For a small island dinner hosted by our friends Jim and Kip (including Kip’s sister as well as her niece visiting from Vancouver), I created the holiday-suitable Peppermint Candy Cane Cheesecake. I adapted it from two reliable trustworthy sources, Dorie Greenspan for the cake, and Nick Malgieri for the chocolate-wafer-cookie-almond crust. The mint extract/lemon in the cake in addition to the topping were adapted from a cheesecake recipe on the Canadian Living website (http://www.canadianliving.com/food/).
My thinking was that the minty aspect of the cake would be refreshing – even though it is a cheesecake – after a holiday meal. The crumbled candy cane circle complemented the minty cake and looked seasonably appropriate in the photos I saw online.
The cake could not have been more creamy and smooth – maybe not quite the texture for those of the more-substantial-granular-cheesecake school (or alumni of MSGCS??) – but rich, luxurious, and classic. The tangy sassiness – or should that be sassy tanginess? – of the lemon and peppermint in the cake was a welcome counterpoint to the silky texture. Another textural highlight was the wonderfully crunchy crust, which was neither mushy nor too-tough-to-cut, as has been the case with some other cheese cakes I unfortunately have met in my past.
The peppermint candy cane cheesecake recipe
While I did not follow Dorie’s hairdryer-springform-removal advice (the only hairdryer in our house on the island is an ancient travel one, somewhere in a box in the basement – that would narrow it down to a search of six or seven dozen boxes stacked at the back of a storage room…), the sides of the cake did stick to the mold. I had buttered the sides and used cooking oil spray to no avail. So, what? The shaggy sides were a bit rough. At least the top, which had cracked, was covered by the sour cream frosting.
However, it might be better during a holiday tea or after a lighter meal. It did seem to be a bit overwhelming after the delicious feast of roasted turkey, pureed yams, buttermilk mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, orange-pomegranate-cranberry relish, and a spicy chorizo-chipotle-cornbread-stuffing feast. Yet what is the point of a holiday meal, if not to indulge just a bit in a celebratory cake?
Peppermint Candy Cane Cheesecake
(adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s “Tall and Basic Cheesecake” from Baking From My Home to Yours and Nick Malgieri’s Chocolate Cookie Crust from Chocolate)
– NB: This makes 16 servings or 12, for those who can eat lots of cheesecake.
The chocolate-cookie-almond crust
1 cup chocolate cookie crumbs (I used the Chocolate Wafer cookies by Mr. Christie, which is the Canadian counterpart to the cookie by Kraft in the US)
1/2 ground almonds
1/4 cup sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) salted butter, melted
2 pounds (four 8-ounce boxes) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 tablespoon lemon juice (fresh)
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sour cream or heavy cream, or a combination of the two (I used 1 c. of light sour cream and 1/3 c. heavy cream)
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 – 1/2 cup crushed candy canes (red/white or red/green/white: take your pick)
To make the crust
1. Butter a 9-inch springform pan—choose one that has sides that are 2 3/4 inches high (if the sides are lower, you will have cheesecake batter leftover)—and wrap the bottom of the pan in a double layer of aluminum foil; put the pan on a baking sheet.
2. Stir the crumbs, ground almonds, sugar and salt together in a medium bowl. Pour over the melted butter and stir until all of the dry ingredients are uniformly moist. (I do this with my fingers.) Turn the ingredients into the buttered springform pan and use your fingers to pat an even layer of crumbs along the bottom of the pan and about halfway up the sides. Don’t worry if the sides are not perfectly even or if the crumbs reach above or below the midway mark on the sides—this doesn’t have to be a precision job. Put the pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven.
3. Center a rack in the oven, preheat the oven to 350°F and place the springform on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes. Set the crust aside to cool on a rack while you make the cheesecake.
4. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.
To make the cheesecake
1. Put a kettle of water on to boil.
2. Working in a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese at medium speed until it is soft and lives up to the creamy part of its name, about 4 minutes. With the mixer running, add the sugar and salt and continue to beat another 4 minutes or so, until the cream cheese is light. Beat in the lemon juice and peppermint extract. Add the eggs one by one, beating for a full minute after each addition—you want a well-aerated batter. Reduce the mixer speed to low and stir in the sour cream and heavy cream.
3. Put the foil-wrapped springform pan in the roaster pan.
4. Give the batter a few stirs with a rubber spatula, just to make sure that nothing has been left unmixed at the bottom of the bowl, and scrape the batter into the springform pan. The batter will reach the brim of the pan. (If you have a pan with lower sides and have leftover batter, you can bake the batter in a buttered ramekin or small soufflé mold.) Put the roasting pan in the oven and pour enough boiling water into the roaster to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.
5. Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 minutes, at which point the top will be browned (and perhaps cracked) and may have risen just a little above the rim of the pan. Turn off the oven’s heat and prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon. Allow the cheesecake to luxuriate in its water bath for another hour.
6. After 1 hour, carefully pull the setup out of the oven, lift the springform pan out of the roaster—be careful, there may be some hot water in the aluminum foil—remove the foil. Let the cheesecake come to room temperature on a cooling rack.
7. When the cake is cool, cover the top lightly and chill the cake for at least 4 hours, although overnight would be better.
8. Mix sour cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla until well blended.
9. Ice the top, in a smooth thin layer, with the sour cream/sugar/vanilla mixture. Refrigerate for an hour or so, if possible, though not necessary.
Serving: Remove the sides of the springform pan— Dorie suggests a hairdryer to do this (use the dryer to warm the sides of the pan and ever so slightly melt the edges of the cake). and then sprinkle the crushed candy canes in a band around the edge of the cake, starting right near the circumference.
Set the cake, still on the pan’s base, on a serving platter. The easiest way to cut cheesecake is to use a long, thin knife that has been run under hot water and lightly wiped. Keep warming the knife as you cut slices of the cake.
Storing: Wrapped well, the cake will keep for up to 1 week in the refrigerator or for up to 2 months in the freezer (Dorie states this, but, really, can you imagine it lasting in a freezer for two months?!?). It’s best to defrost the still-wrapped cheesecake overnight in the refrigerator.
The two photos of the cake with the purple plush background are courtesy of photographer (and host) extraordinaire, Jim LaBounty: http://www.labountyandjohl.com/index.php