She’s beauty and she’s grace! She’s speculoos cheesecake!
You better believe that rhymes. Maybe next time I’ll post some of my high school era poetry to better convince you of my poetic prowess. For today, prose as usual.
Any discussion of the powerful connection between food and memory must always include Marcel Proust’s madeleine-induced reverie. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, let me summarize briefly:
(Imagine this in excessively verbose French prose.) I’m munching on a madeleine. All of a sudden, I remember that as a boy I used to dip madeleines into tea before eating them. THE TASTE, THE SENSATION, TAKE ME BACK TO THOSE DAYS!
It’s been a while since I’ve read Proust. That’s how I remember it, at least.
Has a bite of beef-flavored Cup Noodles ever transported you to the day your family returned home from a long overseas trip to an empty refrigerator and, to your immense delight, your mom finally let you eat the earthquake emergency Cup Noodles for dinner? Congratulations, you and Proust have at least one thing in common. Never thought you and a long-dead French literary giant would ever have such a camaraderie, eh?
I too have my Proustian moments. Each time I indulge in cheesecake, I recall fondly my college years and Claire’s Dogged Quest for Crackless Cheesecake. It was one of my great life ambitions, right up there next to “graduate college” and “be successful somehow”, to bake a cheesecake endowed with a buttery smooth, flawless surface. This achievement eluded me cheesecake after cheesecake. I used varying combinations of chocolate, fruit, and whipped cream each time to cover my shame. Then one day, I knew the day had come. I was going to bake the most decadently perfect New York cheesecake of all time. And so it began one night after class. I made sure to beat the mixture gently to reduce air bubbles. I prepared a steaming water bath. I patiently waited late into the night as my masterpiece baked at a ridiculously low temperature. I resisted the temptation to fling the oven door open to check on my creamy baby until it had finished cooling down. My oven didn’t have a little window. I could only pace the kitchen and hope for the best as it slowly cooled.
Then, the moment of truth.
1:00 AM. I stared down at the yawning canyon of a crack that stretched from shore to shore. Its gaping edges mocked me. As my hopes and aspirations crumbled to ruins, I did the only thing that seemed to make sense at the moment. I reached into the pan with my bare hands and started shoveling warm cheesecake into my mouth.
Self control and loathing kicked in about halfway through the cheesecake, at which point I retracted my cheesecake-encrusted hands, threw the mangled remains into the fridge, and tossed myself into bed vowing to punish myself with a 2 hour workout the next day.
I can’t really remember if I followed through with that ascetic vow or not. I just know that every time I take a bite of cheesecake, all I can think of is that late night, standing over the pan, everything a blur of heartbreak and cheesecake.
This cheesecake is based off a “Crack Proof Cheesecake” recipe I found online. True to its word, this cheesecake turned out crack free. But its surface, while not altogether displeasing, was a bit pockmarked. Like a preteen experiencing for the first time the beginnings of an onslaught of acne. I think we can all agree that the cosmetics I applied have greatly contributed to this dear cheesecake’s looks.
And so the quest for a natural-born beauty continues.
Can one ever have too much speculoos? I think not.
About 10oz speculoos cookies (1.5 Trader Joe’s packs)
1 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 8oz packs cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
zest from one small lemon (optional)
1 pound (pint) sour cream
Speculoos Cookie Butter
7oz speculoos cookies (1 Trader Joe’s pack)
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2-3/4 cup milk (I didn’t have any milk and used heavy cream)
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
powdered sugar to taste
Make the speculoos crust:
- Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Wrap the bottom of a 9″ springform pan with foil and spray the interior with nonstick spray.
- Using a food processor, process the cookies until they have become fine crumbs. Blend in the sugar and salt, then add the melted butter and pulse until crumbs are all moistened.
- Transfer the buttery crumbs to the springform and press into the bottom and up the sides.
- Bake for 12-13 minutes until the crust is set. Remove from oven (but leave oven on 325˚F) and allow to cool while preparing the cheesecake filling.
Make the cheesecake:
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer) beat the cream cheese on low speed until just smooth, about 1 minute.
- With the mixer running, slowly beat in the granulated sugar.
- Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl as needed.
- Stir in the vanilla extract and lemon zest, then beat in the sour cream. Make sure not to over-beat, beat just long enough for everything to be well incorporated.
- Pour the filling into the crust and smooth the top.
- Place the springform pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the pan until the water is halfway up the sides of the cheesecake pan. I suggest doing the water-pouring after you place the pan into the oven.
- Bake for 45 minutes in the 325˚F oven. After 45 minutes, crack the oven door open a couple inches and allow the cheesecake to cool down slowly, at least 30-45 minutes. The cheesecake should be set but still slightly jiggly.
- Remove from oven and run a thin metal spatula around the inner rim to loosen the cheesecake from the pan. Allow the cheesecake to cool in the pan to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours. I refrigerated mine overnight.
- Remove from the pan when you are ready to decorate and serve.
Transform Plain Jane into Beauty Queen:
- To make the speculoos cookie butter, simply process the cookies in a food processor until they become fine crumbs.Blend in the powdered sugar, then add the milk/cream a little at a time, pulsing until you get to your desired, spreadable consistency. Spread the cookie butter in the center of the cheesecake. Reserve the leftovers in a jar and refrigerate.
- Make whipped cream by whipping the heavy whipping cream, vanilla, and powdered sugar on high speed until it becomes whipped cream… Decorate cheesecake as desired. I used a Wilton 1M tip to pipe the border.