Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake

In the world of rich and creamy decadent desserts, cheesecakes must rank near the top of the confectionary scale for sheer caloric weight. Almost every culture in the world has their own regional style of cheesecake, with most consisting of a topping made of soft, fresh cheese, and usually on a crust or base made from biscuits, pastry or sponge cake. Although they can be baked or unbaked, most modern North American cheesecakes use cream cheese; in Italy's Torta Dolce al Formaggio they use ricotta or mascarpone; and with Germany's Käsekuchen, quark is used.

Nigella's Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake

This outrageously delicious layered Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake, adapted from a recipe by Nigela Lawson, is "not for the faint-hearted", and she's quite right. "Think Reese's Peanut Butter Cups in cheesecake form!" A luscious combination of cream cheese, sour cream, brown sugar, peanut butter, eggs and egg yolks add a sublime richness and ultra smooth consistency to this dessert, which is poured on top of a crunchy base of crushed buttered biscuits and finely chopped peanuts, and finally crowned with creamy milk chocolate topping and shattered peanut brittle. Although Nigella may feel a bit apologetic for the "overindulgent vulgarity" of this cheesecake, you'll forget all about the calories as soon as you've taken your first bite. "Unashamed indulgence, wallowingly so," is what this recipe is all about.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake
Serves 10
Modified from a recipe by Nigella Lawson

3 1/2 oz dark chocolate
3 tbsp butter, softened
3/4 cup digestive biscuits, crushed
3 tbsp peanuts, finely chopped

17 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
3 eggs
3 egg yolks
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup smooth peanut butter

250 ml sour cream
1/2 cup/100g milk chocolate
1/2 cup peanut brittle (recipe below)

For the base, melt the chocolate and butter together over low heat in a medium sized saucepan, stirring frequently until the chocolate melts. Remove from the heat and add the crushed biscuits and nuts, mixing thoroughly. Transfer to an greased 9-inch springform pan and press down gently to form a thick crust. Place in the freezer to set while you prepare the filling.

For the filling, mix together all the ingredients in a standing mixer bowl, whisking at high speed until smooth and creamy.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Remove the base from the freezer and pour the filling over top. Bake for an hour. Remove from the oven and set on a wire rack.

For the topping, melt the chocolate and sour cream together in a small saucepan over medium heat, then pour it gently over the cheesecake. Return to the oven for five minutes. Meanwhile, break up the peanut brittle into small pieces, using a meat tenderizer or hammer. Remove the cheesecake from the oven, scatter the broken brittle over top and bake for a final five minutes.

Once out of the oven, place the cheesecake on a wire rack and let cool completely in its tin. When it's completely cooled down, cover with cling film and put in the fridge overnight. When you're ready to serve, take it out of the fridge ahead of time, just to take the chill off. This will make it easier to spring the cheesecake from the tin. Don’t let it get too warm though, as it'll become a bit gooey and be hard to slice.

Peanut Brittle
Makes about 2 dozen one-inch chunks
Recipe courtesy of Karen DeMasco, pastry chef at Locanda Verde NYC

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
4 ounces unsalted butter
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 tsp baking soda
12 oz dry-roasted whole salted peanuts
4 tsp salt

Line a baking pan with parchment paper. Add the sugar, butter, corn syrup, and 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water to a large saucepan, and stir together with a wooden spoon until all the sugar is moist. Cook over high heat until the mixture turns to a deep golden brown. Immediately remove from the heat, and carefully whisk in the baking soda followed by the salt. Take care, as the caramel may rise in the pan and bubble.

Fold in the peanuts, then quickly pour the mixture onto the baking sheet, and spread it out using the back of the spoon before it starts to harden. It may not cover the whole pan.

Let the brittle cool completely, about 30 minutes. Break it into bite-size pieces or large shards, as you prefer. The brittle can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one month.

COOK'S NOTE: You can also use other nuts to make brittle: cashews, pistachios, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, or even a custom combination of mixed nuts. Brittle also makes a great gift wrapped in cellophane and bound with a pretty ribbon.

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