High Altitude Baking: Chocolate-cheesecake cups (recipe)
Special to the Daily
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, but it’s made with Italian mascarpone cheese, which creates an exceptionally light and silky texture. And, rather than accompanied by the usual crust, this cheesecake filling is baked a cappella, in small ramekins, 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, quite easy to make and can be prepared (but not decorated) up to two days before serving.
To assure its 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.
Sweetened 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 optional toppings.
Chocolate Cheesecake Cups
(Make in eight half-cup ramekins.)
4 ounces good semisweet chocolate
1 cup heavy whipping cream
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
¼ cup superfine sugar, preferably Baker’s
3 large eggs
1¼ teaspoons vanilla
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 position. Select a roasting pan with 2-inch sides that holds the ramekins so they are close together but not touching one another to use for a water bath (make sure the hot water can circulate around all sides of the ramekins). Heat a kettle of water to boiling for the water bath. Lightly grease the ramekins.
Finely chop the chocolate (I do this in a food processor). Warm the whipping cream, in a heatproof mixing bowl in a microwave oven or in a saucepan on the stovetop, until it is steaming and just starts to simmer (don’t let it boil). Remove it from the heat, add the chopped chocolate, and stir gently (don’t create air bubbles) until all of the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth and shiny. Set it 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 the vanilla, salt and rum (if using) with the last egg. Add the cooled chocolate mixture, and gently whisk until blended. Place the prepared ramekins in the roasting pan, and pour or spoon the cheesecake mixture into them, filling each of them equally. Place the pan in the oven, and carefully pour in the boiling water so that it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. 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 (but not liquid) 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 them overnight.
Up to a few hours before serving, decorate the top of each cheesecake cup with sweetened whipped cream. If using the English toffee, crush it into crumbles. (To do this, I place it in a plastic bag, close the bag and beat it with a rolling pin or meat pounder.) Pipe the whipped cream around the perimeter of the pots, and sprinkle the toffee crumbles in the middle. Store the cups in the refrigerator, but serve them at cool room temperature.
This is a variation of a recipe by Jill O’Connor. Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, when necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.
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