Monday 11 February 2008

My first Tuesday with Dorie

Ever since I became a Daring Baker, I've been introduced to so many new treats that I normaly wouldn't have chosen to make myself. Some of them, such as the Bostini Cream Pie, have been absolute hits and others, have been less so. Still, I'm very much enjoying the experimentation and feel that it has definitely tested my skill as a baker. So, when I started reading about a new baking group, Tuesdays with Dorie, that was recently formed with the intent of baking their way through one of my favourite books on baking, Baking: From my home to yours, I just knew I had to join them.

I officially became a member last Thursday and thankfully, didn't have to wait long to complete my first challenge as the group posts every Tuesday. This time, the recipe was chosen by Jaime of Good Eats n' Sweet Treats and she chose a Brown Sugar-Apple Cheesecake.

Now, I'm a big cheesecake fan. And I mean big. Back in college, I used to mail order cheesecakes from The Cheesecake Factory, keep them in the freezer and polish them off singlehandedly. My favourite flavour was Triple Chocolate Brownie Truffle. I would have merrily continued along this path of ordering cakes by post and eating them had it not been for the fact that one day my Cheesecake Factory cake box came with a nutrition label slapped on to it. When I saw the nutritional content of 1 slice of cheesecake, I nearly fainted. Each decadent slice of cheesecake contained a whopping 900 calories, a large proportion of which is saturated fat, I'm sure. In any case, my cheesecake ordering habit stopped then and there. I didn't stop eating cheesecake completely, though, I just decided to indulge in moderation.

This week's recipe for TWD is a twist on a traditional cheesecake as it is lightly flavoured with cinnamon and apple cider, and also contains cooked apples. The flavours are definitely autumnal (think spiced apple cider) but are perfect still for the winter. Remembering what I learned in college about cheesecakes, where possible, I used lower fat ingredients such as light cream cheese and half fat sour cream. Having not made a cake with full-fat ingredients for comparison, I can't tell you if this affected the taste, but I can tell you that I thought the cheesecake still tasted every bit as creamy and decadent. The only problem I had with my cheesecake was that after taking it out from the oven to cool, my cake promptly developed a large crack down the middle. I'm not quite sure why it happened but despite the slight blemish to its appearance, I was still pretty happy with my first attempt at cheesecake making. You can be sure I'll be enjoying the rest of the cake, one small slice at a time, of course.

Brown Sugar-Apple Cheesecake

For the Crust
30 gingersnaps (or a scant 2 cups graham cracker crumbs)
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted

For the Apples
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter
3 large Golden Delicious or Fuji apples, peeled, cored and cut into eighths
2 tbsp (packed) light brown sugar

For the Filling
1 1/2 pounds (three 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
6 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp apple cider
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
1/3 cup heavy cream

Apple jelly, for glazing, or confectioner's sugar, for dusting (optional)

To Make the Crust:
Butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan. Put the gingersnaps in a food processor and whir until you have crumbs; you should have a scant 2 cups. (If you are using graham cracker crumbs, just put them in the food processor.) Pulse in the sugar and cinnamon, if you're using it, then pour over the melted butter and pulse until the crumbs are moistened. Turn the crumbs into the springform pan and, using your fingertips, firmly press them evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan as far as they'll go. Put the pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven. (The crust can be covered and frozen for up to 2 months.)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove the pan from the freezer and wrap the bottom tightly in aluminum foil, going up the sides. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until the crust is set and lightly browned. Transfer to a rack to cool while you make the apples and the filling. Leave the oven at 350 degrees F.

To Make the Apples:
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the foam subsides, toss in half of the apple slices and cook, turning once, until they are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle the apples with 1 tablespoon of the sugar and cook them, turning, just until coated, another minute or so. Scrape the apples onto a plate, wipe out the skillet and repeat with the remaining apples. Let the apples cool while you make the filling.

Getting Ready to Bake:
Have a roasting pan large enough to hold the springform pan at hand. Put a kettle of water on to boil.

To Make the Filling:
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese on medium speed, scraping down the bowl often, for about 4 minutes, or until it is velvety smooth. Add the sugars and beat for another 2 minutes. Beat in the cider, vanilla, and cinnamon. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes in. Finally, beat in the sour cream and heavy cream, beating just until the batter is smooth.

Pour about one third of the batter into the baked crust. Drain the apples by lifting them off the plate with a slotted spoon or spatula, and spoon them into the pan. Cover with the remaining batter and, if needed, jiggle the pan to even the top. Place the springform pan in the roasting pan and pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 to 45 minutes, covering the cake loosely with a foil tent at the 45-minute mark. The cake will rise evenly and crack around the edges, and it should be fully set except, possibly, in the very center--if the center shimmies, that's just fine. Gently transfer the cake, still in the pan, to a cooling rack and let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate it for at least 6 hours; overnight would be better.

Run a blunt knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the crust, open the pan's latch and release and remove the sides.

Makes 1 10-inch cake