A cheesecake week: Crumbly at outset, then real smooth

HAPPY EATER

March 14, 1993|By ROB KASPER

Ihave always thought of cheesecake as a "health food." It is terrific for your mental health.

A good cheesecake is a terrific way to recover from a bad week.

Viewing food as a reward, as a way to compensate for emotional lows, an island of solace in a sea of troubles, is frowned upon these days.

We are supposed to think of food as nutrition. It is a source of vitamins, minerals and fiber. If a dish has calories, they are supposed to be meaningful calories full of protein, not "empty" calories full of fat.

All I can say is that the cheesecake-eating approach to mental health has worked for me.

A dark chocolate cheesecake saved me from despair on a recent dreadful Friday. The Friday itself had not gone smoothly and it came, as Fridays sometimes do, at the end of a week when nothing had gone well.

Gutters had overflowed with rainwater; children had been ill; bills had come due; every traffic light that saw my car approaching had turned red.

The cheesecake made me forget all that. After a couple of bites, the world was as smooth as cream cheese, as full of toe-curling pleasure as a pound of chocolate.

The cheesecake did not look like much. It had cracked when my wife removed it from the springform pan. Moreover, instead of standing up straight, as well-trained children and well-made dTC desserts are supposed to do, this one crumbled.

It didn't attract much interest from the passers-by at the potluck supper that my wife and I had taken the cheesecake to.

That was OK with me. Lack of interest meant more for me.

I had two, maybe three pieces. Then at the end of the evening, we took most of the cheesecake home.

Over the weekend one kid would come home with a swollen elbow that looked as if it might be broken. Another kid would get hit in the head playing basketball. A burner on the stove stopped working. And a piece of the refrigerator fell off. My wife worked on the taxes and frowned. But because I knew there was cheesecake at the end of the tunnel, I kept on plodding.

New York chocolate cheesecake

CRUST:

8 ounces chocolate wafers

3 ounces ( 3/4 stick) butter

FILLING:

12 ounces semisweet chocolate (2 cups morsels or 12 squares, coarsely chopped)

24 ounces cream cheese at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup granulated sugar

3 large eggs

1 cup sour cream

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Take apart 9-by-3-inch springform pan; butter sides only. Put pan back together. Place crumbled cookies in food processor and make 2 cups of fine crumbs. Place crumbs in mixing bowl. Melt butter and stir into crumbs until thoroughly mixed. Pour 2/3 mixture into pan; tilt pan at 45-degree angle and use fingertips to form thin layer of crumbs against sides of pan, rotating pan as you go. Leave 3/4 inch from the top bare. Press remaining crumbs evenly on bottom of pan.

To make filling, put chocolate in top of double broiler (bottom filled with water) on low heat. Cover until partially melted, then uncover and stir until smooth. Set aside.

In large bowl of electric mixer, cream the cream cheese. Add vanilla, salt and sugar, and beat until very smooth, scraping the sides with rubber spatula. Add chocolate and beat to mix. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping bowl with spatula and blending thoroughly after each addition. Add sour cream; beat until smooth.

Pour filling into pan, not quite reaching top of crumbs. To smooth top, rotate pan briskly in one direction, then the other. Bake for 1 hour in 375-degree oven. It will seem quite soft.

Let stand on rack until completely cool. Cover top with foil and refrigerate overnight. To remove from pan, cut around sides with knife, pressing blade against pan. Remove sides of pan. Insert firm metal spatula under bottom crust and ease spatula around until cake releases from bottom of pan. Serve cold.

(From "Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts" [Knopf, 1980, $15]).

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