This month's Daring Baker's challenge was cheesecake, and I know I say this about every challenge, but this one really excited me. I have made cheesecake countless times, but most of the time I stick with the tried-and-true basic cheesecake with a graham cracker crust (or occasionally a bittersweet chocolate cheesecake). Yummy to be sure, but I have been wanting to branch out for a while now. My mind was a-whirl of possibilities that I had spied over the years: pumpkin cheesecake, caramel turtle cheesecake, cookies-and-cream cheesecake, the possibilities are endless! I can truly say the most difficult part of this challenge was limiting myself to just one cheesecake. And that took a lot of deciding, because I wanted something rich and yet light, appropriate for spring.
And I found my inspiration in a Starbucks, of all places, where my fiance and I went to grab some coffee one afternoon. He happily ordered a slice of neopolitan cheesecake (of which I took a bite), and as I enjoyed the yummy mingling of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, I thought to myself: this is the one. Rich, yet with enough lightness from the strawberry and vanilla layers to make it appropriate for warmer weather, I decided this would be the cake.
And now for a brief historical interlude: Neopolitan as we now know it, the mixing of strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla ice cream, is descended from spumoni, a traditionally cherry, chocolate and pistachio ice cream block originating in Naples. In the mid-19th century, this tri-flavored ice cream spead across Europe and came to North America, where it was christened "Neopolitan" by the Italian immigrants who brought their considerable ice cream making skills to this country, as a reflection of their origins. Strawberry, chocolate and vanilla became the flavors of Neopolitan ice cream in the U.S. since these were the most popular flavors at the time.
Once I had decided on the delectable combination of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, I had to make a very important decision: should the chocolate layer be chocolate cheesecake, or made out of something else? I made a command decision: brownie bottom! This way, I would only have to fool with splitting the cheesecake batter 2 ways, plus, hey, brownies!
- Springform pan (I used 9")
For Brownie base:
- 8'' X 8" brownie mix (I chose one without chips, but I think I will add chips next time
- Ingredients to make brownie mix according to box (some combination of eggs, oil and water)
- 3 cream cheeses, softened
- 3 eggs
- 1 C sugar
- 8 oz sour cream
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 vanilla bean (vanilla layer)
- 1/2 C mashed strawberries, drained (strawberry layer)
- 2 tbls flour (strawberry layer)
1. Butter or spray springform pan. Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare brownie mix according to package.
2. Bake 30-35 minutes (adjust for your size springform) until brownies are set and done. They need to be cooked through.
3. Let brownies cool ~ 20 minutes. While they are cooling, prepare cheesecake: mix in 1 egg and 1 package of cream cheese at a time, beating until just combined. Beat in sugar, vanilla, sour cream until just combined, do not over-mix.
4. Split the batter in half. To one half, add the scrapings from half a vanilla bean and mix until combined.
5. To the other half of the batter, add the strawberries and flour, and mix until combined.
6. Gently pour the vanilla layer over the brownie layer, and the strawberry layer over the vanilla layer. Bake at 350 F for about 50-55 minutes, until set but center still jiggles slightly (this will depend on your pan size, so watch it, and make sure it doesn't brown too much).
I know a lot of directions call for a water bath. I have never personally done that, and my cheesecakes usually don't crack, but it really can help with the cooking. You know your own oven best, so if you think you need to, go ahead and use a water bath.
I was very pleased with the way this recipe turned out. I think the only thing I would change would be to add chips to the brownies. I had originally bought some strawberries for garmish on the top -- I was going to dip them in chocolate and white chocolate and put them around the perimeter of the cake (in my head, this looked fantastic), but I had to abandon my artistic plans when my precious strawberries got chopped up into a fruit salad! I also had dreams of adding decorative swirls of whipped cream around the top edge, but time just did not permit.
Despite the lack of decoration, however, this recipe is definitely a keeper, and a great option if you can't decide between a rich chocolatey cheesecake and a light fruity one.