For the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences of my university hosted a celebratory luncheon where each department within the college was required to bring a certain type of dish. The languages department was in charge of desserts. I eagerly signed up and scribbled simply “cheesecake” below a scanty list promising a batch of chocolate chip cookies, a gluten-free dessert, and a plate of brownies all on behalf of my fellow colleagues.
For days I pondered over what type of cheesecake I would deliver. It would have to be unique, department-related, and more complicated than necessary, because that’s how I prefer to make display desserts in the midst of this processed-food culture in which I reside. I finally opted to allow the less-popular Mexican chocolate cookies I had stowed away in the freezer to guide my choice – a cheesecake with the cookies as a base, cinnamon and ancho chile-infused cheesecake and Chantilly/whipped cream, and a Mexican-chocolate ganache. Cinnamon and ancho chile were in every single layer. I was going to add a mousse layer, but because I was in the middle of grading exams and other assignments, I thought it’d be wise to provide a “simpler” cheesecake for the masses.
I had ignored the inner voice that told me to cut and freeze the cheesecake the night before delivery. I didn’t follow my conscience in hopes that the people at the dean’s office would take good care of it. After reluctantly relinquishing my cheesecake to the secretary and kindly instructing her to store it in the refrigerator, in the back of my mind I knew something unfavorable was going to happen to my little labor of love. . .
The event started at 11am; I finished teaching by 12:15 noon. Throughout my class I wondered how the cheesecake had turned out and if there would be any left upon my arrival *hah!*. I rushed to the Thanksgiving luncheon and scanned the large auditorium for the dessert table. Since I did not immediately locate said table, I made my way to the savory items provided from other departments within the college, which were comprised of casseroles in crockpots and 9×13 baking dishes and turkey in foiled, roasting pans. As I meandered toward a table to relax and eat, I spotted the dessert table in the back of the auditorium. Not wanting to appear overly anxious, I decided to enjoy the main course meals before checking on my cheesecake and the other sugar-laden creations supplied by my colleagues.
Upon completion of the main course (which was pretty good by the way!), I nervously headed toward the back of the room. After passing over mostly store-bought desserts in their plastic containers and bakery price tags, a mushy-looking, unappetizing cake, and overly spread cookies, I resolved that my cheesecake was not there. I looked over the desserts again desperately looking for anything that resembled my cheesecake and finally found it. It was the mushy looking, unappetizing cake I had passed over the first time around. Instead of being cut with a sharp knife, it was mutilated by a dull, butter knife that was not wiped between slices. Upon consumption of my first bite, I quickly realized my cheesecake had not been refrigerated, so it was very warm as if it had never spent the night in my fridge. Quiet tears yearned to leak out of my eyes with each bite I took of my little, mushy cheesecake. I reflected on how much effort I had put into the cheesecake and was thankful I had not added a mousse layer. I then reminded myself to be better prepared for such things to happen by cutting and freezing cheesecakes before delivering them to people who may not be accustomed to homemade, culinary creations.
On the positive side, my colleagues said they enjoyed the cheesecake. Also, when I finally remembered to pick up my (unwashed) springform pan and cake carrier from the dean’s office (almost 2 weeks later!), the secretary paused her phone conversation to tell me “your cake was REALLY good.” 🙂 Just that one sentence erased all the anxiety and dismay I had felt upon seeing and eating my mutilated cheesecake haha. I’m already looking forward and am prepared for the next luncheon :).
First layer: Mexican-Chocolate Cookies for the Crust layer
heavily adapted by Everyday Cooking Magazine
2 1/4 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons cream of tartar*
1 teaspoon baking soda* (I used 3 tsp of baking powder in place of the cream of tarter AND baking soda)
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon chile powder (I used ancho chile powder. Make sure there is no salt or garlic in it!)
If not refrigerating the dough, preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, cream of tartar, baking soda (or just baking powder in place of the cream of tartar and baking soda), and salt. In a large bowl, beat butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Next, add eggs and beat to combine. With mixer on low or with a spoon, gradually add flour mixture and beat until combined. Refrigerate the dough for at least an hour for better cookies.
In a small bowl or a sealable bag, combine remaining 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon, and chile powder. Using heaping tablespoons (or 25-26 grams of dough), form balls of dough and roll in cinnamon/chile/sugar mixture. Place, about 3 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until cookies are set in center and begin to crack, about 10 minutes (for a soft cookie, bake for 7-8 minutes), rotating sheets halfway through. Let cookies cool on sheets on wire racks 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week or freeze the dough for months. I crushed about 15 cookies in the food processor to create crumbs. Next melt one Tablespoon of butter, mix it with the cookies, press the mixture in the springform pan, and store in the freezer while preparing the cheesecake filling.
1 pound (two 8-ounce boxes) cream cheese, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt (I always use kosher salt)
2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup heavy cream (or sour cream or combination)
Put a kettle or pot of water on to boil. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Working in a stand mixer (or large bowl with hand mixer), preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese at medium speed until it is soft for about 4 minutes. With the mixer running, add the sugar and salt, and continue to beat another 4 minutes or so, until the cream cheese is light. Beat in the vanilla extract. Add the eggs one by one, beating for a full minute after each addition to yield a well-aerated batter. Reduce the mixer speed to low, and stir in the heavy cream or sour cream.
Give the batter a few stirs with a rubber spatula, just to make sure that nothing has been left unmixed at the bottom of the bowl, and scrape the batter into the springform pan. The batter should fill only half of the pan. Put the roasting pan in the oven and pour the the boiling water into the roaster to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan. (I pour half of the boiling water before putting in the pan to reduce my chances of dripping water in the cheesecake.)
Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes, at which point the top will be lightly browned and may have risen just a little above the rim of the pan. Turn off the oven’s heat, and prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon. Allow the cheesecake to luxuriate in its water bath for another hour.
After 1 hour, carefully pull the roast pan/springform pan setup out of the oven, lift the springform pan out of the roaster—be careful, there WILL be some hot water in the aluminum foil—remove the foil. Let the cheesecake come to room temperature on a cooling rack.
When the cake is cool, cover the top lightly and chill the cake for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Third layer: Mexican-Chocolate Ganache
1/4 cup heavy cream2.25 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Callebaut semi-sweet chocolate)1-2 tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp ancho chile powder 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Heat the cream in a small sauce pan over medium heat (or microwave it for 30-60 seconds). For stove option, heat cream just BEFORE it boils. Place the chocolate in the cream, and remove from heat. Stir the mixture until smooth. Stir in the cinnamon and ancho chile powders and vanilla extract. Allow the ganache to cool for about 15 minutes before pouring the mixture on top of the CHILLED cheesecake.
Release the springform pan. With an offset spatula, smooth the ganache while starting at the center of the cake and working outward. Keep in mind that the cold temperature of the cake will cause the ganache to firm up quickly, and you may have to pour more on top to make it spread evenly.
Topmost layer: Cinnamon and Ancho-Chile Chantilly or Whipped Cream
1 cup COLD whipping, heavy, or double cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar (or fine or granulated sugar if you don’t have powdered)
1-2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ancho chile powder
1/2 – 1 tsp of vanilla extract (clear vanilla extract is best in this case, but I didn’t have it on hand)
For decoration: piping bag with tips, chocolate shards, cinnamon, ancho chile powder
Chill bowl and beaters in the freezer at least 5-10 minutes before making the Chantilly. Pour the cream in the chilled bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients when the cream becomes more voluminous. Continue whipping until the cream forms firm peaks. Do not create butter by over-mixing!
Final Preparation: Scoop the Chantilly/whipped cream into a piping bag with a 1M star tip or any other tip you have. Sprinkle shards of chocolate and more cinnamon and ancho chile powder on top to showcase what type of cheesecake you are serving :). Enjoy!