High Country Baking: Chocolate cheesecake cups
August 27, 2013
Editor's note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn't. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
Expect a moment of silence when you serve these chocolate cheesecake cups; the first bite often stops conversation. The hush is usually followed by the licking of lips and some low groans of appreciation. Yup, this rich, smooth, deeply-chocolate dessert gets everyone's full attention.
Basically, it's a chocolate cheesecake filling made with Italian mascarpone cheese, which creates a light, silky texture. And rather than accompanied by crust, this cheesecake filling is baked alone in small souffle dishes, so nothing distracts from its luxurious qualities.
It's a great choice for a dinner party; not only does it make a strong statement, but it's visibly pleasing, easy to make and can be prepared (but not decorated) up to two days before serving.
To assure success, use high-quality chocolate, the kind you'd eat out of hand, and bake the cups only until the filling is set but still quivers in the middle. It'll lose its wonderful texture if baked until it's completely firm.
Whipped cream is a perfect complement; I always add a dollop. Sugared raspberries or strawberries, chocolate curls or crumbles of English toffee (as seen in the photo) are nice toppings.
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Chocolate cheesecake cups
Make in 8 1/2-cup souffle dishes
4 ounces good semisweet chocolate
1 cup heavy whipping cream
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup superfine sugar, preferably Baker's
3 large eggs
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla
A pinch of salt
1 tablespoon dark rum or brandy, optional
Sweetened whipped cream
English toffee, optional
Preheat the oven to 335 degrees, with a rack in the center. Select a roasting pan with two-inch sides to hold the souffle dishes close together, but not touching and use for a water bath (make sure the hot water can circulate around all sides of the dishes). Heat a kettle of water to boiling for the water bath. Lightly grease the dishes.
Finely chop the chocolate (I do this in a food processor). Warm the whipping cream in a heat-proof mixing bowl in a microwave or in a saucepan until it is steaming and just starts to simmer (don't let it boil). Remove from the heat, add the chopped chocolate and stir gently (don't create air bubbles) until all the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the mascarpone cheese and sugar until smooth; don't whisk past this point or the cheese may get watery. One at a time, add the eggs, whisking until smooth after each addition. Add vanilla, salt, and rum (if using) with the last egg. Add the cooled chocolate mixture and gently whisk until blended. Place the prepared dishes in the roasting pan and pour or spoon the cheesecake mixture in, filling them equally. Place the pan in the oven and carefully pour in the boiling water so it comes halfway up the sides of the dishes. Pour slowly so the hot water doesn't splash onto the tops of the cheesecakes. Lay a piece of aluminum foil over the pan and bake until the tops of the cheesecakes are set but the centers are soft and jiggle when gently shaken. The timing can vary greatly due to differences in the water temperature, but start checking at about 20 minutes. Once done, remove the cheesecake cups from the oven and the water bath and place them on a cooling rack until they reach room temperature. Cover each cup with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Up to a few hours before serving, decorate the tops with sweetened whipped cream. If using the English toffee, crush it into crumbles (I place it in a plastic bag and beat it with a rolling pin). Pipe the whipped cream around the edge and sprinkle the toffee in the middle. Store the cups in the refrigerator, but serve them at room temperature.
This is a variation of a recipe published by Jill O'Connor.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC's Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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