Chai Caramel Cheesecake
(inspired by Anna Olson’s Classic New York Cheesecake)
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tbsp. sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. butter, melted
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. dried ginger
Mix together the crumbs, sugar and ginger (starting with the smaller amount, tasting and adding more if you want more of a kick). Pour in the melted butter and stir to ensure that all of the crumbs are thoroughly moistened. Press the crust into a 9 inch springform pan lined with parchment. Bake at 350F for 10 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before filling.
2 lbs. cream cheese (at room temperature)
1 vanilla bean (scrape out the seeds and reserve the pod)
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 tbsp. cornstarch
3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
3/4 cup sour cream
2 tsp. lime juice
Using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer or handheld electric beaters, cream the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar and the seeds scraped out of the inside of the vanilla bean. Continue to mix until smooth and incorporated. Intermittently use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Then add the cornstarch and lime juice. Beat. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition and scraping down the bowl. Finally add the sour cream and yep, you guessed it, beat until fully incorporated. My only suggestion throughout this process is that you truly beat, rather than whipping. Don’t crank your mixer on high because unlike something like say, cream cheese icing, we are trying to avoid incorporating air. You don’t want your cheesecake to souffle up and then deflate. So keep it on low speed and just be thorough.
Ok so close to oven time, you’re almost there! Pour the filling into the pan (on top of your pre-baked crust of course). Give it a good whack on the counter to smooth out the top and get rid of any air bubbles. Then take the cooled chai caramel (see below) and drizzle it in circles over the top, just like a dartboard. You could get fancy here and use a piping bag with an itzy-bitzy tip but at the end of the day, you’re swirling it anyways so it’s a bit of a waste of time. Chef Blair (my baking instructor from culinary school) might disagree but considering he’s in Charlottetown and I’m in Calgary, I think I’m safe. Watch, now he’s going to hop on a plane and hunt me down! Back on track now, I promise. Take a toothpick and swirl to your heart’s content. If you go around the radius of the cheesecake making a straight line from the centre to the edge then alternating and dragging the toothpick back to the centre, it makes a nice design but feel free to express your swirling creativity.
Now for the baking part! At first I was a little skeptical of this method, being used to low and slow with a water bath (god forbid those dreaded cracks right?). But it actually worked, see Anna never lets you down! So here’s what to do; first set your oven to 400F. I know this sounds strange, it’s not often that a cheesecake goes in an oven that is set hotter than what you baked the crust at. Bake it for only 10 minutes then turn the temperature down to 225F and keep going for another 25 minutes. After the time is up, turn the oven off completely. Leave the cheesecake in for 30 minutes. Crack open the oven door (I just stick a wooden spoon in there) and allow it to cool for another 30 minutes. Finally you can take it out and marvel at your perfectly cooked cheesecake. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate before serving.
1 cup white sugar
2-3 tbsp. water
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 Chai tea bag, if you don’t know which brand to try, you could check out Prana Chai from Melbourne.
First steep the cream with the tea. Bring it to just below a simmer and then remove it from the heat, set it aside and allow all of the flavors to infuse for 15-20 minutes. At the end you can literally squeeze the tea bag to extract every last drop of spicy Chai. Meanwhile, go ahead with the caramel itself. Heat the sugar and water over high heat and don’t touch it. Swirl the pot occasionally until it develops a deep, dark, almost-but-not-quite burned color. Then add the steeped cream. Stir (or whisk) to combine and continue to cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes until it is nice and thick. Set it aside and allow it to cool slightly before swirling into the cheesecake. Any extra can be reserved to drizzle on top when you plate the cheesecake. It will harden up in the fridge though so just pop it in the microwave (stirring frequently) to achieve the right fluidity.
Chai Poached Pears
1 cup white sugar
2 cups water
2 pears, peeled and cored
1 Chai tea bag
reserved vanilla pod
Bring the sugar and water to a boil to dissolve the sugar and form a syrup. Add the pears, tea and vanilla pod, lower to a simmer and cook as low as possible for about an hour. Cool and store the pears in the syrup (you can get rid of the tea bag and vanilla though). Slice thinly prior to serving.
To Serve: Time to unveil the product of all of your labor! Unhinge the springform. Thanks to the parchment we have no stickage, thank you Mr. Parchment. Use a hot (and sharp) knife to cut the cheesecake into as many slices as you see fit (or for as many mouths as you need to feed). As you continue to slice, wipe your blade with a washcloth or paper towel to keep it as clean as possible, hence creating smooth, clean edges on every slice. Hey you went to all of this effort, don’t butcher it now. Drizzle with additional (warmed) Chai caramel and garnish with the poached pears. Time. To. Eat.