Thursday, January 2, 2014

Dulce de Leche Turtle Cheesecake

I wrote a couple of days back about my inspiration for making a Dulce de Leche Turtle Cheesecake. I made the cheesecake part then, and finished the toppings to serve it for our New Year's Day dinner last evening. It certainly delivered on every wish and hope I had. And - it is completely Gluten-Free! My sister-in-law suggested that this cheesecake might also be really good with a shortbread type crust, and I agree.

My goals while making this cheesecake were:
  1. that it not be too cloyingly sweet
  2. to use coarse salt, making it a "salted caramel" style
  3. that the cheesecake part be smooth and creamy
After tasting the cheesecake last evening, I believe I accomplished all of those goals. The filling was dreamy-smooth. It was not too overly sweet. The salt balanced perfectly. Even a tiny amount more would have been too much salt, but it worked perfectly just as it was made. 

My Dulce de Leche Turtle Cheesecake, finished
There are a couple of things that might have been better - not about the flavor, because that was, to me, perfect and just what I was looking for. The toppings were my sticking point. The flavors were great, so no problem there. My initial thought had been to use broken pecans, strewn over the top of the cake. However, I went back and forth, even discussing with my sister-in-law, about whether to leave the pecans on top whole, or broken. I selected whole pecans to toast, just in case I decided on decorating the top in a symmetrical manner. I ended up using whole pecans in a beautiful pattern, but in retrospect, broken pecans might have been the better choice. The reason? Trying to eat the cheesecake required trying to cut a bite around a whole pecan, making either a really large bite, or eating around it and then deciding on the pecan. Not a huge problem; not insurmountable, but still... 

The other thing that could have been better is the melted chocolate over the top. I used good-quality chocolate chips and placed them into a piping bag. I set the piping bag with the top edges turned down over a tall water glass to support the bag. I just stuck the bag with the glass into the microwave to melt the chocolate with short 20-second intervals. Initially, I was going to melt the chocolate with butter or oil, to soften it and then put it into a bag. Later I decided to just melt the chocolate alone. Once the chocolate was zig-zagged over the cheesecake and chilled, trying to cut through the hardened chocolate drizzle was almost impossible without destroying the slice entirely. I used the knife to rap sharply against the hardened chocolate drizzle to try and make a place to cut a slice. The slice still was not clean. In retrospect, I believe adding a tablespoon of cooking oil to the chocolate while melting would give a softer final result.

All in all, not huge problems, and the taste results were spectacular, so here is my recipe:

Dulce de Leche Turtle Cheesecake

Makes one 9-inch cheesecake

Dulce de Leche Turtle Cheesecake, sliced
1¼ cup pecans
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon  sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
2½ tablespoons softened unsalted butter

½ teaspoon coarse salt (Fleur de Sel)
¾ cup dark chocolate chips

3 (8-ounce) blocks cream cheese, softened
14 ounces dulce de leche; reserve ¼ cup aside for topping
½ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
½ cup sour cream
½ vanilla bean, split and scraped
½ teaspoon coarse salt
4 eggs

1½ cup broken pecans
¼ cup reserved dulce de leche
½ cup semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate

Make Crust: Preheat oven to 375 degrees (350 on Convection). Combine the pecans, sugar and vanilla extract in the bowl of a food processor; process until the pecans are coarsely chopped. Add the butter and process until the nuts are finely chopped.  Press the mixture into the bottom and 1 to 1½ inches up the sides of a 9-inch springform  pan. Bake the crust for about 12 to 15 minutes or until very fragrant.  As soon as the crust comes from the oven, sprinkle in the half teaspoon coarse salt and then the chocolate chips. Set aside while preparing the filling. The chocolate chips will become soft. With a spatula, spread the melted chips evenly over the crust. Allow to cool thoroughly. Reduce oven to 300 degrees (275 on Convection).

Make Filling: In a mixer bowl, first beat the cream cheese until smooth, then add in the dulce de leche, brown sugar, cornstarch, sour cream, vanilla and salt. Mix well on low speed until well blended. Whisk the eggs together in a separate bowl, then add them, mixing gently until just incorporated; do not over beat at this point. Pour filling over the chocolate in the cooled crust. 

Cut a large piece of aluminum foil and set the springform pan in the center. Wrap the foil up the sides of the pan, encasing it completely. Prepare a roasting type pan large enough to accommodate the springform, filling with hot water to about 1-inch up the sides of the pan. Set the larger pan of water in the oven. Set the foil-wrapped springform pan into the larger pan in the oven. Bake the cheesecake for about 1 hour or until just jiggly in the center. Remove from oven and cool completely on a rack. Refrigerate the cheesecake, covered for at least 3 hours or up to 3 days, before topping and serving.

Toppings: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place broken pecans on a dry baking sheet and toast for about 10 minutes. Cool the nuts before using. This can be done well ahead and the nuts stored in a sealed container until needed. The nuts may be left whole, to make a lovely pattern on top of the cheesecake, or broken to scatter over the cake.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave, carefully, in 20-second increments, checking each time, until soft. Pour into a piping bag or a sturdy zip-top bag. Set aside.

Finish the cake: Gently reheat the reserved dulce de leche for just a few seconds in the microwave. Scatter broken pecans over the top of the completely cooled cheesecake, or arrange whole nuts in a pattern.  Snip a very small hole in the piping bag or zip top bag with the dulce de leche and drizzle a zigzag in one direction over the top of the nuts. Snit a small hole in the piping bag or zip top bag with the melted chocolate and drizzle the chocolate in a zigzag pattern in the opposite direction across the dulce de leche. Keep chilled until serving.

Bon apettit!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, on Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.