Monday, September 12, 2011

Greeking Out: Greek Yogurt Cheesecake with Honey Caramel Drizzle

Once upon a time, I thought I didn't like cheesecake. Apparently, I just didn't like bad cheesecake, which, unfortunately is all too common. I will eat less-than-stellar pizza (because, really, no pizza is that bad) and I'll eat sub-par chocolate chip cookies (I'm only human after all), but when it comes to something like cheesecake, I only want to eat it if it's really, really good. 

I decided I wanted to make my own cheesecake - something I've never done - in the middle of my Greek yogurt/granola snack a few weeks ago. Good Greek yogurt is so creamy (even the nonfat kind), and so tangy it will make your toes curl. I don't know what weirdo thought fermented dairy sounded like a winner, but god bless his deviant soul. On the heels of sampling some of the tastiest cheesecake in town at Estadio (manchego cheesecake w/quince preserves and pistachio granola), I felt inspired to make a great cheesecake with Greek yogurt. So when I attempted it over Labor Day weekend and it was only so-so, I was bummed. Not only was it not up to my eating standards, but I didn't want to blog about it. I wanted to try again and I wanted it to be better. Better, damnit.

So I did. And it was. Way, way better.
The first time around, I used too much yogurt. The cake didn't have enough substance and it just kind fell apart when I sliced it. I also decided to beat the egg whites before adding them (some cheesecake recipes call for beaten whites and I thought this would make for a fluffier cake). But it was too fluffy, resulting in more of a souffle than a cheesecake. Plus I had the genius (read: opposite of genius) idea to use some of the caramel sauce as the binder for the graham cracker crust. That was straight stupid. It made the crust hard and chewy - not a good counterpart to something soft and creamy like cheesecake. But I make these mistakes so you don't have to. You're welcome.

The second time around, I switched up the proportions and simplified the recipe. I should have known that simpler is (almost) always better. I got a much sturdier cake that cut like a dream. And the flavor was exactly as I'd hoped - the cake was tang-central, properly sweetened with the honey caramel sauce.

And that sauce? It's truly obscene. Like, prepare-to-lock-your-fridge-and-throw-away-the-key obscene, unless you want to drink it all before the cheesecake hits the table. I wanted a honey topping because Greek yogurt and honey go together like Larry and Balki. When I was first making it, I was actually prepared to be disappointed. The quantity was overwhelming (fixed for you below) and as I was pouring in the condensed milk, I just didn't think it was going to taste like honey or caramel. And honestly, the honey flavor isn't that strong. But shoot, the flavor of awesome comes through in full effect. I guess that's what sugar, sugar, sugar and butter will result in.

Finally, I read a lot of articles about whether to use the oft-questioned water bath. Some folks are convinced that cooking a cheesecake in a water bath results in a moister, more evenly cooked cheesecake. Others insist that it makes no difference. I concluded that the extra work + risk of leakage into my springform pan = not worth it. I'm pretty sure, for this cheesecake recipe at least, there was nothing to be gained from a water bath, so save yourself the trouble.



Greek Yogurt Cheesecake w/Honey Caramel Drizzle

*Note: The recipe below is for a standard 9" or 10" cheesecake. Pictured above is a 6" cheesecake, which I made by halving the ingredients (except for the crust, as noted in the instructions). I would stick with the same amount of caramel drizzle regardless of the size of the cheesecake (the original caramel drizzle recipe is double what I have listed below and it results in so much caramel, it was coming out my ears). 

Graham Cracker Crust
15 graham crackers (15 of the big rectangles)
5 tbs. melted butter
 (for a 6" pan, use 6 graham crackers and 2 tbs. butter)

Grease a 9" or 10" springform pan with butter. Break down crackers into crumbs using a food processor or blender. Add melted butter to graham crumbs and stir. The mix will still be crumbly, but moist. Press crumbs evenly into the greased pan, spreading slightly up the sides of the pan. Place pan in the refrigerator while you make the filling.

Cheesecake
16 oz. lowfat cream cheese or neufch√Ętel (2 packages), room temperature
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups plain, nonfat Greek yogurt
2 egg, plus 4 egg whites

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Using an electric mixer, blend room temperature cream cheese with sugar. (It is imperative for this recipe that the cream cheese be room temperature, otherwise you will have cream cheese chunks. If you are absolutely out of time, microwave the cream cheese in 5 second increments until soft.)

Mix in yogurt, eggs and egg whites. Continue to mix with electric mixer until smooth. The batter will be runny, like a cake batter. Pour batter into chilled pan over the graham crust.

Bake at 325 degrees for 45-55 minutes (time will depend on the size of the pan; larger pan will cook faster). Cook until cake is mostly set, but the center is still jiggly. The cake will rise a little and you might see browning around the edges, but you won't see any browning on the top. 

Let cool and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

Honey Caramel Drizzle (from My Homemade Life)
1/4 cup honey
4 tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
7 oz. sweetened condensed milk (1/2 can)

Add honey, butter and brown sugar to a small saucepan and bring to a roiling boil. Let boil for two full minutes. Remove from heat and stir in sweetened condensed milk. Serve warm or store in the refrigerator in an airtight container. When ready to use, microwave the sauce in 20 second increments, stirring each time (this sauce will burn easily in the microwave, so don't overdo it). 

Drizzle slices of cheesecake with warm honey caramel sauce.
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