Praline Cheesecake: Happy Birthday, Jennifer!

Today is Jennifer’s birthday! While she’s had to work all weekend, I’ve been doing my husbandly best to make it a fun birthday celebration. First, dinner and homemade dessert with my parents Friday night. Then there were presents last night — many presents. I won’t go into details, but suffice to say she’s been good this year. And then dinner tonight at her sister’s house.

But the big story is about the cheesecake she requested. Remember the praline liqueur she put in the brownies recently? I sought out this wonderful nectar specifically for her cheesecake, appropriately called a praline cheesecake. Through diligent experimentation, I found that praline liqueur plus vanilla ice cream equals indescribable goodness.

Back to the cheesecake. This was, as Jennifer pointed out, my inaugural cheesecake. She is the queen of cheesecake having honed her technique over several years. A friend asked if I was nervous about making her a cheesecake and I was reminded of a great quote from Alton Brown’s recent seminar in Nashville. During the filming of Feasting on Asphalt, his wife (with the help of both their mothers) moved into a new home. Since then, neighbors dropped by to welcome them but all committed a terrible southerner faux pax: they brought no food, no goodies! They were too intimidated to cook for Alton. His quote: “So, you were too lazy to cook and you’re going to blame me?!”

Undaunted by the challenge of baking for my official baker, the gloves came off and the Alton Brown “Science, it’s what’s for dinner” shirt went on. Armed with Jennifer’s favorite cheesecake cookbook, I Love Cheesecake, and her encouragement, I set forth to build her birthday cheesecake.

Foundation cliches aside, a wimpy crust can relegate a cheesecake into the ‘break’ category. The crust in this recipe is a combination of vanilla creme cookies, melted butter, and finely chopped pecans. The recipe calls for a 9″ springform pan, but Jennifer’s experience with recipes from this cookbook suggests that the filling will still be tall in a 10″ pan. While there is usually ample filling, she has found that many crusts are too skimpy as made from a recipe, so I doubled the crust recipe and used all of it.

With the crust sitting to the side and the oven preheating to 350 (we’ll talk more about the temperature in a bit), I turned to the stack of four packages of cream cheese resting on the counter. I’m a firm believer in letting things thoroughly reach room temperature, so these had been out of the fridge for quite a while.

Okay, an aside and a warning. This recipe (actually every recipe in this book) takes a very patient approach to the cheesecake manufacturing process. As AB is fond of saying, “your patience will be rewarded.” I’m a believer. But do yourself a favor if you make this cheesecake. Start before 8PM. Jennifer laughed at me as I started knowing how long it would take. Some of you may be quicker at the mixing phase, but the four and a half hours in the oven meant that I was putting it in the fridge around 2AM.

The filling contained dark brown sugar and dark corn syrup which made a beautiful, pecan color. These two ingredients were combined with the cream cheese and cornstarch and mixed until smooth. Four eggs were incorporated, one at a time, then the good stuff was added: praline liqueur, vanilla extract, and butter flavoring. Jennifer is a stickler for not overmixing batters, so I did my best. To incorporate the chopped pecans, I removed the bowl from the mixer and folded them in by hand.

With the filling atop the crust, the cheesecake was introduced to the 350 degree oven. After 15 minutes, the temperature was reduced to 200 degrees for two hours. At that time, the cheesecake still looked a little wet in the center, so I gave it another 20 minutes. After this time, I removed the cheesecake, ran a knife all around the edge, and returned it to the oven which I turned off. The cheesecake spent another two hours in the oven allowing it to slowly cool.

Why all of this? Cracks. I would have been devastated to present a cheesecake to Jennifer with a gaping rendition of the Grand Canyon. The slow cooking and gentle cooling prevents cracking while cooking the cheesecake thoroughly. Running the knife around the outside is very important, too, since the cheesecake shrunk about 1/4″ from 200 degrees to room temperature. If the sides had stuck to the walls of the pan, crackage would surely have ensued. To my sleepy pleasure, the cheesecake was uncracked at 2AM when it went into the fridge.

This cookbook is big on toppings and supplies a wide variety. The topping included with this recipe consisted of white chocolate melted with sour cream, mixed with caramel ice cream topping (the kind that makes the hard shell) and a sprinkling of chopped pecans. I made this topping and found it less than ideal. It tasted a little like a funky caramel apple coating. I applied it to a third of the cake because I had already been thinking of alternative toppings.

Given both of our affinities for chocolate, it seemed a logical choice. I had some Lindt Lindor truffles on hand and gently melted them in a small pan which I had used to roast some chopped pecans. I drizzled this over another third of the cake and topped the topping with a few slivers of another truffle.

The remaining third of the cheesecake was staring at me with, well, a blank stare. I didn’t have any plans for this, but leaving it untopped seemed wrong. I surveyed the pantry, but was uninspired. I’d hoped to integrate more of the praline liqueur into a topping, but with what.. I opened the refrigerator and my eyes fell on a carton of heavy whipping cream. A cup of this and a quarter cup of praline liqueur were whipped in the mixer for about a minute. I added about a tablespoon of sugar and continued whipping the glorious mixture on high until I liked what I saw, about 2 minutes. Sampling the mixture, I decided right then which slice of cheesecake I would sample first. Divine!

We each sampled a slice of untopped cheesecake last night after the stack of presents were opened. The flavor was rich and true to the praline title. The cooking method achieves a uniformly cooked cheesecake from outside to center. The texture was soft and creamy yet firm enough to hold its shape. I’m eager to try it out again tonight with the praline whipped cream topping.

Praline Cheesecake

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Yield: 12 to 14 servings

Praline Cheesecake

Ingredients

    For the crust:
  • 36 vanilla sandwich filled cookies
  • 2/3 cup pecans, chopped
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • For the filling:
  • 32 oz cream cheese
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup dark corn syrup
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons butter flavoring
  • 1/2 cup praline liqueur
  • 2/3 cup chopped pecans
  • For the topping:
  • 5 ounces white chocolate
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup caramel hard-shell ice cream topping
  • 3 tablespoons chopped pecans
  • For the whipped cream:
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup Praline liqueur
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Instructions

To make the crust:

Set out all ingredients for filling and allow to reach room temperature.

Finely chop cookies. Thoroughly mix cookie crumbs with pecans and butter. Press mixture onto the bottom of a greased 10″ springform pan.

To make the filling:

Preheat oven to 350°.

Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat cream cheese, brown sugar, cornstarch, and corn syrup until smooth. Avoid over-mixing.

Add eggs to mixer bowl one at a time. Beat mixture thoroughly after each egg. Mix in vanilla extract, butter flavoring, and praline liqueur. Fold in pecans by hand.

Slowly add filling mixture to crust. Bake for 15 minutes at 350°.

Reduce temperature to 200° and bake for approximately 2 hours until center of cheesecake no longer appears wet.

Remove from oven and carefully slide a knife around the outside between the cheesecake and the pan. This will help prevent cracking as the cheesecake shrinks during cooling. Return to oven, turn oven off, and allow to cool slowly in the oven for two hours. Refrigerate overnight.

To make the topping:

In a small, heavy saucepan, melt white chocolate with sour cream over low heat stirring constantly until mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and mix in caramel topping, stirring until mixed. Spread over cheesecake and sprinkle pecans on top. Keep refrigerated.

To make the whipped cream:

Whip cream and liqueur together for about a minute (highest speed if using a mixer). Add the sugar and whip for another minute or two until desired consistency is achieved. Thinner whipped cream will pour over the cheesecake and ooze over the plate. Thicker versions will sit firmly and proudly atop the cheesecake. Makes plenty for a whole cheesecake with enough left over for ample sampling.

Notes

Recipe slightly adapted from I Love Cheesecake.

http://www.bakeorbreak.com/2006/08/praline-cheesecake-happy-birthday-jennifer/
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24 Comments

  1. Claire August 27, 2006 Reply

    This looks delicious! The only cheesecake I’ve tried is plain jane style. I’m impressed with your creativity and skill! :-)

  2. Abby August 27, 2006 Reply

    Thank you so much for the non-cracking hints. I’m horrible at letting my cheesecakes crack! They always taste good, though!

    Divine.

  3. jennifer August 27, 2006 Reply

    Quinn did such a great job with the cheesecake. It was delicious and beautiful! My favorite was the chocolate topping. Yum!!!

  4. Husband August 28, 2006 Reply

    Great job. I wish my first cheesecake had gone that well. I’m with Abby too. Cracks are bad, but I’ll live with them if they taste good.

    Also good tip with the running the knife against the sides during the very important refrigerator time.

    Finally, do you use a water bath? I find that when I switched to doing that it gave me two advantages of allowing the temperature to rise more slowly in the custard part of the cheesecake and keeps the surface of the cake slightly less skin like to prevent the cracking.

    Thanks for the great post.

  5. Author
    quinn August 28, 2006 Reply

    Thanks everyone! I agree with the sentiment about taste over cracking. I’d much rather eat a delicious cracked cheesecake than a perfectly formed yet not-so-tasty one. The use of toppings that cover the whole top is a clever way around the problem.

    Husband, I didn’t use a water bath. Jennifer and I discussed the water bath approach after she made a cheesecake from this cookbook the first time. We think that this method approximates the waterbath but with a twist. A waterbath keeps the sides and bottom of the pan at 212 degrees or less. Reducing the oven to 200 deg simulates this.

    The big difference that the top of the cheesecake is also exposed to the lower temperature instead of a higher one. The lower surface temperature should help prevent skinage, although the longer cooking time might promote skin formation, so there is a tradeoff. After two hours in the oven, the top was still wet and soft.

    The proof is in the.. cake. The surface was as soft as the rest of the filling. The best part of this method, to me, is that the custard region was uniformly cooked from circumfrence to center with a great texture, just firm enough to hold its shape when cut.

  6. Ellie August 29, 2006 Reply

    That looks absolutely delish! I’m yet to try any other cheesecake other than Nigella’s plain version from her ‘domestic goddess’ book, but this looks like a wonderful new one to try!

  7. jennifer August 29, 2006 Reply

    Ellie, I just got a copy of that cookbook for my birthday. I’m anxious to try her cheesecake, too.

  8. Nan August 29, 2006 Reply

    So good! Quinn made this for my sister’s birthday, so we all got to partake of the goodness Sunday evening. The praline whipped cream topping, I believe, is essential to this cheesecake but it is also good on warm brownies. (Also, Quinn and I were caught eating it straight from the container while we thought no one was looking!) The chocolate topping was probably my favorite; but, they were all good (and, yes, I did sample each of the toppings!)

  9. sam August 29, 2006 Reply

    This cheesecake looks absolutely wonderful. Fantatsic job! Love your blog.

  10. Andaliman October 20, 2007 Reply

    That slice looks so tempting. You might try to pandan cheesecake I made. Check this out at http://indonesia-eats.blogspot.com/2007/08/pandan-cheesecake.html

  11. monica December 29, 2007 Reply

    Could I get the complete recipe for the proline cheesecake .. I can’t seem to find it here It looks so delicious …..thanks

  12. jennifer December 30, 2007 Reply

    Monica, the link to the recipe is on the right at the top of the post underneath the title. Let me know what you think if you make it!

  13. monica April 13, 2008 Reply

    It doesn’t give it to me … I just found you again and tried it again. But alas no sucess and mothers day is coming up and I would love to make it for my mom …. she is a praline fiend

  14. Author
    quinn April 14, 2008 Reply

    Monica, I’m not sure how or why, but the link to the recipe was pointing in the wrong direction. It’s fixed and working now.

  15. monica April 19, 2008 Reply

    THANKS SO MUCH ….. MY MOM WILL LOVE THIS FOR MOTHERS DAY ……. YOU HAVE THE BEST BLOG

  16. Tim July 24, 2008 Reply

    This is a very old post but I absolutely love your blog and you seem like a wonderful baker to talk with so I’m hoping you don’t mind I comment on this.

    But I was thinking of making this and wondering what exactly was the butter flavoring in the recipe? I hope to hear from you soon!

  17. jennifer July 25, 2008 Reply

    Tim, butter flavoring is available in grocery stores alongside other flavorings and extracts, such as vanilla, rum, lemon, etc. If you can’t find it there, Wilton has it in their online store.

  18. Tim July 25, 2008 Reply

    Ah, I see. I was thinking it was butter or some other equivalent, now I understand. Thank you for the prompt reply and the great recipe :D

  19. jennifer July 27, 2008 Reply

    You’re welcome, Tim. Enjoy the cheesecake!

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