Rolling Pin and Flour

Rolling Pin and Flour

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The challenge of cheesecake

After offering to make carrot cake that one fateful spring day, I suddenly became the keeper of the cake.  Nothing was ever explicitly said, Louie just stopped making it so I stepped in to try to fill his shoes.  It worked out pretty well.  Those hated moments of twiddling my thumbs while the bread rose could now be spent mixing, baking and frosting carrot cake.  I was still trying to figure out the best way to bake it though.  Most times it pooched oddly on one side and many times it seemed to dark around the bottom and edges of the pan.  Much like the bread, it needed a vigilant hand to turn it every so often.  And voila!  It started to look pretty darn good.

As I was going through this process one night, Louie says to me, "I was thinking about making a cheesecake."

"I bet that would sell really well here actually," I agreed.

"What's the most interesting cheesecake recipe you've ever made?"

I didn't really even have to think about it.  Over Christmas, one of our Chinese friends had invited us over for a potluck dinner.  He was making curry beef and stir fried kale with mushrooms, so I opted to stick with his theme and make wonton soup.  I also wanted to bring dessert.  But what sort of dessert was special enough for Christmas dinner and still paired well with Asian food?  After some thought, I decided upon mango cheesecake.  It was made with a mango puree that was cooked and thickened slightly and then served with a mango sauce.  To my delight, it was a big hit at the dinner party.

"I made a mango cheesecake over Christmas once," I volunteered.

"Very cool.  I have some mango in the freezer in back.  How do you feel about coming in an extra day this week to make one?"

I stopped short.  I had barely taken on the duties of carrot cake and suddenly here I was making cheesecakes too?  Besides, did Louie even think about how difficult it would be to pull off a beautiful, smooth, creamy cheesecake in this kitchen?  With those temperamental ovens?  But being the dutiful student that I was, I of course agreed.

So there it was.  I was going to make a mango cheesecake for the Farmhouse.  That night I went back to review the recipe and tried to come up with my plan of attack over the next few days.  It would involve first baking the crust and letting that cool.  Next up, I would have to make the mango puree, cook it down and let it cool before it was added to the filling.  I would need to mix the filling and boil water so that the cheesecake could be baked in a water bath.  This ensured that it cooked evenly and didn't crack.  In those ovens, this step would be essential.  Otherwise there was no way I could get it to come out right.

The big night came and I tried to be confident about the whole thing.  I even brought a quick-read thermometer from home so I could make sure the cheesecake was the right temperature when I pulled it out of the oven.  There would be no cheesecake soup on my watch!

Aside from consulting the printout of the recipe about a thousand times during the process, the whole thing went off surprisingly well. 

The moment of truth came the following night.  As the Friday dinner rush was getting started, Louie pulled my cheesecake out of the dessert cooler.  With a quick slip of a knife around the edges, he popped off the springform and swiped his finger around the edge of the pan to get a taste.

"It's perfect," he said.  "You're lucky you're married, or you'd have to deal with me harassing you all the time."

I felt heat rush into my cheeks.  If ever there had been a time I'd wanted to say 'Aw, shucks', now was it.  I had always heard that the way to a man's heart was through his stomach.  My husband could probably vouch for that.  He had put on a fair amount of weight (would you believe 50 pounds?) since we'd met five years ago.  The poor guy didn't stand a chance with my weekend baking fests with no shortage of heavy cream and butter.

When I came in for my shift on Monday, there was no cheesecake to be found.  We had a hit on our hands!  And so the tradition of two cheesecakes a week began.  That's not to say it wasn't without its own challenges.  One week there was no mango, so I made peach instead.  One week there was no butter, so I had to use oil in the crust.  One week there was no aluminum foil to wrap the pan, so I had to do without the water bath (it cracked of course).  Once I forgot to butter the sides of the pan, so it stuck a little more than it should have.  Sometimes I forgot to tap the pan on the counter to release the air bubbles and it ended up looking like an acne plagued teenager with tiny pockmarks all over the top of it.  One very special time, I left out an important ingredient.  Nevertheless, customers kept on ordering it and eventually I memorized the recipe, streamlined the process and started making a berry swirl version that became a staple at the cafe throughout the summer months.

What I was beginning to realize was that nothing was impossible.  And in order to make anything worthwhile, you had to take some risks.  Against all better judgement, even when your entire being was telling you no, you just had to say yes.  Besides, isn't that how I got into this whole crazy, fun mess to begin with?

Mango Cheesecake

1 1/2 c graham cracker crumbs
3 T sugar
7 T melted butter

24 oz cream cheese (room temperature)
1 c sugar
1 t salt
1 T vanilla
1 T lime juice
14 oz mango puree
5 eggs (room temperature)
1 c heavy cream

Preheat oven to 325ยบ.

Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter.  Press firmly and evenly into the bottom of a springform pan and bake for 10-15 minutes until starting to brown and fragrant.  Remove and allow to cool to room temperature.

Cook the mango puree until slightly reduced and thickened.  Allow to cool to room temperature.

Before starting on the filling, fill a pan with water and place on the stove to bring to a boil.

Beat the cream cheese until smooth.  Add the sugar in three or four batches, incorporating thoroughly each time.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Add salt, vanilla and lime juice and beat until smooth.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating only until incorporated.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl again. Add mango puree followed by cream and mix just until blended.

Rub the sides of the springform pan with melted butter.  Wrap with two sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil.  Pour the batter into the pan and tap on the counter to release any air bubbles.  Place pan in a larger deep roasting pan.  Carefully poor the boiling water into the pan until it reaches about halfway up the side of the springform.

Bake until the cake reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees - cake will still jiggle slightly in the middle.  Remove from oven and allow to cool in the water bath for an additional 45 minutes.  Remove from water bath and allow to come to room temperature.  Place in the refrigerator and allow to chill at least 2-3 hours before serving. Before serving, run a knife around the edge of the cake to loosen.  Serve with mango puree.