I'm constantly amazed by the cheer and sense of community that home-baked desserts can bring to people. And call me crazy, but I'm willing to go quite out of my way to provide them on a regular basis. Baking for work has even helped this shy girl come out a bit from her shell. Plus, being an unashamed people-pleaser (I've accepted that I am what I am), I'm truly just as happy bringing in the sweets as my suite-mates are to gobble them up. And that is why I began whipping up a cheesecake past 10 pm last Thursday night, having just come home from work...perfectly reasonable, no?
Chocolate with peanut butter is one of my boyfriend's FAVORITE combinations. I'm relieved to know a few things guaranteed to make his taste buds happy. See, he's not at all a foodie and avoids some of the novel pairings I invent (Mt Tam cheese and red currant vanilla rhubarb jam sandwich, anyone?). So when Mike posted this Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake with all those delectable photos, I knew I HAD to lick the screen...I mean...bake it soon =D.
Being the dork that he is, my bf told me this reminded him of PacmanYou'll see below that I made quite a few changes. My only issues were that it turned out slightly softer than I like my cheesecake and deep cracks formed in the center. Mike's cake looks to have neither issue, so I expect my substitutions and technique were at fault. It was totally NOM-licious though! I do still prefer my cakes to be purdy (I'm so shallow 8p) so the following are some tips I gathered on how to minimize cracking for my next cheesecake adventure.
Harold McGee's awesome book, On Food and Cooking, explains that cracks "result when the [cheesecake batter] expands and rises during the cooking, then shrinks and falls as it cools down." So to avoid that, you'll want to 1) mix the ingredients slowly, gently, and as little as necessary to get an even consistency, 2) bake at a low temperature over a longer time, 3) don't bake too long though, the edges should be set but the middle should still jiggle, and 4) cool gradually in an open oven. But you know what? If all else fails, chocolate ganache (or any other topping) will make any cracks "disappear."
Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake [Printable Recipe]
Adapted from Mike's Table
*My changes in red italics
1 Graham cracker crust
24 oz cream cheese *I used all neufchatel cheese
1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
3 oz bittersweet chocolate
1 Tbsp cocoa powder *I forgot to add this
1/3 cup peanut butter
1 Tbsp honey
*Ganache and toasted, chopped peanuts for topping
*Preheat the oven to 350°F. Crush about 7 graham crackers. As you can see from the collage above, I used the ziploc bag and rolling pin method. You can also use a food processor. Mix the crumbs with 1/4 cup sugar. Then pour in 3-4 T melted butter and toss together with a fork. Press this mixture into a greased or parchment-lined 9" springform pan and baked it for about 10 minutes at 350°F.
Let the cream cheese come to room temperature for about an hour. Then, in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese and sugar until lighter in texture. Add the eggs one at a time, beating in between each addition. Finally, add the cream, lemon juice, and vanilla, beating them all in. Scrape the sides of the bowl and beat some more. The batter should be silky smooth and reasonably thick.
Now, divide the batter evenly into three bowls. Leave one plain. In the second, the flavor is peanut butter. Add the batter, peanut butter, and honey to the bowl of the stand mixer. Beat it well and set aside. In the third, the flavor will be chocolate. Melt the bittersweet chocolate chunks (30 seconds in microwave, stir, repeat until melted) and give it 30 seconds to cool down a bit. Beat the melted chocolate and cocoa powder into the batter (in the bowl of the stand mixer, of course).
With all three flavors ready, now all that remains is to assemble the cheesecake. The order you choose, doesn’t matter, but into the graham cracker crust, I poured the chocolate batter, smoothed it out, then the plain, and finally, the peanut butter batter. *I reversed the order (peanut butter, plain, then chocolate on top). Give the pan a tap in case there’s any air bubbles trapped in there (you don’t want them).
Now, set a pan (larger than your cheesecake pan) in the oven (which is at 350°F) and fill it with water. You want to bake the cheesecake in the water bath for 45-55 minutes (you want the center to have some jiggle to it, still). The water bath tempers the heat of the oven, helping to prevent your cheesecake from cracking. *I didn't have a large enough pan so I put a 9"x13" pan filled with hot water underneath the cheesecake pan instead. Lack of a proper water bath may be why mine cracked. I also left the oven on 10 minutes longer because the whole cake seemed too wobbly at 55 minutes. Once time is up, kill the heat, but leave the cheesecake in the oven for an hour more before you remove it and let it cool down on the countertop. Once cooled down, let it sit in the fridge overnight before you grab your self a slice.
Optionally, now is a good time to top your cake with some ganache, but trust me, you’ll love it with or without. Enjoy! *I poured 1/2 cup of boiling heavy cream into a bowl containing 1/2 cup of finely chopped chocolate to make the ganache. After cooling a bit, this was poured on top of the cheesecake. I finished the top with a handful of toasted chopped peanuts.