Now that I have entered the blogosphere, I have been trying to, well, actually read some blogs. And with the wonders of Google reader (which I’m sure all you more technologically-savvy folks know about, but which I find totally amazing), I can actually keep up. I was looking through one of my new favorite cooking blogs — Smitten Kitchen — the other day, and this recipe for dulce de leche cheesecake squares caught my eye. They didn’t seem like the kind of thing you make just any day, but a few hours later I got an invitation to an “Endless Summer” BBQ (with self-deprecating comments apologizing for the lack of originality in coming up with the theme). And so, a project was born.
These were actually surprisingly easy to make, they just require some advance planning. There are four elements: the graham cracker crust, the dulce de leche, the cheesecake, and the chocolate ganache. Nothing you have to do is too hard, or takes much “active” time (a term used in a lot of recipes to differentiate between total time — baking, chilling, whatever — vs. time you are actually doing stuff in the kitchen). They do require a lot of total time, though. But they were well worth the effort, especially as I think it’s always nice to bring something a little more special to a party. And, as you can see, they were a hit…
Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Squares
I adapted this from Smitten Kitchen, which was an adaptation of the original recipe in Gourmet. My main change was that I took out the gelatin that the recipe used to stiffen the cheesecake (mine was plenty solid without, and gelatin can give a weird flavor). I’ve also edited the recipe to use only things you would expect to find in a small, not necessarily appliance-stocked kitchen; replacing, say, the food processor with good ol’ elbow grease.
8 or so graham crackers (full sheets), crumbled (1cup)
2 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted (you can melt it in the microwave)
1/4 c. whole milk
8 oz. cream cheese, softened (important, but not absolutely necessary — I forgot to soften it, and the cheesecake was still fine, my life was just harder)
3/8 tsp. salt
1 cup dulce de leche
For dulce de leche
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
3 oz. fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), coarsely chopped
1/2 stick (1/4 c.) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tsp. light corn syrup
1. Make dulce de leche: You can, apparently, do this by boiling the condensed milk right inside the sealed can (by just putting it in a pot of boiling water). But while I am curious about this method, there is a small chance of explosion. So I just poured out the condensed milk into my makeshift double boiler — one small pot placed inside a larger pot of boiling water. You could also use a small metal bowl instead of the small pot. A double boiler — or a “double boiler” — is necessary here (and later in the chocolate ganache) because if the milk or chocolate is cooked over direct heat it will burn. This is a little gentler. Cook, stirring every once in a while, for 40-50 minutes, making sure to replenish the water in the bigger pot if it’s running low. The dulce de leche should be thicker and slightly browner, with a caramelized flavor.
2. Make crust: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line an 8×8 inch pan with foil, criscrossing two sheets to get some overhang on all sides. Put graham crackers in a ziploc bag; use a bottle or some other blunt instrument to crush them into fine crumbs. Add sugar and a pinch of salt, mix in butter to the best of your abilities. The mixture won’t come together fully until you use your hands to press it to the bottom of the pan to form a crust. Bake for 10 minutes, cool for 5.
3. Make cheesecake: Beat together milk, cream cheese (this is why you want it softened), eggs and salt. I used a whisk, an actual egg-beater would be better. Mine had lots of clumps in it because I forgot to soften the cream cheese; after my arm muscles got tired, I gave up, figuring that they would just melt when it was baked, which turned out to be true. Stir in dulce de leche (I didn’t even measure mine, just added whatever it was I had made in the pot). Pour filling over crust, jiggling the pan a little to make sure the top is smooth. To bake, you will have to create another double-boiler-like situation, this time called a water bath. Put the 8×8 pan into a larger baking dish (it has to have a rim, so you can’t just use a baking sheet — I used a 9×13 casserole dish). Using a glass, pour water into the baking dish, until the 8×8 pan is surrounded. Carefully put in the oven, and bake until the center is set, about 45 minutes (confession: I forgot about mine and baked it for an hour and fifteen minutes, with nothing any worse for the wear). Cool on stovetop for 2 hours. Chill in fridge at least 6 hours.
4. Make chocolate ganache: Set up your “double boiler” again, this time melting the chocolate, butter, and corn syrup, stirring the whole time (it won’t take long). Pour over cheesecake, again jiggling the pan a little to make sure it coats evenly. Chill in the fridge, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
To serve: Get cheesecake out of pan by lifting the foil overhang. Cut into squares. Smitten Kitchen notes that you should wipe the knife off after each cut to make sure the squares come out clean. I was already quite in the midst of a party, and didn’t do this, my squares did not come out clean, and nobody cared at all. If you’re presenting these a little more formally, though, you probably want to take the extra 30 seconds to clean the knife.