Chocolate Almond Cheesecake
Well, Saturday was Valentine’s Day. Valentines is one of those holidays where I always get a little bit excited despite my fervent desire to act like I don’t care, but then I forget to plan for it until the day-of rolls around and I get that deer in headlights I’m-an-awful-girlfriend look on my face. It makes sense though, considering my sordid dating history.
My first V-Day with a partner was when I was 21. I was dating a charming young Goth who had more piercings than I did (which is no easy feat, if you had known Young Tina), and his token nod to the day was in giving me an Anti-Valentine’s gift… a black heart shaped box with a shriveled up dead rose inside. And by ‘heart’ I mean the kind with an aorta and ventricles. Mind you, I did like the box, and as I type this I’m wondering what happened to it… and oh, yeah, that was the only flower I had ever received that wasn’t from my Dad.
Then there was a long term stint with The Worst Boyfriend Ever. Oh ho ho, do I have stories about THAT one! We had a… tumultuous romance, to say the least. And oddly enough, in almost three years of dating we seemed to break up two weeks before Valentines Day, EVERY YEAR. Perhaps that was Cupid’s way of saying, “C’mon Tina, I can’t do this on my own. Help a brother out, already.”
Finally, we flash forward a few years to Mike. He and I often joke about how he’s the kind of girlfriend that any guy would be lucky to have. I mean, he cleans the house and he does the laundry before it becomes something that you need to strap on gear in order to climb. He rubs my feet when I’ve had a long day, he’ll make me a sandwich when I’m hungry, and he always asks how my day was…with genuine interest and enthusiasm. Oh, and awesome back rubs. He gets a thumbs up on that front too. In exchange, I will submit to being cuddled for up to 10 minutes as long as it doesn’t interfere with the things that I want to get done, and I try to remember birthdays and anniversaries on at least a bi-annual basis. Hey, you have to start somewhere, right?
Anyway, despite my misgivings that Valentine’s Day is a commercialized farce where people feel obligated to express their affections by purchasing stale chocolates and over-priced roses (note: I loathe and despise roses with a surprising vehemence), I can’t help getting drawn in to the romance. Candlelit dinners, fattening foods, rich red wines, frothy baths – these are all things that I enjoy. Better yet, on Valentine’s Day I can muster up a temporary suspension of the constant quacking in my head (“Did you pay that bill? Did you call that friend? What about the mirror that you need to hang? Oh, I can’t help but notice that you still haven’t cleaned up that pile of laundry. Did you grocery shop yet this week or are you hoping that dicey container in the back of the fridge is going to multiply? And what about your OIL CHANGE?! Oh, woe is me…I mean, you”) to just enjoy relaxing with my love and sharing some quiet one-on-one time away from the world.
So! I wanted to make Mike a sinful sweet that we could share together, and coming up with inspiration for what it would be was a no-brainer. Chocolate covered almonds are his Achilles Heel. I would call them a weakness, but I don’t think that adequately captures the sentiment. Picture coming home from Costco on Saturday morning with a 5 lb bag of chocolate covered almonds. Then, on Monday when you ask where they are, you just get a guilty expression from your significant other as he slinks out of the room. FIVE POUNDS. That’s FIVE POUNDS OF CHOCOLATE COVERED ALMONDS which were eaten in two days. Sigh. Oh, to have a runner’s metabolism.
Cheesecake is generally a shoo-in for date night, and this one is no exception. It’s rich and decadent without being cloying. The almond flavor comes through in each layer, and there’s that balance of textures in the base, creamy interior and firm/crunchy top, to keep it from being too much. But I should warn you – this is not a dieter’s cake. There’s, um, ha, well, kind of a lot of chocolate in here. Really a fair bit. And a lot of cream cheese. And some butter and sugar. And nuts. In fact, the only thing left is to wrap it in bacon and dollop some whipped cream on top. But hey, it’s not about calories, it’s about ROMANCE! This cake is for a good cause, so just put on some inspiring music and start baking.
Chocolate Almond Cheesecake
- 300 g (2/3 lb) butter cookie crumbs – about 2 cups when ground *
- 100 g ground almonds – about 1 cup
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1/3 cup butter, melted
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 400 g (.89 lb) dark chocolate **
- 4 packages cream cheese, softened and at room temperature
- 4 eggs at room temperature
- 1 tsp almond extract
- 1 cup sugar
- 200 g dark chocolate (.44 lb)
- 2 tbsp sour cream at room temperature
- 1 cup chocolate covered almonds
* A dry store-bough butter cookie would be ideal. Graham cracker crumbs have too much of a distinct flavor and texture. If you use shortbread cookies, reduce the butter to 1/4 cup.
** The chocolate is really the star of your baking show, so use the very best dark chocolate that you can find and afford. A 60% – 70% cocoa would be ideal, because you really want that deep, dark deliciousness to shine.
Preheat your oven to 350ºF with the rack in the center of the oven.
Pulse the cookies in your food processor until there is a uniform texture of fine crumbs without any big cookie bits. It is entirely possible that I used butter cookies that somebody gave to us at Christmas and we never got around to eating. It could also be that a few of these cookies had a light chocolate drizzle, and maybe a couple of sprinkles stuck to the sides. I scraped off the sprinkles, but as for the chocolate drizzle, well, it’s a chocolate cake. I didn’t think anyone would mind.
Add the sugar, salt and ground almonds to the food processor. Drizzle in the melted butter.
Pulse the mixture several more times until it has the texture of a heavy wet sand.
Very lightly butter the base and sides of an 9″ springform pan.
Spoon the crumb mixture into the pan and press it firmly into the bottom and about halfway up the sides, trying to be as even as possible in terms of how thick it is and how high the crust goes. This is not just so that the end result looks better, it also helps the crust to cook more evenly. Pay special attention at the seam where the bottom joins the side, because it’s almost impossible to pat this down at a 90º angle, and you’ll end up with a curving slope upwards – which will also leave you with a really fat crust area at the the bottom corner of each slice of cheesecake if you aren’t careful to control that. Just press in firmly as best you can, and go by ‘feel’. If it feels uneven or too thick, it probably is.
Prick the bottom of the cheesecake all over with a fork, and tuck it into the center of the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until it’s just starting to turn golden brown around the edges.
While the crust bakes, break the chocolate up into chunks.
Set a medium glass mixing bowl over a pot of water, unless you have a double boiler, in which case…you’re better off than I am, so fine, use your double boiler instead (show off) because we’re doing the same thing here, just ghetto-style. Bring the water up to a simmer. This will melt the chocolate slowly and help to reduce the risk of seizing. As the chocolate starts to melt down, stir it periodically to make sure that there is absolutely no chance of burning, and it all melts evenly and slooooooowly.
Has it been about 10 minutes yet? Does the crust look dry and slightly golden brown around the edges? Perfect.
Take the crust out of the oven but don’t touch that dial!! Let the oven keep on trucking at the same even temperature, we’ll be back in there again shortly.
Let’s talk about mixing the cheesecake. You COULD do it by hand, but I strongly recommend that you don’t, unless you’re courting carpal tunnel for some godforsaken reason. Our next two options are either a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or using a handheld device with 2 beater arms. The stand mixer is bigger, more powerful, and you just feel like such a BAKER when you use it. The handheld mixer is flimsier, smaller, and since you generally just use it to make whipped cream, you have serious doubts about it’s efficacy.
But don’t. I find that using a hand held mixer yields a cake with better texture, fewer (if any) lumps and bumps, and it’s faster and more efficient. That said, every time that I go to make a cheesecake I always seem to forget my little diatribe on the merits of hand held beaters, and this is no exception. I used my stand mixer again. Anyway, the choice is yours (but go for the handheld beater, you’ll be happy you did).
Alright, and now back to the cake. Take the softened cream cheese and empty the packages into the bowl of your mixer, or a large mixing bowl. Beat the cream cheese with the sugar until it’s smooth and no lumps remain. If you’re using a stand mixer, don’t forget to scrape down the sides with a spatula, on a fairly regular basis.
Add the eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition.
By now you have probably noticed that your chocolate is also melted and silky. Take it off the heat and let it rest for at least 5 (and up to 10) minutes so that it can cool down, but don’t forget about it because you don’t want it to cool down so much that it solidifies or forms a shell on top.
Add the almond extract to the cream cheese mixture and give it another quick beating.
When the chocolate has cooled for several minutes (slightly warm to the touch is fine, but definitely not hot or it will scramble our eggs) drizzle it into the cream cheese gradually, while you continue to beat. When the chocolate looks like it is fully mixed in, take the bowl out of your mixer (or drop the hand beaters, if that’s the case) and give it a final once-over with a spatula or wooden spoon, really scraping up from the bottom and sides to make sure that everything is mixed in.
Dollop the creamy chocolate mixture over the crust (it will come most of the way up the sides of your springform, but that’s fine), smooth out the top with a spatula (offset works well), and give it a quick rap or two on the counter to make sure that there are no air bubbles on the inside.
Measure out a piece of aluminum foil that’s about 16-18″ long, sit the cake on top, and press it up around the bottom and sides so that the cake is wearing a little aluminum foil skirt. This may seem crazy, but you’ll see why in a minute.
Put the cake in a roasting pan which is large enough to hold it comfortably, and pour warm water into the pan (being careful not to splash the cake) until it’s about 3/4 – 1″ deep. Immediately slide this into the oven, still on the center rack, and set your timer for 60 minutes.
Cooking the cheesecake in a bain marie (which is essentially what we just did) will help the internal temperature to rise gradually so that the cooking is more even, the extra humidity in the oven will prevent cracking on the top, and overall you will have a better end product. I promise. The aluminum foil is just a shield to make sure that no water can leak into the springform and ruin our crust.
Check on the cake after it has been cooking for one hour. The ‘doneness’ check for cheesecake is pretty discretionary. You want to check and see if the cake has started to pull away from the sides of the pan. Then you give the cake pan a little shake, and peer down at the top of it to see what’s going on. It should have just a wee bit of jiggle in the center of the cake, but for the most part it will look fairly set. And don’t worry, the cake will continue to cook for a few minutes when you take it out of the oven. If the whole cake jiggles wildly back at you like a jello man then you want to leave it in to continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes. My oven can sometimes run a bit cool, and the cake took 70 minutes to cook for me.
When the cake comes out of the oven, take it out of the roasting pan and let it cool (still in the springform pan) while you make the topping.
Melt the rest of the dark chocolate (that which was set aside for the topping) in a double boiler, or in a bowl set above simmering water – just like before. When the chocolate is melted, take it off the heat and add the room temperature sour cream. If the sour cream is too cold then the chocolate will seize, which means that it will get granular and separate off into chocolate liqueur and cocoa mass…which is bad, and completely unappetizing. Chocolate is a fussy little beast, so be gentle, patient, and try to keep anything that you’re adding at room temperature or slightly warmer.
Pour the chocolate mixture onto the center of the cake and use a spatula to ease it around, spreading it towards the side of the pan. The cake will still be warm which means that the chocolate topping will thin a bit before it sets, so try not to go all the way over to the edges of the cake or it may drip down.
Let the chocolate topping cool on the cake for 5-10 minutes, and as it cools you can coarsely chop the chocolate almonds.
When the topping has cooled slightly (otherwise the almonds will melt in) but the top is still tacky, sprinkle the chocolate almond chunks evenly all over the top.
So…when I mentioned that you want to keep the springform pan attached, I didn’t mean that you had to leave the aluminum foil on the cake. That was really there as a precaution to make sure that no water could get inside the pan and make a soggy crust, and the fact that my foil is still in the picture below points only to laziness, and not to any greater purpose.
Refrigerate the cake and let it cool for at least 4 hours or up to overnight. This will allow it to firm up and set so that it can be cut without being gooey.
When you’re ready, gently run a knife around the perimeter of the pan (it should not stick at all, but better safe than sorry) and remove the springform from the sides.
Ta-daaaaa!! Chocolate Almond Cheesecake, at your service.
Ooh, a buttery almond crust, creamy choco-almond interior, and double chocolate almond topping. Sigh. I can see why Mike likes the little treats.
Cut the cheesecake with a sharp knife, and you may want to rinse it under hot water in between slices.
“Are you looking at me? I said, ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME??!” Don’t worry, he’s just angry because he knows what fate holds for him.
Ahh, this angle is more relaxed. Oh, chocolatey goodness. Thank you, Valentine’s, for giving us an excuse.
Creamy, rich, dark decadence. Nutty crunch, buttery crust, chocolate heaven. That’s what I have to say. This isn’t an overly sweet cheesecake, but it’s chocolate and nuts until you’re crying “Mercy!” to the Lifestyle Change gods.
And now, if you excuse me, I’m off to spread some love around town and drop off slices of chocolate almond cheesecake to my nearest and dearest. Because really, what good is a cheesecake if it can’t be shared?
Happy post-Valentine’s Day!! There’s so much love in this crazy world of ours, and I hope that everyone touched on just a little bit of that at some point over the weekend.