"Food: Science, Art, Passion, Pleasure, Adventure & Exploration"

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Baking Adventure 18: Extreme Chocolate Cheesecake

Half-view of Extreme Chocolate Cheesecake (click on all photos to enlarge)

How often do you book time for a chocolate vacation?

What's a chocolate vacation, you wonder?

A chocolate vacation can be literal, as there are many exotic and brilliant places to travel to in order to research and explore pure fine chocolates and fantastic chocolate dessert creations, but a chocolate vacation can certainly be a traveling-without-moving experience, too...and often is.

For those lucky people, chocolate induces a lush and addictive state of euphoria when consumed, placing them into a lulling chocolate coma which can last for hours. That's a chocolate vacation, my cacao cohorts.

Inside Info: Unfortunately, as much as I LOVE chocolate, I don't enjoy the effect it often has on my system. The darker and more concentrated the chocolate is with cacao, the stronger those effects are for me. There are others like myself who experience the same averse reactions from consuming chocolate and more research is coming out on this as I type. The rewarding, drug-like, euphoric effects only last a brief time for me, regardless of how much I adore the flavors of chocolate. After chocolate consumption, that short spurt of joy passes for me and my moods crash and send me into the land of chocolate nightmares or perhaps a down state worthy of being called "chocolate psychosis." I'll allow myself to have chocolate on a rare occasion knowing they'll be consequences, but that doesn't stop me from experimenting with chocolate desserts and recipes. OK, I am lying, those consumptive occasions aren't so rare. I can be hardheaded at times, you know...
So, let's move onto cheesecake and how it all ties in with the talk of chocolate...

For starters, I'll mention that I've had a weird love affair with cheesecake over the years. I used to be absolutely bonkers about cheesecake when I was a little girl. It was one of my favorite desserts, then by the time I entered my teenage years, my love for cheesecake waned. I could take it or leave it but, of course, never hated it. I just became picky.

I began to think that most cheesecake batters either created a peculiar flavor in the mouth the longer I kept a forkful on the tongue or left a weird aftertaste in the mouth that I didn't care for. As my mid-twenties approached, my love for cheesecake picked up again because I began exploring a variety of cheesecake flavors and styles in restaurants and deli bakeries and found types and batters I preferred more. Some cheesecakes definitely taste better than others depending on what is used in the batter.

♥ I'll have to do a info-focused cheesecake entry someday because there are so many different ways to make a traditional cheesecake according to custom and region and it's tremendously fascinating to learn about.

I've made cheesecakes before, but my play was limited and they were mostly no-bake cheesecakes or those made in pie crust pans without a really stable batter.

Vanilla Peach Cheesecake with fresh peach preserves
In the last couple of weeks, I've been busy experimenting with cheesecake-making again and after making a tasty vanilla peach cheesecake, I moved on to visions of "Cheesecake in Chocolate! Now playing at your local theatre!"

I love that cheesecakes can come in so many different colors and flavor profiles other than the traditional, plain, cream-colored variety. A hyper chocolate cheesecake made from chocolate through and through sounded superb and I couldn't wait to try it out.

I took it upon myself to research a lot of different recipes and come up with what I think is a good cheesecake recipe to experiment with as a base batter. Most of my research finds recommended baking cheesecakes in water baths for a smooth, evenly-baked, creamy consistency that didn't crack. This is something else I'd never done when making cheesecakes.

So, let's get started with exactly what I did to make my Extreme Chocolate Cheesecake.

Some of the ingredients used for my cheescake
The first step was to make and prepare my cheesecake crust. I wanted an opulent, buttery, chocolate crust that was very thick and much like a cookie crust. Shortbread was ideal. I love the way shortbread cookies taste and they give an excellent texture for crust in any pie or custard-based dessert.

I could have made my shortbread cookies from scratch and used those, but since cheesecake takes a longer time to make, I decided to go with yummy store-bought cookies. I prefer Keebler's Sandies Simply Shortbread cookies over Lorna Doone shortbread cookies, although I still enjoy the latter since they remind me of my childhood (They've certainly been around much longer than when I was a child, I might add!).

I used these cookies to create a custom chocolate shortbread cookie crust for my cheesecake. Starting on each photo row from left to right, you'll see the stages of which I prepared the crust.

  • Row 1 - I've gathered all of my dry ingredients in a bowl: cocoa powder, crushed shortbread cookies and flour. In another bowl, I've combined white sugar and salted butter (this is why I included no salt in the dry mix)
  • Row 2 -  I began creaming the sugar and butter (room temperature) for several minutes until it was extremely creamy. I took my bowl of dry ingredients and added it to the creamed sugar and butter (maybe I should call this sugutter or buttugar? LOL)
  • Row 3 - I continued to mix the crust batter until well blended and then I added in a bit of vanilla bean paste to give the crust batter an extra dimension of warm flavor.
  • Row 4 - I patted down my crust batter into a springform pan, neat and evenly. I placed it in the oven to pre-bake for about 30 minutes on a low rack setting. This was going to be a thick crust, so it was important to bake it a little longer than I usually do. The crust came out beautifully and it was so fragrant. The entire house smelled like warm, chocolate cookie crust.

While my crust cooled down, I started on my chocolate cheesecake batter. I decided that the batter was going to be milk chocolate-based and the top layer of the cheesecake, a chocolate ganache, should be made from high quality dark chocolate. The chocolate in the batter (both cocoa powder and melted chocolate) were going to be added toward the end of the batter-making process.

Milk chocolate and dark chocolate

I took out my cream cheese and blended it in a bowl making sure all the lumps were out smoothed out and that it was pliable in texture.

2 cups of cream cheese waiting to be smoothed out

After creaming the cream cheese, I took three eggs and added them, one at a time, to the cream cheese until the batter was smooth again. At this stage, it is good to start making a habit of scraping down the sides of the bowl so there are no chunks of yolk (or unmixed batter) left around the edges.

Now, it was time to add in sugar and sour cream. You can experiment with other dairy sources, too, for different flavor profiles. Some people use heavy cream (I've used this before), yogurt and even buttermilk instead of sour cream. I find that sour cream gives a nice tangy flavor to cheesecakes and cuts down the strong bite from pure cream cheese, while complementing its taste.

Adding the sour cream was the last of the "creaming" process. So, it was time to prepare and add chocolate into my batter to truly make it a chocolate cheesecake. It is up to you to decide just how much chocolate you want to add to your batter. It's somewhat subjective, but it should be enough to create a strong and rich chocolate flavor. You also have to remember that as chocolate desserts bake, they will darken in color, so your chocolate cheesecake batter won't look as dark as you expect it to be initially.

Note that while I was adding ingredients to my cheesecake batter, I set up a glass prep bowl as a double boiler on the stove, to begin melting my milk chocolate. So my melted chocolate was already waiting and I wanted to get started on that earlier to give it time to cool down just a little. I predominately used milk chocolate but I also added semi-sweet chocolate chips (both Callebaut). I noticed the chips were somewhat stubborn and took a longer time to melt.

I measured in my cocoa powder and blended that into the cheesecake mixture and then I poured in my slightly warm melted chocolate and blended until the batter was very consistent and creamy, but not over-mixed. The photo with the cocoa powder looks so strange, doesn't it? Like a glaring eye with a penetrating chocolate pupil. It reminds me of the Eye of Sauron from The Lord of the Rings, except that the pupil is not a slit.

My chocolate crust was cool enough to begin pouring my chocolate cheesecake batter on top of it in the springform pan. I didn't have any problems with an even pour and I made sure to pour onto the cooled crust by starting from the center. You might want to very gently shake the pan a bit to settle it down further, if you need to.

Batter poured into crust-lined springform pan

It was time to place my cheesecake in the oven, but not by itself. I got out a large roasting pan to place the springform pan in. But first, I needed to boil some water on the stove. I pre-heated the oven and began foiling the bottom and sides of my springform pan 4 times. I was so busy with this part, making sure the pan was sealed well with foil to prevent water from seeping in and sogging up the crust, that I forgot to snap photos of this stage. I was extra careful in foiling because in making a cheesecake before, a bit of water got into my crust, although it was still a tasty cheesecake to eat, crust and all. A good tip is to make sure to use very wide and large sheets of foil so you can foil the pan evenly to prevent water from seeping in at the bottom.

Once my water was hot enough and I had foiled my pan well, I poured in a bit of the hot water into the large roast pan and carefully placed my springform pan into the hot water bath. I wanted the hot water to just reach halfway around the sides of the sprinform pan.

This water bath was going to ensure an evenly baked cheesecake with no splits or cracks and a creamy texture. It also took away the need to bake the cheesecake as long as other cheesecakes are baked, which is usually between 70-80 minutes, at least. My cheesecake baked no longer than 55 minutes and when it was done, I turned off the oven and let the cheesecake stay in the oven until the temperature lowered.

A cheesecake should still have somewhat of a wobbly center when it is done baking. It will firm up further and very nicely once it continues to set up in the refrigerator over night or within several hours.

Fully-baked cheesecake
My cheesecake was certainly not done after it had cooled down a bit on the counter top. I still needed to add my over-the-top chocolate finishing touch, which was my dark chocolate ganache layer. But my cheesecake needed to chill for a few hours in the refrigerator before spreading on the ganache.

When nearly 3 hours had passed, I started preparing my chocolate ganache, which is simply hot heavy cream and chocolate melded together.

I measured out some dark chocolate pistoles into a glass prep bowl and I heated heavy cream on a stove until it was hot, but not boiling, as you don't want it to burn or develop a skin. At this stage, you can also choose to steep your heavy cream with various ingredients for enriched flavor, such as lavender, vanilla beans or any other spices and herbs.

The dark chocolate was waiting to be embraced by hot cream, so I took the cream off the stove and poured it over the chocolate, making sure that all of the pieces were submerged in the cream. I let it sit for about 10-15 seconds and then I started to steadily but slowly stir the forming ganache until it turned into shiny and ambrosial chocolate cream. This is the part where you just want to take the bowl and greedily lap all of the ganache up, but I managed to practice Zen self-control.

I let the ganache cool for awhile and then I took out my chilled chocolate cheesecake and began generously slathering the ganache on top, from the center, leaving just a bit of cheesecake exposed around the edges. You can decide how much ganache you want on top of your cheesecake. It's a personal choice. My layer was going to be reasonably thick, for those who enjoy an attack of massive chocolate flavor in a dessert.

I placed my cheesecake back in the refrigerator for several hours to continue letting both the cheesecake and ganache layer firm up and set. The result below was absolute chocolate debauchery. This is a very full-bodied cheesecake so just one small slice goes a long way and this is coming from someone who can indulge in sweets (food in general) a great deal!

 Extreme Chocolate Cheesecake Recipe

1 cup shortbread cookie crumbs (I prefer Keebler’s Sandies Simply Shortbread)
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/16 cup of cocoa powder (1/8 cup + 1/16 cup)
½ cup of sugar
2 sticks butter (room temperature; I used salted, but unsalted is fine)
1.5 Tbs vanilla bean extract or paste
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Process or mash cookies into moderately and even fine crumbs and toss into a bowl with flour and cocoa powder
  3. In a separate bowl, cream sugar and butter together for 4 minutes until extremely smooth and fluffy
  4. Add in dry ingredients to the creamed butter and sugar and beat for 4-5 minutes until very smooth.
  5. Toss in vanilla bean extract or paste (or your choice or any other extract flavor) and blend
  6. Press crust batter evenly and neatly into a locked springform pan with a spoon, spatula or butter knife.
  7. Place in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes.
  8. Let cool completely for cheesecake filling

2 cups cream cheese
3-4 eggs (I used 3)
1 cup white sugar
2 cups sour cream
½ Tbs vanilla bean extract or paste
6 oz. milk chocolate (high quality)
1/8 cup cocoa powder
  1. Pre-heat oven to 325
  2. In a bowl, beat cream cheese until very smooth and free of lumps
  3. Beat in 3-4 eggs, one at a time, into cream cheese until also smooth, for a few minutes (occasionally scrape down sides of bowl from now on)
  4. Add in sugar and sour cream and continue to mix batter (but don’t over mix)
  5. Add in cocoa powder and blend
  6. Add in cooled melted milk chocolate (melted by double boiler method) and continue to blend the cream cream cheese batter until fully incorporated (again refrain from over mixing)
  7. Pour batter onto cooled crust in springform pan
  8. Tightly line outside of springform pan evenly with foil (you can triple-foil the pan for extra security) to seal the sides and bottom from water
  9. Prepare a small-medium pot of boiled water and pour into a large roast pan to create a water bath
  10. Place foiled springform pan into the water bath (water should reach halfway up the springform pan) and place entire roast pan into the heated oven for 45-50 minutes.
  11. Once cheesecake is done, turn oven off and let it sit in the oven for about 15 minutes with the door cracked. The cheesecake should be wobbly in the center.
  12. Take cheesecake out of the oven and the water bath, remove the foil and let it sit on a counter in the springform pan for 30-40 minutes before placing in the refrigerator to set.

1 cup of heavy cream
6 oz. of dark Chocolate discs, pieces, or pistoles (high quality; your choice of chocolate)

  1. Your cheesecake must be chilled for at least 3 hours prior to adding this layer.
  2. Heat cream in a saucepan on medium heat and watch carefully until hot, but not boiling. Stir occasionally. (Option: you can steep herbs and spices at this stage for flavor and strain them from the hot cream when done heating)
  3. Measure out chocolate in a glass bowl and pour hot cream onto chocolate pieces until fully submerged.
  4. Let stand for 10-15 seconds
  5. Begin slowly and steadily stirring cream and chocolate until smooth, shiny, and dark
  6. Cool for awhile on the counter and then spread generously on top of chilled cheesecake from the center, leaving some of the cheesecake edge exposed around.
  7. Continue to chill entire cheesecake in the springform pan in the refrigerator for several hours so that the ganache can firm up and set.
  8. Once cheesecake cake is set and is ready to be served, immediately and carefully remove from springform pan by delicately smoothing a hot knife around the sides of the cheesecake. Release the springform mold and transfer the entire cheesecake to a cake stand on top of a 10 inch cake round or board.
Keeping a cheesecake for a long time on a metal springform pan plate will give the cheesecake a nasty metallic taste. Some people buy springform pans with glass bottoms in order to prevent this problem when storing a cheesecake. If you transfer the cheesecake, make sure to choose a storage container that can be easily stored back into the refrigerator to keep the cheesecake fresh and chilled over several days.

Cake caddies with securable lids are good options.


    1. Hi Allyson,
      This is incredible! I love the level of detail you provide, both in terms of how you developed your recipe and how you instruct readers in assembling it. Your photos are enormously helpful. You mentioned that you have a difficult time with the effects of eating dark chocolate particularly; do you think this is because of the caffeine they say it contains? Since it's not very sweet, I would think it wouldn't be an effect of the sugar . . . ? I thought this was an extremely interesting post, as I too am a great lover of cheesecake. I also adore chocolate. :)

    2. Hi Jane!

      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the entry and photos :)

      I am not sure what exactly in chocolate affects me the way it does. I think it might be a combination of the chemicals in it. I notice that I am sensitive to strong black coffees and espresso drinks, too. I tend to avoid them in coffee shops. I can get away with an iced coffee, though, especially Thai iced coffees (I love those). I just need to stay away from them very late at night. I become nervous and anxious.

      However, the most that happens with the really strong coffee and espresso drinks is that I'll feel very lightheaded and get a headache later. I get the same with chocolate after the initial buzz passes, but then there's the -crazy- mood reaction I get later, which can last for a long time depending on how strong the chocolate was and how much I had. Perhaps it's the theobromine, too?

      Phenylethylamine is supposed to cause a great feeling. I am not sure if that is responsible as well.