I have, for weeks now, been in the throes of cleaning out my late parents' house in preparation for putting it on the market. I'm finally very close to being done, and I look forward to having more free time for holiday baking before Christmas is upon us. When you're sorting through the household miscellany, memorabilia, and detritus of a household that was occupied for 56 years by the same folks, you tend to encounter a few surprises--some extraordinarily wonderful, and others of the sort that will just have you scratching your head.
On the delightful side, I found a shoe-box sized container, tucked away in a seldom-visited closet, that was chock full of love notes from my father to my mother, most of them written in the months preceding their wedding day. Penned or typewritten on yellowed sheets of office scrap paper (they'd worked for the same company), the notes are without exception idealistic, funny, tender, and adoring. I can see why my mom saved every single one.
Toward the odder end of the spectrum, I found more springform pans than any one woman could use or destroy in a lifetime. I knew there were several stashed here and there in that house, having already adopted a couple of them when my mom first passed away, but I don't think I ever realized the true profusion that she'd accumulated over the years. She'd clearly been on a decades-long hunt for the perfect springform pan, relegating her cast-offs to the basement as she procured new and improved versions.
Some women of her era collected figurines and knick-knacks. She collected baking paraphernalia. And she did have a solid reputation for making truly fine cheesecakes--no doubt about that--so I guess she invested wisely.
About this recipe . . .
In celebration of that multitude of springform pans, I offer up this dark, dense, chocolate espresso cheesecake recipe. Where is it from? Well, you may laugh when I tell you that I adapted it from a recipe printed on a promotional wall calendar that came from an old-fashioned Italian bakery, in this neck of the woods, called Julian Bros. It turned out exceptionally well and I served it as one of the dessert options on Thanksgiving. If you love dark chocolate and coffee, you'll undoubtedly enjoy this cheesecake. If you prefer sweeter chocolate and don't care for coffee, make it exclusively with semi-sweet chocolate and omit the espresso powder altogether.
Have ready one 9" x 3" springform pan. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees if you're using a dark-surfaced pan, and to 325 if you're not.
2 and 1/2 cups finely crushed chocolate graham-cracker crumbs
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. malted butter (I used unsalted.)
1 scant pinch of kosher salt
8 oz. of good quality dark chocolate (Avoid using chocolate chips.)
4 oz. of good quality semi-sweet baking chocolate (Again, avoid using chocolate chips.)
4 eight-oz. packages (2 lbs. total) of cream cheese, softened and no cooler than room temperature (Use a thick, reliable cream cheese like Philadelphia brand.)
3 large eggs, at room temperature (Important that they're not at all cold; you can warm them quickly from the fridge, in their shells, by placing them in a bowl of very warm water for a few minutes.)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. fine espresso powder (Or more, but only if you're completely crazy about this stuff.)
3 Tbsp. heavy cream (at room temperature)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
One 2 to 3 oz. chunk of milk chocolate, if you'd like to decorate the top of the baked cake with curls.
In a medium size bowl, toss the chocolate graham cracker crumbs with the salt; add in the melted butter and the almond extract, mixing with a fork until the crumbs are all moistened. Dump the mixture into your springform pan and press it firmly and evenly onto the bottom of the pan and an inch or so up the sides (don't worry if the sides aren't of even height all around). Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar and the espresso powder. Set aside.
Slowly melt the dark and semi-sweet chocolate together. This can be done in the microwave if you're very watchful and careful, heating for several seconds, then checking and stirring, repeatedly. Or, melt the chocolate in a double boiler on the stove top over low heat, being vigilant that not a single drop of water gets into the chocolate. Keep the melted chocolate slightly warm; it needs to be fluid but not hot when it's eventually added into the cheesecake batter.
In the large bowl of your mixer, on low speed, beat the cream cheese for a few minutes until smooth. If it still feels at all cold, keep slowly beating until it's truly room temperature. Into this, add the melted chocolate, still on low speed. Pour in the sugar mixture and the heavy cream, beating now on low-medium speed until well blended (you don't want to beat so quickly that you add air into the batter). One at a time, add in the eggs on low speed, beating until they're completely incorporated (perhaps a minute for each egg). Add in the vanilla extract.
Pour the batter into the springform pan over the crust. Bake in the middle of the oven, uncovered and without a water bath (believe it or not!), for approximately 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven when the surface looks slightly dry and the cake still visibly jiggles in the center; don't overbake. Remove the cake from the oven carefully and let it first start to cool in a fairly warm spot, like atop the stove, on a rack. Leave it there to cool for at least an hour before moving it to a cooler spot to cool completely. Refrigerate the cake for at least several hours or overnight, still in its springform pan. Before removing the sides of the pan from the cake, run an extremely thin metal spatula around the upper half of the sides to help loosen it.
Decorate the cake top before serving with milk chocolate curls. Make the curls using a vegetable peeler and a chunk of chocolate that's room temperate or slightly warmer. The curls are very delicate, so don't touch them with your fingers if you can help it. Lift them onto the cake with a thin metal spatula, or something equally unlikely to break them.
Just click on that slice of brie cheesecake with strawberries, above, to get to the Recipe Index!
Jane's Sweets & Baking Journalwas born of my ever increasing desire to learn more about the baking and pastry arts, and of my love for anything and everything related to baking. Just as food is meant to be shared, so is knowledge among bakers and among those who enjoy delicious foods prepared from scratch. So, please partake, and feel free to share your thoughts and comments. I'd love to hear from you.
If you'd like to know a bit about me please click here, or look for the tiny photo of a pink cupcake topped by a strawberry, further down, in the "About me"section. You can also reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org . . .
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JANE'S FAVORITE BAKING BOOKS
About Professional Baking: The Essentials, by Gail Sokol. This is a textbook, but not one that's intimidating. It contains lots of useful info, including interesting personal profiles of professional chefs.
All-American Cookie Book, by Nancy Baggett. Another winner of the IACP award. Loads of good looking cookie recipes with lots of very appetizing photos. (Don't you love cookbooks with tons of pictures? I do.)
All-American Dessert Book, by Nancy Baggett. Wonderfully detailed, with very reliable recipes, Baggett does it again in this valuable cookbook. Definitely worth your time!
Art & Soul of Baking, by Cindy Mushet. This large Gourmet Cook Book Club Selection is a feast for the eyes. I love the page layout, the photos, and the author's reassuring tone. Recipes range from the quotidian ("classic sugar cookies") to the ridiculous ("Moroccan-spiced sweet-potato tiropetes") to the absolute sublime ("duo-tone chocolate pots de creme"). Worth acquiring.
Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft, by the Culinary Institute of America. This is a heavy duty textbook, not for the faint of heart. Intimidating, sure, but also kind of fascinating if you're an obsessive bake-a-holic like me.
Baking with Julia, written by Dorie Greenspan and based on the PBS series hosted by Julia Child. Yet another hefty and dazzling coffee-table-worthy cookbook. Wonderful to have around. (My copy was autographed by Julia herself!)
Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook, published in 1950 and available in a facsimile edition, holds a special place in my heart. This is the book my mom primarily used, or so it seemed, when I was a kid. The photos are such period pieces, and the little notations that accompany recipes are pricelessly cute and corny. I have an ancient copy that I still use. Every girl needs a copy of this in her house, for good karma if nothing else.
Bitter Sweet -- Recipes and Tales From a Life in Chocolate, by Alice Medrich. Much more than just a cookbook with a focus on fine dark chocolate, this is also a memoir of sorts from a legendary chocolate-dessert creator. Medrich is often credited with awakening American tastes to the finest aspects of superior chocolate. Very interesting read!
Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes,by Jeffrey Hamelman. An indispensable book for anyone who is seriously interested in learning to make fine yeast breads, Hamelman shares far more than just technical knowledge. Like fellow bread guru Peter Reinhart, his warmth of spirit and deep love for the tradition of bread baking shines through on every page.
Breakfast Book, by Marion Cunningham. Not to be confused with the character of the mom on Happy Days, the real Marion Cunningham has a long list of writing accomplishments, the most well known being that she completely revised The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. A contemporary of the late James Beard's, she is still held in high esteem.
Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Rose is really into the science of baking, which can be helpful in some respects and off-putting in others. Like gardeners who talk mostly about soil components without conveying their joy in the plants themselves. Maybe I'm too sensitive? Probably so, as many consider this to be an invaluable classic. Despite my reservations, I wouldn't part with my copy. One of several highly detailed books by Rose. Her latest book, Heavenly Cakes, is much more down to earth, loaded with photos, and truly beautiful.
Cake Book, by Tish Boyle. I've called it a treasure trove before and please allow me to say it again here. This book is jam packed with wonderful stuff that's well explained. I used the Sacher-torte recipe in the fall of '09 for a culinary school project and it didn't let me down. I can endorse this book without reservation. I love it.
Complete Book of Pastry Sweet & Savory, by Bernard Clayton, Jr. When this book appeared in 1981, famed food editor Craig Claiborne praised it in the NYT as "one of the most important cookbooks of this year, if not of this decade." No photos, but don't let that dissuade you.
Craft of Baking, by Karen DeMasco & Mindy Fox. In 2009, some great new cookbooks were published and this was one of them. Down to earth, straightforward without being condescending, this smart guide offers creative and simple twists on dozens of diverse and well-proven "cakes, cookies, and other sweets."
Dessert University, by Roland Mesnier. As the White House executive pastry chef for over two decades, Mesnier has a lot of wisdom to impart. He does so well in this book, which is designed specifically for home bakers. A good book!
Grand Central Baking Book, by Piper Davis and Ellen Jackson. Readers are welcomed into these pages with a tone of warmth and familiarity. The photos alone will have you scribbling a grocery list. Try the berry kuchen recipe--simple and scrumptious.
Hershey's Chocolate Treasury, published in 1984 by Hershey Foods and chock full of old reliables. The recipe for Black Magic cake is one I've used again and again--invaluable!
How to Bake, by Nick Malgieri. The writing style is matter of fact and fairly informal. That's one of my favorite things about Malgieri's books.
Magical Art of Cake Decorating, by Carole Collier. Sometimes at a used book sale you find an old gem like this. Published in '84, I found it very encouraging when I first began decorating cakes. The recipes are rock solid reliable.
Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, by Maida Heatter. Famed baker (apparently her "Palm Beach Brownies" are known far and wide), whose work has centered on wondrous chocolate desserts, Heatter received a James Beard award for this book, one of many she's published over several active decades.
Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, by Martha Stewart. Beautiful photos, but I must admit I've come to have reservations about the reliability of some of the recipes. Is it just me? Though I love flipping through the book for ideas, I'm a bit on the fence with this one when it comes to actual usage.
Martha Stewart's Wedding Cakes by Martha Stewart. Talk about a stunning and inspiring book! Chances are you may never decide to actually make one of the cakes from this glorious volume, but it's enough just to page through the gorgeous pictures and interesting recipes. Expensive? For sure, but worth it.
Passion for Baking, A by Marcy Goldman. If you're curious about how professional bakers manage to make things come out nicely every time, you'll appreciate this book. Goldman, in her highly approachable style, divulges many of their simple--but enormously helpful--tricks and techniques, and shows readers how to implement them throughout the wondrous array of down-to-earth recipes that pack this great book. Loads of enticing photos, too! I love this book!
Perfect Cakes, by Nick Malgieri. Can't say enough about Malgieri's books. Absolutely worth using, versus just reading! The white and dark chocolate cheesecake is to die for; I've made it a few times, along with many other recipes from this book, and it is superb.
Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Everyday, by Peter Reinhart. This book is a revelation for anyone who approaches yeast recipes like a vampire approaches the dawn. Talk about down to earth, encouraging, and flexible! This guy knows how to talk to rookie breadmakers. Well worth reading, and using, this volume will find a comfy place in your cookbook collection--a worthwhile purchase, undoubtedly!
Professional Cake Decorating, by Toba Garrett. I get the impression that this book is perceived as the most thorough and comprehensive text available for serious students of cake decorating. This is the text that we used for my culinary school Beginning Cake Decorarting class (which means I finally own my own copy!).
Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours, by Sarabeth Levine. Almost too pretty to use, but use it anyway! This big book is so appealing, and the photos so remarkably enticing, you'll want to pick it up like a sandwich and bite right into it. Fine recipes for updated classics, well explained, from the famous Manhattan bakery. Worth buying. (You'll love it!)
Secrets of Baking, by Sherry Yard. A must have, bakers! This cookbook's forte is the way it's organized; master recipes are presented with full explanations of how they can be used, and related recipes follow, section by section. An exceptional manual to refer to. Get your own copy!
Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes, by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne. Huntsman is the professional pastry chef behind this beautiful book, filled with many tempting recipes, all designed specifically and scaled perfectly for three layers. I've made the Devil's food cake thus far, and it was exceptional--it rose well, was very moist, and had great depth of flavor. I'll be using this book more in the future, without a doubt. Love the photos also!
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. . . to never endorse a product of any kind on Jane's Sweets & Baking Journal that I do not believe in. I've never done so thus far, and I vow never to do so. If I tell you I think something is great, or that I think it is worth spending real money on, then I mean it, rest assured. I promise. And, if I ever talk about a product that I've been given to review or try out, I will disclose that in the post.
I'm a mom with two great sons (both now in college), and a really nice husband. I left a long editorial career in reference publishing a few years ago and I've had nary a regret. I recently finished (after four part-time years!) a Baking & Pastry Arts Certificate program in the Culinary Studies Institute at a local community college. It was a lot of fun, a lot of work, and I am so glad I did it. These days, I do a lot of freelance editorial work, something that I really enjoy.
"Jane's Sweets" was the name of a very small baking enterprise that I started in late 2007. It bloomed a bit, for a little while, with encouragement from my husband, my aunt, and my first cake decorating teacher, Cindy. Because my Aunt Lydia was my most ardent female supporter in this baking endeavor (she was a lifelong independent business owner herself), this blog is dedicated to her memory. If heaven is real, then I know she's there with my mom, baking up a storm. Like Lydia said one day, just before her 80th birthday, while she and my mom and I were baking in my mom's kitchen, "It's been a fun ride. I'd do it all over again!"
If my house were on fire, I'd grab my family, then I'd grab my KitchenAid mixer.
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