I love cheesecake but I hate making it. Yep, that’s right. Cheesecake is not my idea of a fun baking adventure and the main reason is the water bath usually required. It is a pain to wrap the pan with foil and it seldom works because my pan inevitably leaks and I wind up with a soggy crust. And then it is always hard to maneuver a really heavy pan full of boiling water out of the oven. So, while I love cheesecake for dessert, I rarely make it at home.
That is until recently …
In my regular wandering around on the Internet looking for interesting recipes, techniques, and ideas, I found a recipe on Food and Wine for a cheesecake with a walnut crust. Intrigued, I looked through the ingredient list. The crust used pulverized walnuts in place of traditional graham crackers. Using nuts creates a flavor very similar to the original and this one is naturally gluten-free. But the best part of the recipe for me was that it did not require the water bath!
So armed with a fun new recipe to try I headed to the store for the ingredients and set about to create this wonderful dessert for all of you!
Initially I was going to make it in the recommended 10-inch springform pan, but then I remembered that I have a set of four smaller springform pans that would allow me to share the dessert easily with family and friends. Unfortunately, the smaller ones were too little for all of the filling, so I wound up using a couple of ramekins for the extra.
Make sure you don’t fill your pans more than 3/4 full. I should have added another one or two ramekins because I filled the containers so full that they rose well above the rims, not allowing me to top them with the original sweetened sour cream layer. So I punted!
I decided that I would melt chocolate chips and whisk them into the sour cream topping. Oh. My. Goodness. It is insanely good! So instead of the chocolate ganache sauce I was going to serve over the cheesecakes, I used the chocolate sour cream sauce. The Artist and I have a new favorite – it is not as sweet as traditional dessert sauces, but is still packed with chocolate flavor. When combined with the creamy cheesecake, it is heavenly. You could also use milk or white chocolate for different flavors and colors, but lower the amount of sugar to compensate.
The walnut crust lends a delightful change of pace from graham crackers, and I prefer it. You could also use almond meal or other ground nuts. Not only is it delicious, it is also healthy. So I can more easily justify eating a whole piece of this cheesecake without feeling the need to have someone share it with me 😉
Walnuts always put a smile on my face. My brothers and I used to sit around the fireplace in the winter cracking nuts for my mother to use in her baking. It was fun “work” and a way to get mom to make our favorite treats, especially her divinity!
If you are buying nuts in the bulk section of your grocery store, always taste one before you buy. Unfortunately, sometimes the bulk items do not move as quickly as they should and you can wind up with rancid or stale nuts. To be safe, buy nuts as fresh as you can get them and crack them yourself!
With Halloween coming up, you could serve this as part of your buffet. The creamy white with the dark chocolate sauce will fit right in. Sprinkle the top with some candy corn or orange sprinkles for even more fun! For Thanksgiving, scatter some extra walnuts around the plate. For the holidays use white chocolate in the sauce and sprinkle the top with blue sprinkles for Hannukkah or red and green for Christmas. One dessert for all occasions!!
Happy Chocolate Monday my friends, go out and make it a Great day!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
When you are baking a cheesecake, make sure you pull it out of the oven when the edges are firm and the center jiggles like pudding. It will finish baking all the way through as it cools to room temperature. Then allowing it to rest in the refrigerator overnight helps the cheesecake become even creamier and makes it taste its best.
Because the emphasis is on vanilla, there are two types used in this recipe. Vanilla paste is a shelf-stable replacement for real vanilla beans and less expensive. You get the lovely flecks of ground vanilla pods with it. This recipe also calls for vanilla extract as an extra boost of flavor. Use them both for the most delightful dessert.
There is no flour in this recipe, so it is a natural for gluten-free baking. Just watch the vanilla and almond extracts and chocolate – occasionally a little gluten might slip in there. Always contact the manufacturer if you have any doubts. Better to be safe than have someone get sick!
Kitchen Skill: Non-Bitter Walnuts
I don’t know about you, but for years I thought I didn’t like walnuts because they always tasted bitter to me. It turns out that the oil on the nuts is what is bitter, not the nuts themselves. To get rid of the oil, place the nuts in a colander and pour boiling water over them, shaking occasionally to get all sides rinsed. Pour the damp nuts onto a baking sheet and bake in a low oven (about 250°F) until lightly toasted. If you eat one that was rinsed and toasted and then an original nut, you will be amazed at the difference this one step makes!
- 1-1/2 cups walnut pieces (or pecans, almonds, macadamias, etc.)
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 2 lb cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp vanilla paste (to get the flavor and look of the seeds)
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 tsp vanilla extract (gluten-free if needed)
- 1/4 tsp pure almond extract (gluten-free if needed)
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- Chocolate Sauce
- 2 cups sour cream
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract (gluten-free if needed)
- 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted (gluten-free if needed)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 10-inch springform pan.
- Make the Crust: In a food processor, pulse the walnuts with the sugar until finely ground. Add the butter; pulse until the mixture resembles moist sand. Press the crumbs into the bottom of the prepared springform pan. Bake for 12 minutes, or until browned around the edges. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.
- Make the Filling: Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F.
- In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle or using a handheld electric mixer, beat the cream cheese at low speed with the sugar and vanilla paste just until combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl and beater between additions. Add the vanilla extract and the almond extract. Slowly beat in the cream until smooth.
- Bake the Cheesecake: Slowly pour the cheesecake batter into the pan (trying to avoid creating air bubbles), place in the oven and bake for 65 to 70 minutes, until the top is puff and lightly golden and the cake is still slightly jiggly in the center.
- Turn oven off but leave cheesecake in the oven with the door ajar for 15 minutes. Carefully remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature.
- Run a sharp, thin-bladed knife around the cake(s) and loosen the outer ring(s) but don’t remove. This allows the cheesecake to settle as it cools. Refrigerate the cake for 3 hours, then cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight for the best flavor and texture.
- Make the Chocolate Sauce: In a medium bowl, mix the sour cream with the sugar and vanilla until smooth. Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan with simmering water, stirring regularly until smooth. Add to the sour cream mixture and whisk until thoroughly combined.
- Cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. Whisk to smooth out again when ready to serve.
- To Serve: Remove outer ring(s). Using a very sharp knife that you’ve heated with hot water and wiped dry, cut the cheesecake into wedges. Make sure to rinse the knife clean and wipe dry between each slice for the cleanest presentation.
- Transfer wedges to serving plates. Add a dollop of the chocolate sauce and serve immediately. Pass remaining sauce at the table.
- Yield: about 10 servings
Create a New Tradition Today!
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Lovely! I will have to try this at Christmas for my mother in law, who is gluten free.
I hope she loves it Sara. I’ll bet everyone will want a slice and no one will even notice the different crust! Enjoy!
Dang, that looks delicious. I can’t believe the crust is just nuts (besides the other usual things). I might have to cheat and make this with cane sugar. Long boring story, but I have about 3 lbs. of cream cheese in my fridge right now.
I know! The first time I tried it I wasn’t sure it would turn out, but now I am a total convert. It is so much more flavorful than the graham crackers and great texture. I love it – and it’s a great way to use up all that cream cheese 😉