Birthday Lessons Learned
August 22, 2008
It’s my sister’s birthday on Sunday and, shockingly, the celebrations only started as early as Wednesday of this week. She clearly has not learned from her older, wiser, beautiful-er sister: birthdays should last an entire month, not a mere five days. We did our best to jumpstart her birthday on Wednesday night, having a Family Dinner Fiesta, complete with a birthday gift, burritos, salsa, guacamole and drinks. Better late (and, yes, when the first celebration occurs a mere five days before the big day, it is late) than never.
Falling just a bit outside the night’s fiesta theme was this birthday (cheese)cake. But it was the birthday girl’s request. Er, sort of. My sister and I can be impossibly indecisive. As in: “I don’t know what do you want to eat?” “I don’t know where do you want to go?” And the most oft repeated inquiry of all: “What should I wear?” We make a sorry pair when in it’s just the two of us deciding what to do with ourselves. Perhaps that’s why we often find ourselves staying in, being homebodies.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)
But Ali was kind enough to lend several hints as to what she wanted for her birthday cake (her first birthday cake of the year, I should say, because if I’ve taught her anything—anything—about birthdays, it’s that there should definitely be more than one cake). She mentioned chocolate, she mentioned cheesecake and she forcefully nixed the option of a pie. In other words, she was (almost) downright decisive. With those tips, it wasn’t too far a stretch to get to this chocolate cheesecake. Or, excuse me, I should use the technical term: Deep Dark Chocolate Cheesecake, so anointed by Bon Appetit‘s October 2006 issue.
Now, it’s lucky that things like “calories” don’t count on birthdays (yet another thing about birthdays my sister claimed not to know; it’s as though she wasn’t even there for the 23 birthdays that came before this one!), because this treat is nothing if not decadent. You just have to fuzz your brain a little bit while you drop block after thudding block of cream cheese (four in all!) into the mixer and pretend that premium dark chocolate is free when you heft a 16 ounce brick of the stuff into your basket at the grocery store.
Pesky guilt aside, this is one of the best desserts I’ve ever made. In fact, it just might be the best, a declaration I made when I was halfway through my not-quite-slim-enough wedge of it on Wednesday night. The recipe marries the best parts of a chocolate cake (the chocolate (duh)) and a cheesecake (the smooth richness) into one beautiful cake. And the recipe then instructs you to drape the entire thing with even more chocolate. And, really, who am I to disagree? There was a birthday hanging in the balance, after all.
I’ve never had luck with making chocolate curls (any tips out there?), which the recipe called for, so I instead used the ganache topping two ways: first, I only poured most (about three-quarters) on top of the chilled cheesecake to create a solid layer. I let that set up for about 15 minutes in the fridge, quickly reheated the remaining ganache and then drizzled the reheated ganache on top of the smoothed out ganache. I think it gave the cake a festive flair, fitting for a birthday.
We’ve got a weekend lined up of more birthday celebrations (she’s finally catching on!) and a Cubs game. I hope you’ve got some fun things planned for this weekend too! And, before I go: HAPPY BIRTHDAY Miss Allison!
Deep Dark Chocolate Cheesecake
24 chocolate wafer cookies (from one 9-ounce package)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1 9.7-ounce bar Scharffen Berger 70% Cocoa Bittersweet Chocolate,* chopped
4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Scharffen Berger)
4 large eggs
3/4 cup whipping cream
6 ounces Scharffen Berger 70% Cocoa Bittersweet Chocolate,* chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
Bittersweet chocolate curls*
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 9-inch-diameter springform pan with 3-inch-high sides. Blend cookies in processor until finely ground; blend in sugar. Add melted butter and process until well blended. Press crumbs evenly onto bottom (not sides) of prepared pan. Bake just until set, about 5 minutes. Cool while preparing filling. Maintain oven temperature.
Stir chopped chocolate in metal bowl set over saucepan of simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over water; cool chocolate until lukewarm but still pourable. Blend cream cheese, sugar, and cocoa powder in processor until smooth. Blend in eggs 1 at a time. Mix in lukewarm chocolate. Pour filling over crust; smooth top. Bake until center is just set and just appears dry, about 1 hour. Cool 5 minutes. Run knife around sides of cake to loosen. Chill overnight.
Stir cream, 6 ounces chocolate, and sugar in heavy medium saucepan over low heat until smooth. Cool slightly. Pour over center of cheesecake, spreading to within 1/2 inch of edge and filling any cracks. Chill until topping is set, about 1 hour. Do ahead: Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover with foil and keep refrigerated.
Release pan sides. Transfer cheesecake to platter. Top with chocolate curls. Let stand 2 hours at room temperature before serving.
* As I mention in the post, I skipped the chocolate curls. Instead, I poured on 3/4 of the ganache topping as a solid layer and saved the other 1/4 to drizzle on top (after the solid layer had set up for about 15 minutes).