I know how hard you've been working lately. Between getting ready for winter, cooking and baking for Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Oh, My Aching Back Tuesday, it's all been sitting on your shoulders. Personally, I think you deserve a break...
I wish I had a way to send a soft, soothing massage to you. A binary back rub, a cyber chirapsia, a pseudo Shiatsu. Imagine your computer screen blending into muted colors, while pan flute music flows from your speakers.
Your chair would become pillowy soft, and gentle waves would flow through the fabric, like a cat purring on your back.
Your footrest would pool around your feet, filled with scented water and effervescence. The headrest would slowly move your head in circles, draining all the tension away.
Softly dear, softly comes the waiter with your cheesecake. A cinnamon-scented crust with notes of toasted nuts. Golden caramel swirls cover the top. More nuts tempt you with their crunchy goodness. Each bite glides on the tongue and the last bit of worry wisps away.
Now that's what I call a Caramel Pecan Cheesecake break.
While I can't send you one through cyberspace, we can go to the kitchen and make one together. Let's make Caramel Pecan Cheesecake.
For the crust, mix together King Arthur Unbleached All Purpose Flour, pecan meal, sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Add the softened butter and blend together until you have a soft, crumbly dough that holds its shape when pressed together lightly.
Sprinkle the dough evenly over the bottom of a lightly greased 9” springform pan.
It really does help to take the time to break up the dough and sprinkle it over the bottom of the pan. It helps ensure an even crust, and prevents you from having to try and push the crust from the middle of the pan to the edges.
To help press the crust flat and even, spritz the bottom of a small glass or measuring cup with cooking spray. It will cover more ground in one pass than your fingers, and is perfectly flat.
Gently press the crust into the pan with the bottom of the cup. Remember to leave extra crust at the edges.
Use your thumb and the extra crust to form a 1” rim around the edge of the crust.
Prick the crust all over with a fork, and place in a 375°F oven to bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until lightly golden.
The scent will tease your nose with hints of cinnamon and toasted nuts. Deep breath... aaaaahhhhh.
Once you remove the crust from the oven, reduce the temperature to 325°F.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine cream cheese, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt. Blend on low speed until the mixture is smooth. Stop the machine and scrape the sides several times during this process.
When making cheesecake, it's very important that the cream cheese be at soft room temperature. If your cream cheese is too cold, there will be little lumps of cream cheese in the batter, and these just don't blend or bake out.
Add the eggs one at a time, blending well between each one, and again scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl several times. See that yellow streak on the left? That's unblended egg yolk scraped up from the bottom of the bowl.
While you can surely use jarred caramel sauce for making this cheesecake, I like to melt some of our Merckens caramel block thinned with a little cream. The flavor is rich, pure caramel decadence.
Melt 1 cup of Merckens caramel with 2 to 3 tablespoons of cream; you'll have plenty for both the filling and the topping.
Add 1/2 cup of the caramel sauce to the cheesecake batter.
It's a bit like a Rorschach ink blot test looking at the last little drizzles. I see a blue whale racing a little worm, headed for a big mushroom. Hmmm, wonder what that says about me?
Pour the filling into the pre-baked crust. Bake the cake in the 325°F oven for 40 minutes.
Reduce the heat again to 300°F and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
An instant-read thermometer inserted 2” from the outside edge will read 170°F.
Be careful not to put your thumb into the top as I did. At least it will get covered in more caramel.
You can see that the center is still slightly wet looking. That's actually good news. If it were fully baked in the center at this point, the egg proteins would begin to shrink and cause the dreaded cracked cheesecake.
Now, turn off the oven and prop the door open slightly with an oven mitt or piece of foil. Let the cake cool in the oven for one hour. By gradually cooling the cake, you'll bring the temperature down slowly and avoid cracks.
After that hour, you can remove the cake from the oven. Don't remove the ring from your pan; the cheesecake is still warm and tender at this point.
Leave the pan to cool at room temperature for another hour. Again, reducing the temperature slowly is key to a smooth-topped, creamy centered cheesecake.
Refrigerate the cheesecake for 8 hours, or overnight.
Remove the springform ring, top the cheesecake with additional caramel and pecans, and you're ready to serve this sumptuous dessert. Each bite is full of creamy caramel flavor with a subtle hint of cinnamon from the crust.
Eating this cheesecake is like getting a massage. Your shoulders relax, the tension leaves your forehead, small happy noises escape your lips. Maybe Baked Good Therapy is just around the corner. Sign me up!
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