Monday, December 10, 2012

‘Tis the Season Eggnog Cheesecake

Oh, Eggnog! For most of the year I don’t give it a thought, but when those holiday decorations start going up and the Christmas tunes start playing, all of a sudden I begin to crave that thick, rich, boozy treat. And, inevitably, it starts to find its way into my desserts. 

Eggnog is the meeting of nutmeg and booze, and what a meeting it is. To capture the essence of eggnog, the nutmeg absolutely must be freshly grated – don’t use that pre-ground dead stuff in a jar  – and the booze can be dark rum (my fave), brandy or bourbon, as you 

prefer. Here I’ve featured the combination in a rich cheesecake that’s idea for a holiday dinner. The crust is made with cinnamon graham crackers, and is just the thing for the rich eggnog filling. The trick to achieving a perfectly textured cheesecake – creamy and 

very smooth – is two-fold. First, once you’ve made the cake batter, pass it through a fine-mesh sieve right into the crust. This ensures there won’t be any little globs of undissolved cream cheese in the cake. Second, place the springform pan into a slightly larger pan to insulate it from the water bath. With this trick, you’ll never have another soggy crust. So, go ahead, indulge a little. ‘Tis the season, after all.

‘Tis the Season Eggnog Cheesecake

Makes 10 servings

Cinnamon Graham Cracker Crust:
1 1/4 cups (5.3 oz oz/150 g) cinnamon graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons (1.3 oz/37 g) granulated sugar
5 tablespoons (2.5 oz/70 g) unsalted butter, melted

Cheese Filling:
1 1/2 pounds (680 g) cream cheese, softened
1 1/4 cups (8.8 oz/250 g) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 ¼ teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream (or sour cream, if you prefer)
1 tablespoon (.26 oz/7 g) cornstarch
4 large eggs, at room temperature
¼ cup brandy or dark rum

Sweetened whipped cream and freshly grated nutmeg for garnish

Make the crust:
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform pan. Place the pan inside a 9-inch cake pan and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted butter. Pat the mixture into the bottom and 1 inch up the side of the prepared pan. Bake the crust for 8 minutes. Set the pan on a wire rack and cool the crust completely. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.
Make the cheese filling:
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese at medium-low speed until creamy and smooth, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the sugar and beat until blended. Add the vanilla extract, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, cream, and cornstarch and mix until well blended. At low speed add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the rum or brandy and mix until blended.
4. Scrape the batter through a fine-mesh sieve into the crust (the sieve is optional, but makes such a difference!). Place the pans into a larger pan (such as a roasting pan). Pour enough hot water into the larger pan to come about an inch up the side of the outer cake pan. Bake the cake in the water bath for 75 to 88 minutes, until the center is set, but slightly wobbly. Remove the pan from the water bath and cool the cake in the pan, set on a wire rack, completely (the cake will continue to set up as it cools).
5. Refrigerate the cheesecake for at least 4 hours before serving.
6. Before serving, top the cake with whipped cream and freshly grated nutmeg.