the girls I bowl with on Monday nights, and I was challenged to a cheesecake competition. This has been a standing challenge, as the girl who brought it on has been saying for months that we need to do this so that we can decide, once and for all, who the master of all cheesecake awesomeness is! In all honesty, Nikki had offended me the very first time I ever made cheesecake for them, for the bowling Christmas party, by saying that it tasted like store-bought. I was highly offended, and so when she first mentioned a cheesecake challenge, I knew I was going to have to bring my A-game! Store-bought?! Cheesecake?! When I can make a perfectly delicious one all by myself?! Yeah, this was WAR!!
I’ve gotten to know Nikki much better since then, and she is becoming a very dear friend to me, so there are no hard feelings between us anymore. But, we do taunt each other about our cheesecake-making skills on a regular basis!
When we decided to do a girls’ night, right away Nikki was excited – we could finally have our cheesecake challenge! So, for a couple of weeks now, I’ve been thinking really hard about which cheesecake I would be doing. Since this was all about cheesecake awesomeness, it had to be something good! I still didn’t know what I was going to make until the week of the girls’ night, but had been thinking about a white chocolate raspberry one (one of my personal favorites). I was actually at the grocery store to pick up all of my ingredients when I happened upon the baking isle – Go figure! – and passed an entire section of marshmallows. That’s when the idea came to me… How about a S’mores Cheesecake?! I sent a text message to a couple of my friends, asking them which one they would rather have, and both of them said “S’mores!” Good!! Because that’s what I really wanted anyways, now that I had gotten the idea in my head! This was gonna GOOOOOOOD…
I’ve made my fair share of cheesecakes, since that was our primary dessert at Fetaz, but we didn’t usually do a lot of chocolate ones. We swirled a lot of fruit purees into them, made toppings for them, but we didn’t do chocolate very often. I did make a Black Forest Cheesecake for my birthday last year, but I had thought it was too dense and rich for what I wanted now so decided to melt the chocolate with heavy cream, as you would for ganache, and add that to the batter. But, I was a little worried that doing this would dilute the chocolate flavor too much, so I searched the internet for chocolate cheesecakes and saw that a lot of people also added cocoa powder to their chocolate cheesecake recipes when doing this. Following my basic cheesecake recipe, I added the chocolate mix-ins and continued with the recipe like normal. (Fair warning: This is still a very rich, and VERY chocolatey, cheesecake! If you want less chocolate flavor, simply reduce or take out the cocoa powder.) While checking out what other people had to say about the chocolate cheesecakes, I came across something interesting, though, that I thought I should pass on to you, my readers… I’ve never had a problem with this happening, but if you mix the batter too much after adding the eggs, it can incorporate too much air into the batter and you could have problems with air bubbles. So, it’s best to add the eggs at the very end and only stir until they are just mixed in. Too much air in the batter can also create a soufflé effect with your cheesecake, causing it to rise and then fall, leaving behind cracks in the top of your beautiful cheesecake. So, I did alter my original recipe to reflect this bit of information…
When it came to the crust, of course, I would be doing the traditional graham cracker crust. Since it was to be resembling the campfire treat, though, I wanted it to be a little more substantial, so I actually did measure out the ingredients for it this time. I also wanted it to be a little bit crunchy, so blind-baked it for just a little bit before adding the batter. If your springform pan leaks, as a lot of them do, I read a really great tip for keeping your crust dry that actually does work! Instead of wrapping layers of foil around your cheesecake pan, which doesn’t always work, use the plastic liners they make for Crock Pots around the outside of your pan. Simply open up the bake and fold down the sides, put the pan of cheesecake into the bag, and fold down the sides some more until the bag is flush with the side of the pan as much as possible. That’s definitely so much easier, and much less messy!
Now, when it came to the topping, I needed something marshmallowy… I tend to think that cheesecakes are rather classy, so I didn’t want to just throw a bunch of marshmallows on top of the thing and call it good. Besides, this was a challenge, so I had to do better than blah pre-made marshmallows! Then I remembered the S’mores Cupcakes I make, and thought how perfectly that marshmallow topping would work on my cheesecake. And, besides, it gave me another reason to use my Crème Brûlée torch! For the garnish, I couldn’t find the little dipping style graham crackers that I’ve purchased in the past, but I did find some other ones that sufficed, in the form of Spongebob Snacking Grahams… So I turned the Spongebob sides of the grahams to the inside and made miniature s’mores to garnish my cheesecake slices! Who can resist tiny-sized s’mores?! Ummm… Nobody!!
The girls’ night was great fun, and, in the end, it really didn’t matter who the real winner of the competition was (ME!!) because there was more than plenty of great food to be eaten and much fun to be had!
2 oz. semi-sweet baking chocolate, coarsely chopped
¼ c. heavy whipping cream
3 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 c. white sugar
⅓ c. unsweetened cocoa powder
⅛ c. homemade vanilla extract, or 2 tsp. store-bought vanilla extract
4 eggs, at room temperature
2 c. graham cracker crumbs
6 Tbsp. butter, melted
8 large egg whites
2 c. white sugar
½ tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract, optional
Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bars, broken into individual pieces, for garnish (optional)
Bite-size graham cracker pieces, for garnish (optional)
Additional graham cracker crumbs, for garnish (optional)
For the cheesecake batter: In a small saucepan, combine the baking chocolate and the heavy cream and heat over low heat, stirring constantly, until the chocolate is melted and smooth; remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
In the mixing bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine and cream cheese, sugar, and cocoa powder and mix on medium-low/medium speed until thoroughly combined and no lumps remain. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, then add the vanilla extract and the chocolate mixture and beat on low/medium-low until well blended and no streaks remain. Finally, add the eggs, one at a time, and beat on low speed until just blended, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl if needed. Cover the bowl and allow the batter to sit in the refrigerator overnight.
To make the cheesecake: Preheat oven to 350°. In a medium bowl, mix together the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter until thoroughly combined. Lightly press the mixture onto the bottom and partway up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake for 10 minutes, then allow the crust to cool; Reduce the oven temperature to 325°.
Pour the cheesecake batter over the crust and place the filled springform pan into a large cake pan or roasting pan, filling the outside pan halfway with water. Place the pan into the preheated oven and bake until the cheesecake is almost set, approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and let it continue to sit in the water bath for about a half hour; remove the springform pan from the water bath and place it in the refrigerator to finish cooling.
For the marshmallow topping: When the cheesecake is completely cooled, place the egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in the heatproof bowl of an electric mixer. Set over a saucepan with simmering water and whisk constantly until the sugar is dissolved and the whites are warm to the touch, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the bowl to the electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and beat, starting on low speed, gradually increasing to high, until stiff, glossy peaks form, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the vanilla, and mix until combined. Transfer the frosting to a large pastry bag fitted with a large plain round or French tip (I like the Wilton large star tip - #2110). Pipe the frosting in a spiral motion onto the top of the cheesecake, reserving a little extra to pipe around the outside edges and make miniature s’mores, if you’re doing that. Using a kitchen torch, lightly brown the marshmallow topping all around the cheesecake. Pipe some of the remaining topping around the outsides of the cheesecake and sprinkle with extra graham cracker crumbs.
Slice the cheesecake into the desired number of pieces (I think 12 is a nice number) and serve each piece garnished with a piece of Hershey’s candy and bite-size graham cracker pieces. Store any leftover cheesecake, covered well, in the refrigerator.