The challenge host encouraged the Daring Bakers to be super creative with this month's challenge recipe. She provided us with a basic, tried and true cheesecake recipe and then told us to have at it! I had not made a cheesecake before, so I thought about just following the recipe and given. That would be enough of a challenge, right?
No. I quickly decided I had to stretch myself. My roommate and I started brainstorming about our favorite desserts and then - like a moose in Baxter Park - it came to me.
Maine is the home of Gifford's Ice Cream Stand Ice Cream. I'm sure that most of you non-Mainers have never had or even heard of Gifford's Ice Cream, but it is just about the best ice cream in the world. At least that I've had. My favorite flavor is Maine Deer Tracks. Here's the flavor description from the Gifford's website:
Rich Espresso Ice Cream with Crunchy Heath Bar Candies and Tracks of Thick Chocolate Fudge
Since I'm leaving Maine [and Gifford's ice cream :(] in just a few short weeks, I decided that a tribute cheesecake would be the perfect way to complete this challenge.
Without further ado, here is how you can replicate my humble attempt at a Gifford's inspired Maine Deer Tracks Cheesecake.
Begin the cheesecake process by combining 2 cups of chocolate graham crackers, 1 tsp of vanilla, 1 stick of melted butter, and 2 tbsp of sugar.
Make sure that everything, everywhere is yellow.
Once the crust is fully combined, press it into the bottom of the pan. The challenge said that crusting the sides was baker's choice. This baker chose to half-assedly crust the sides.
Cover the bottom of the crust with a solid layer of Heath bar pieces and set the whole deal aside.
Can you imagine being about an inch tall and stuck inside a cheesecake crust? I totally can.
At this point it's smart to do your espresso prep. Heat 1/4 cup of the heavy cream (you'll need one cup total later) in the microwave until it's quite hot. Then stir 1-2 tbsp of instant espresso into the hot cream. Set the espresso cream mixture by the rest of the heavy cream so you'll remember to use it all later.
Oh hey, sexy new mixer! Would you mind beating these 3 bricks of cream cheese and 2 cups of sugar until they're smooth and gorgeous. Thanks, Babe! ;)
After blending the cream cheese and sugar, add 3 eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl between each egg.
Once the eggs have become true friends with the cheese mixture, add 1 cup heavy cream and flavorings. For this cheesecake, I used the original 1 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tbsp vanilla, and the espresso that I worked into the heavy cream earlier.
This batter is wicked smooth and lovely. The espresso really gave the cheesecake a nice rich latte color. Tasty. Okay, pour the batter into the crust you lovingly set aside earlier.
Now comes the nail-biting part of the thing. Our cheesecake recipe demands a water bath. Since neither the roommate or I have large pans for this type of roasting/water bathing situation, I picked up an aluminum roasting pan when I bought the casserole dish.
They nestle together quite perfectly. Once the roasting pan is in place with the cheesecake pan inside it, carefully add boiling water to the roasting pan. The water should come about halfway up the height of the cheesecake. Do this. Set the pot of boiling water down. Slide the rack back (with an oven mitt on) and heave a large sigh of relief.
And walk away. The cheesecake needs to bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes.
The host for this challenge explained that the cheesecake will be ready when it "hold[s] together, but still ha[s] a lot of jiggle to it in the center". Hm. Hopefully I judged this well enough. I deemed it ready at 48 minutes.
At that point, turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake in the oven in the waterbath with the door closed for one hour.
After the hour of in-oven cooling, remove the cheesecake from the waterbath (carefully, so carefully) and set it on a wire rack to finish cooling. Try to forget that you have a homemade chocolate/coffee/heath cheesecake sitting on the table next to you because - trust me - it's going to be a while. The cheesecake has to cool on the rack completely and then chill in the refrigerator overnight or at least 6 hrs.
Doo do doo do doo do do... do do do do DOO do do do... (Jeopardy! theme, duh.)
The next day, you can ready the ganache.
Be sure to place the chocolate on your student papers that you have only two hours to respond to before returning. That way, if there is any spillage, you'll have an excellent story to tell the class.
Once the ganache has cooled a bit, scoop some onto the cheesecake. I watched a YouTube video that insisted I could just pick up the cheesecake and let the ganache run, but that didn't really work for me. I think my ganache was too cool for that. (Ha! I meant that literally, but oh well!) I just spread the ganache around with my angled icing spreader. Sprinkle some more of those Heath pieces around the edge of the cheesecake and...
Oh. Em. Gee. That is one fine looking cheesecake.
This picture was taken after the whole deal chilled again to set the ganache. This shot is also nice because you can see my (im)perfect crust and my improvised "springform" pan. :) I do what I can.
Now would be the perfect time for you to cut the cheesecake. No one is around. It's just you and the cheesecake.
Personally, I did a (mostly internal) happy dance when I cut into the cheesecake and confirmed that it was, in fact, cooked through. The dance is optional. The next step is not.
Eat the first piece of the Maine Deer Tracks Cheesecake. Because someone has to. And you're the only one around.
Since you have a minute before your cheesecake cools (I'm just guessing here), I'll tell you how mine turned out.
It was... Gifford-tastic. The espresso cheesecake was so smooth and creamy that it could easily stand on its own. However, combined with the chocolate graham cracker crust and ganache, the espresso sang its caffeinated song in the perfect key. The Heath pieces inside and on top of the cheesecake provided a note of interest that was present but subtle. The overall effect: Gifford-tastic.
Later, when I took the cheesecake to campus, it received rave reviews. Ray, our janitor, asked if he could marry me.
And just in case you were wondering...
the bite that causes the cheesecake to fall over is my absolute favorite moment in cheesecake enjoyment.