There was a time when I thought no cheesecake could be better than the no-bake kind that came in a box, topped with canned cherry pie filling. This was around the same time that I turned my nose up at real whipped cream if there was no cool whip available.
I was probably around 10 years old, but I held on to those notions for a ridiculously long time, and I don't really remember the day I changed my mind, but at some point I started to appreciate real cheesecake.
It seems unlikely to say that the first time I remember tasting an utterly divine piece of cheesecake was in China, but it's true. Some friends and I had gone out for a special dinner at a very expensive (by Chinese standards) Italian restaurant with white linen tablecloths and all. After the pasta and the wine, the cheesecake inside the glass counter beckoned us with their white cream cheese fillings, crumbly cookie crusts and toppings of fruit, nuts or chocolate.
The one topped with a simple but rich ganache had my name on it, and after that slice of cheesecake, there was no going back to cheesecake from a box.
Something else there's no going back from... Pinterest! I wish I'd thought of it, because I'd be rich by now. There's so much food porn, style ideas, beautiful rooms and decorating tips, that I find myself pinning one thing after the next, not even realizing I've just spent a whole hour browsing photos and sites.
I discovered an adorable black and white polka dot umbrella, similar to this one, and wish we had enough rain here to justify buying it, but sadly we don't. I'm also convinced I need this dress, and somewhere to wear it. Or any combination of this outfit... Black and White. Polka Dots. Touches of red. I love everything about it.
This Nutella Polka Dot Cheesecake is a combination of the delicious and the adorable, not to mention the complex flavors in the crust of crushed hazelnut, cocoa and coffee which keeps it from being too girly.
Speaking of cocoa and coffee... we grilled the most delicious rib eye steak last night with a dry rub of cocoa and coffee and a few other spices, along with baked potatoes and baked crispy kale chips. The idea for the rub came to me as I was thinking up the recipe for this cheesecake, and it was one of the most flavorful and juicy steaks I've tasted. I've included the amounts of the dry rub ingredients below, although I didn't photograph the steak.
Slightly bitter and just salty enough, the crust was a wonderful contrast to the creamy filling. I love a cheesecake with chocolate or some kind of sauce on top, but it would have been a shame to cover up the pretty dots on top. I baked this in our smaller convection oven, forgetting that the close quarters in there tends to over-brown delicate baked goods, so if you like your cheesecake to have a pretty white finished look on top as I do, then bake it in a standard oven where it shouldn't brown as much as mine did, or just lay a piece of foil loosely over the top, tented slightly so that it doesn't rest on the surface of the cake. Either way, golden brown or not, it didn't affect the taste.
It's also much smaller than it looks in the photos - only 7 inches in diameter and 2 1/2 inches high - just right for about 6 servings if you don't want too much leftover.
The filling was light and fluffy, not at all heavy as some cheesecakes can be, and the polka dots so pretty and whimsical. As the adorable Zooey Deschanel has said in New Girl, I rock a lot of polka dots, and there's nothing wrong with that. :)
Coffee and Cocoa Dry Rub
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 1/2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Nutella Polka Dot Cheesecake with a Chocolate Hazelnut Crust
- 3/4 cup crushed chocolate graham crackers (about 3/4 of a "sleeve")
- 1/2 cup shelled raw hazelnuts, toasted and finely crushed
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon espresso powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 pound (two 8-ounce boxes) low-fat cream cheese, room temperature
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 1/3 cup low-fat sour cream
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup Nutella
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
* This recipe can easily be doubled and baked in a 9 or 10-inch spring form pan for a larger/standard-sized cheesecake. Baking time may need to be increased a little.
* To toast the hazelnuts, place on a baking sheet and bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes; the skins will loosen, the nuts may split a little, and they will become very fragrant.
Preheat the oven to 350. Wrap a small spring form pan (7 inches in diameter, with 2 1/2 inch-high sides) with heavy foil (the foil will prevent the water from the water bath from leaking into the cake). Spray the inside bottom and sides of the pan with non-stick spray.
Prepare the crust:
In a bowl, combine the crushed graham crackers, toasted and crushed hazelnuts, cocoa powder, sugar, espresso powder and salt. Drizzle the melted butter over the crumbs and toss with a fork to moisten. Press the crumbs into the bottom and halfway up the sides of the pan.
Freeze crust in the pan for 10 minutes, then bake for 10 minutes. Set aside while you prepare the filling.
Reduce the oven temperature to 300.
Prepare the filling:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese for 3 minutes until smooth and creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla, and beat for 4-5 minutes until light and smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Beat in the sour cream and heavy cream. Scrape the sides and bottom and beat for several more minutes for a very light and airy batter.
Scoop out 1/2 cup of the batter; transfer to a small bowl. Whisk the 1/2 cup of batter with the Nutella and cocoa powder until perfectly smooth. Scrape into a plastic bag, with one corner snipped off and a round tip fitted into the hole.
Take the remaining plain batter; scoop half into the pan over the crust and smooth out the top. Squeeze dollops of the Nutella batter over the first layer, randomly or in a pattern, whatever you like; use just half of the Nutella batter. Now pour the rest of the plain batter into the pan - carefully so that you don't swirl the Nutella - and smooth out the top. Squeeze the rest of the Nutella batter into dollops over the 2nd layer of batter. The dollops will settle into the batter as it bakes, so don't worry if they stick out above the surface of the cake. The pan should be full almost to the top.
Place the spring form pan into a baking dish or roasting pan. Pour boiling or very hot water into the baking dish, so that it comes halfway up the sides of the pan. Bake for 1 hour, until the top is a pale golden brown and a crust has formed on top and the cake has risen very slightly (the cake will still seem jiggly if you shake it, though). (Note, I baked mine in a convection oven, which tends to over-brown delicate baked goods due to the close quarters - a conventional oven should yield a paler crust on top, or place a piece of tented foil loosely over the top to keep it from over-browning.) After 1 hour, turn the oven off, and let the cheesecake sit in the warm oven for 1 more hour. Transfer to a wire rack on the counter, cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel, and cool for several hours. Then cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.
Before serving, take a sharp knife and run it around the edges to loosen the crust from the pan. Remove the sides of the pan. Serve the cake on its base, or if you're careful, you can slide a large spatula under the crust to transfer it from the base to a serving plate.
Yields 6-8 servings
Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen