I love chocolate, I love caramel, I love pecans, and I love cheesecake. So it wasn't exactly a hard decision to make this cheesecake. I was very good this time, and took the cream cheese out of the fridge early enough so it softened properly. I took the sour cream and eggs out maybe half an hour before. It just seems gross to leave them out for 3 or 4 hours.
Since I was trying to cook a cheesecake properly, I made up all the parts, put it together, and double wrapped the springform pan in heavy duty foil. Then I went fishing in the cabinets for a big pan to use as a water bath. And came up empty. Of the five billion items I have in my kitchen, a big roasting pan is not one of them. You would think that after making the T-day turkey for the past two years, I would have a roasting pan. But alas, you would be wrong.
So no water bath. Depending on who you ask, the water bath serves one of two purposes. 1. It provides humidity so the top doesn't crack. 2. It heats up the cheesecake more gently so the top doesn't crack. And some people think it doesn't really do anything, because regardless of whether or not they use a water bath, it cracks anyway. So I decided to hedge my bets. I grabbed two small ramekins (of which I have about 20, but no roasting pan!), filled them with water and put them on the oven to provide humidity. I also set the oven temperature to 300 initially, and bumped it up to 325 after about 30 minutes. This, however, resulted in a longer cooking time. After 50 minutes, there was about 5 inches of jiggly middle, so I baked for another 5 minutes, then turned the oven off. When I turned the oven off, I folded up a towel and used it to keep the oven ajar to cool gradually. About an hour later, I had a slightly warm cheesecake that cooled on the counter for another hour before being shuffled off into the fridge.
This is not a cheesecake for the impatient. First I made up the crust and pressed it into the pan before baking at 350 for 10 minutes. No, the recipe doesn't say to do that. But that's how I've always made cheesecake crusts (all two times I've made it previously), and it worked well. Then I toasted the pecans at 350 for 10 minutes. (Yes, a smart person probably would have baked the crust and toasted the pecans at the same time. I never claimed to be smart.) Then I melted the caramel. Let me just say, caramel takes a LONG time to melt over low heat. I think it took 20 minutes. After pouring the caramel onto the crust, I sprinkled on bittersweet chocolate chips until it covered the caramel in a single layer. I ended up using less than 6 ounces. So I munched on the rest of the chips while I worked.
As I made up the cheesecake filling, I was worried. Very, very worried. The filling looked like mud. Not your good old-fashioned run of the mill mud. No, this was greyish Texas clay. I was scared. But I was already looking forward to cheesecake, so I pressed on. After baking, it had darkened to a normal chocolate color, so I was happy. At that point, I also celebrated the fact that my cheesecake had minimal cracks. There were a few tiny cracks around the edges, but since the surface already wasn't perfectly smooth due to the pecans in the batter, it wasn't very noticeable.
After chilling in the fridge overnight, we broke out the cheesecake, and chaos ensued again. Be careful reheating the caramel in the microwave. Even straight from the fridge, 30 seconds = exploded mess. It still tasted good though. What? I wasn't wasting perfectly good caramel! I also melted a little chocolate to drizzle on top of the cheesecake. I then learned that refrigerated caramel is very, very hard. Even a thin layer of refrigerated caramel at the bottom of a cheesecake. Letting the cheesecake sit for a bit would have been the smart thing to do. But as stated previously, I'm not smart. Fortunately, I was rewarded for my troubles. This was one tasty cheesecake. Rich, chocolately, nutty, slightly crunchy goodness. Yummy. I think I need seconds.
Chocolate Caramel Pecan Cheesecake
Source: The Cheesecake Bible by George Geary, p 82.
1 1/4 cups cookie sandwich crumbs
1/4 cup melted butter
1 cup soft caramels
2 tbsp evaporated milk (or whipping cream)
6 oz bittersweet chocolate chunks
16 oz cream cheese (softened)
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
Combine cookie crumbs and melted butter. Press into springform pan and freeze
In a small saucepan over low heat, melt caramel with evaporated milk, stirring often, until smooth. Reserve 3 tbsp for decorating, and cover and refrigerate. Pour remaining caramel over crust, spreading evenly and leaving a 1/2 inch border uncovered. Sprinkle chocolate chunks over caramel. Set aside.
In a mixer bowl fitted with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese, sour cream, sugar and cocoa on medium-high speed until very smooth, for 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Mix in vanilla. Fold in pecans by hand.
Pour cheesecake mixture over caramel and chocolates, smoothing out to sides of the pan. Bake in preheated oven until top is light brown and center has a slight jiggle to it, 40-50 minutes. Let cool in pan on wire rack for 2 hours. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 6 hours before decorating and serving.
Reheat reserved caramel mixture and drizzle over cheesecake.
2 hours ago