Monday, April 27, 2009

My First Daring Baker's Challenge

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

I was very excited that my first Daring Baker's Challenge was something I've never made before - cheesecake! This was a great first challenge for me, somewhat simple and endless possibilities. I went back and forth a little bit on what flavor to choose - whether to keep it simple and just stick with a plain cheesecake, or to step it up and go all out. I think what I finally decided on falls somewhere in the middle of the two.

I chose to make a Vanilla Bean Irish Cream cheesecake with a homemade graham cracker crust. I've been wanting to make graham crackers and saw this as a perfect opportunity to bake two things for one project. I also decided early on that I wanted to involve macarons in the decoration for my cheesecake. (I will find pretty much any reason to make macarons!)

I took things slow and made the graham crackers in advance. They turned out great and the first thing a taste tester of mine said after trying one was, "This would be great as a pie crust." Win!

I ended up baking my cheesecake just this past weekend - it's been a busy month! I had wanted to make it a few weekends ago after I got my wisdom teeth out, but I was much more lazy than I had expected to be that weekend (and heavily drugged, I might add lol). So I had a very busy weekend of baking.

The cheesecake itself was very simple and easy to make. Everything came together quickly and after having done my research on cheesecake making, I decided I would add one tablespoon of cornstarch to the batter to prevent any cracking. While a crack isn't going to make it taste any different (and is easily covered up) I'm very picky about that sort of thing, so I decided to take that added insurance.

creaming the batter; the graham cracker crust; vanilla bean seeds

The only hang up I had was using a spring form pan. While the idea of the pan leaking while in the water bath worried me, I was apprehensive at the thought of flipping a cheesecake out of a pan without removable sides. I decided to go with the spring form and hope for the best. I carefully wrapped that sucker three times with foil, but alas, the water still found it's way in! I found just a little bit of water in each layer of foil, but couldn't tell if it actually seeped through the pan itself. Only the first slice would tell, but I had to let it cool first.

As the cheesecake was cooling, I made the the macarons - I chose chocolate, which are my favorite. I use this recipe from Canelle et Vanille which has never failed for me...until this weekend. I haven't made macarons in a few weeks, so I felt a little rusty. Always attempting to avoid a macaron disaster, I ended up being too careful in mixing the batter and I think I under-mixed it. They looked so pretty as they were drying, but once they were half way through the baking time, they had already begun to crack. Unfortunately two trays of failures! I was quite discouraged, as this has been my go to recipe, never a failure, always a beautiful result. I took a break and decided to resume the next day with another batch of macarons.

the failed batch of macarons, pre-bake. they looked so promising

The next batch I decided to make some mini macarons along with the regular sized ones (regular size being about and inch a half in diameter). The batter looked much better this time, so I was optimistic. I sprinkled the regular sized macarons with one of the three: raw cacao nibs, fleur de sel or cocoa powder, and left the mini ones plain. This time, almost all the regular sized macarons cracked - I got maybe half a dozen that didn't - and all the mini ones came out perfectly! Confuzzled, I didn't have much time to ponder what went wrong and carried on. I had enough of the mini macarons to use as decoration and filled them with an Irish cream white chocolate ganache. Yummy!

For the final assembly, I made some whipped cream and sweetened it with vanilla sugar. I piped some rosettes on the cheesecake and topped those with the macarons. Challenge complete!

So how did it taste? It turned out incredibly declicous! The crust showed no evidence of sogginess and went perfectly with the creamy texture of the cake. You can really taste the Irish cream and the tiny flecks of vanilla bean add even more the the visual appeal. I am very pleased with my first cheesecake and can defnitely see myself making this again. I would love to try out more flavor combinations and even making mini cheesecakes too. Thanks Jenny for the great recipe!


Prep notes: While the actual making of this cheesecake is a minimal time commitment, it does need to bake for almost an hour, cool in the oven for an hour, and chill overnight before it is served. Please plan accordingly!

2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted (I only used half a stick and that was plenty!)
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch (my addition)
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream (I used 2/3 cup cream, 1/3 cup Bailey's Irish cream)
1 tbsp. lemon juice (I subbed Irish cream for this)
1 tbsp. vanilla extract or the innards of a vanilla bean (I used vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake (I used Irish cream here)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.

3. Combine cream cheese and sugar and cornstarch in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

Pan note: The creator of this recipe used to use a springform pan, but no matter how well she wrapped the thing in tin foil, water would always seep in and make the crust soggy. Now she uses one of those 1-use foil "casserole" shaped pans from the grocery store. They're 8 or 9 inches wide and really deep, and best of all, water-tight. When it comes time to serve, just cut the foil away.

click for printable recipe

**For more recipe variations, please visit this month's host Jenny Bakes :)


  1. Its looks wonderful!! Well done :)

  2. Wow! I'm quite impressed that this is your FIRST challenge and you went all out...making everything homemade. Great job! This looks just fantastic...I wish I had a piece right now. :-)

  3. So pretty with the macarons on top. Great job on your first challenge!

  4. Wow, those macarons on top are totally adorable! Yum. :)

  5. Welcome to daring bakers! Your cheesecake is lovely. Great job on this month's challenge.

  6. Welcome to the DB's you rocked the challenge. I have wanted to try macarons but have been intimidated

  7. Wow, I'm truly impressed! Combining cheesecake and macarons... Decadent! I've always wanted to try making macarons but have been too scared. You've pulled both desserts off beautifully!

  8. Those macaroons are the cutest- and they match your blog perfectly! :)

  9. LOVE the gerbet macarons as decor on such a beutiful cheesecake. Welcome to DB!! :)

  10. Beautiful! I've never made macaroons, but they are so pretty...I'm going to have to get to it soon.

  11. Absolutely amazing and I can't believe that this is your first challenge. Well done!

  12. That looks spectacular! I made my own graham crackers, too - homemade tastes so much better! The macarons look too cute. I find that smaller is better when I make them anyway - you get to eat more if they're smaller! ;)

  13. Beautiful! The cheesecake looks so wonderful. Great job.

  14. Very well presented. Wish i could have a slice! Good job!

  15. I love your little macarons they're so adorable, Vanilla and Irish Cream mmmm mmmm mmmm absolutely decadent combination!

    Welcome to DB!

  16. That is so adorable, & tasty of course! :)

  17. Your cheesecake looks so adorable (and more importantly, tasty)! Love it!

  18. I love that on top of cheesecake you also made macarons! It looks beautiful and delicious! Welcome to DB!

  19. Those macaroons is the most adorable thing! Very well done for your first challenge

  20. The mini macaroons make it look so beautiful. I commend you for making your own graham crackers, very impressive. Thanks for being a part of the April Daring Baker's Challenge!

    Jenny of JennyBakes

  21. My cheesecakes always do what you described--water in the foil but not in the cake. It makes me think maybe it all just depends on using a good springform pan.

    Your cake is simply beautiful. I can tell you have a lot of patience!

  22. I love the mini macaroon decoration! So adorable. Looks like a fantastic start with the Daring Bakers.