Saturday, March 08, 2014

Had a rough week? You need cheesecake therapy!

Despite (or perhaps because of) my long, arduous week at work, I came home and engaged in a little baking therapy. I recently ran across a recipe for...wait for it...CARROT CAKE CHEESECAKE(!) that I wanted to try. Although the result was tasty, it may have been an idea that was better in concept than in execution. It has you bake the carrot cake first, cool it, then pour the cheesecake mixture over and bake again. The double baking of the cake makes it, well, overbaked and a tad dry. Moreover, the cheesecake is delightfully tender and fluffy, but the dense bottom layer makes for a dessert that is yummy, but rather unsound structurally. I can think of only two remedies for this problem. One, maybe you could freeze the carrot cake until it's very firm, then bake the cheesecake on top of it. That might help matters. Or you could bake the parts separately and then combine, which sounds dangerous, but I've done it before successfully with this laborious recipe.

If you do make this cheesecake, I recommend using a 10-inch spring form pan; a 9-inch is a little too small and all the cheesecake won't fit in the pan, nor will there be room for the sour cream topping. Also, I quadrupled the sour cream in the topping (from 2 T to 1/2 cup), and I highly recommend that you do the same, or else you will get mostly sweetness and not that characteristic tang of sour cream, which I simply adore.

Carrot Cake Cheesecake
(Source: Food Network)

Carrot Cake:
1/2 cup pecan halves, plus more, chopped, for garnish
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
kosher salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups shredded carrot (2 to 3 medium carrots)

three 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup sour cream
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon lemon zest plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Sour Cream Topping:
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons sour cream (I increased this to 1/2 cup)
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch of kosher salt

For the carrot cake: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 350 degrees F. Spread 1/2 cup of the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until golden and toasted, 10 to 12 minutes. Allow to cool, and then finely chop.

Combine the pecans, flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Whisk together the oil, sugar and eggs in a separate bowl. Stir the carrots into the egg mixture. Fold the carrot-egg mixture into the flour mixture until just combined. Pour into an ungreased 9-inch springform cake pan and tap it on the counter to even out the batter. Bake until the cake bounces back when pressed and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool completely. The cake can be made a day ahead and stored in the pan.

For the cheesecake: Beat the cream cheese, sour cream and granulated sugar in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until smooth and creamy, about five minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the flour, lemon zest and juice and vanilla, about one minute.

Pour the cheesecake mixture over the carrot cake. Wrap the bottom and sides of the pan with a large piece of foil. Put in a roasting pan or a large baking dish and fill halfway up the sides of the cake pan with water. Bake until the cheesecake is pale yellow and just jiggles slightly in the center, about one hour. Turn off the oven and let the cheesecake rest in the hot oven for 30 minutes. Remove, run a sharp knife around the edge and let cool completely on a rack. Cover and refrigerate eight hours or overnight.

For the sour cream topping: Whisk together the confectioners' sugar, sour cream, vanilla and salt. Spread on top of the cheesecake; garnish with chopped pecans. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving. Cut into slices and serve.

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