April 7, 2013

Smitten Kitchen's Key Lime Cheesecake

Alright guys, I'm still completely devoted to Deb Perelman's famed Smitten Kitchen.  It's become my go-to for pretty much any recipe- she has such a great mix of desserts and main dishes, breakfasts and snacks, influences from a variety of different cultures, and her recipes are NO FAIL.  As long as I follow the directions, I know I'll end up with a superb dish.  I've even persuaded a few friends (without much difficulty) to make it their go-to as well.

I offered to bring dessert to our Easter dinner celebration with my husband's family this year, and "borrowed" 5-6 recipes from Deb's blog as possibilities, running a tiny poll to determine what would be best.  I wanted something that would look elegant but wouldn't take all day to make.  Her Key Lime Cheesecake won out, but instead of making mini single servings, I made a (my FIRST!) full size cheesecake instead- with help from my twin, of course.

Smitten Kitchen's Key Lime Cheesecake
(makes one 9" cheesecake)

1 sleeve of plain graham crackers, finely crushed
                     OR 1 1/4 c. graham cracker crumbs
3 tbsp. sugar
1/2 stick butter, melted (Deb suggested unsalted but I think either would work fine)

2 (8 ounce each) packaged cream cheese
1 cup sugar
3/4 c. key lime juice (Nellie and Joe's recommended, sold at Whole Foods)
1/2 c. sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla
2.5 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
3 eggs

Kitchen equipment
Stand mixer or hand mixer
9" springform
baking sheet with rim

From start to finish, this cake should take you about an hour and a half to put together, but plan to factor in several hours of cooling time.

First step: making the crust.  We crushed the grahams in a plastic bag with a meat mallet until finely crumbled, then combined it with the sugar and melted butter to form a wet "dough."  J was assigned the task of pressing it into the 9" springform pan (first buttered on bottom and sides); it helps to use a buttered spoon to prevent sticking to your fingers.  Crust should run 1/3 of the way up the sides of the pan.  Once prepared, parbake in a 350 degree oven for 8 minutes, then cool and adjust the oven temperature to 325.

Pre-bake; iPhone pic!
Next: the filling.  It's actually super easy and quick but a few precautions must be made.  My goal was to make a PRETTY dessert-- Smitten suggests making a topping of fresh mango and whipped cream, but I was keeping things simple and therefore didn't want a cake with a cracked top.  There seem to be three main ways to prevent cracking:

1) Minimally mix after addition of eggs
2) Bake in a water bath (easier than it sounds!)
3) Bake at a low temperature

Anyways, to make the filling, beat cream cheese until fluffy-- just a couple of minutes. It helps to start with room temperature cream cheese, but 20 seconds in the microwave does the trick if you're starting with the cold stuff.  Next, beat in sugar, then key lime juice, sour cream, and vanilla.  Mix in the flour and salt at low speed, just until incorporated (at this point, you're trying to avoid adding air to the mix).  Mix in the eggs JUST until homogeneous.  Done!

Carefully pour over your pre-baked crust.  Next, cover the bottom of the pan with foil, making sure the foil reaches about 2" up the sides.  Place onto a baking sheet or baking pan, then add boiling water until you've either nearly filled the pan OR about halfway up the side of the springform.  Since I was using a baking sheet, I couldn't add quite that much water.  The tin foil should keep the springform dry, otherwise you may get some leaking and end up with a wet crust-- no good.

The set-up
Bake for an hour and ten minutes at 325, until top is smooth and set.  Cheesecake will continue to set after it's cool, but it felt solid to my (gentle) touch.  I've never baked a full size cheesecake, but I still felt like I knew when it was done.

Now for the hard part: leave it be for at least 3-4 hours, cooling on a wire rack.  It should be completely cooled before you remove it.  Word of warning: I thought mine was cool but eventually I moved it to a cake carrier in the fridge and still ended up with a good deal of condensation on the cake, making for a slightly soggy crust.  Even when it feels cool to the touch, it can't hurt to give it another couple of hours cooling time- just keep it in a cool, dry place.

The cake pulled away from the edges as it cooled, making it super easy to remove from the springform.  I was too nervous to slide it onto a cake stand, but leaving it on the springform base made it much easier to transport to dinner.

The final product was just as I wanted it to be: light and fluffy, with a sweet, crumbly crust and a cool lime filling.  It's weird how much of a difference key lime juice makes, adding a bit of sweetness to the typically tart lime.  I also managed to produce a flawless uncracked cake-- and seriously, if I can do it, so can you!

A perfect Easter dessert as it just screams of spring, but this would be just as good after a Sunday supper this summer.  Many props as always to Smitten for her flawless recipes-- although I did make some tweaks to scale up, the essential tips were all found in her simple but detailed instructions.  I'm definitely inspired to make other flavors of cheesecake now that I know how easy it can be!

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