Friday, March 12, 2010

Carrot Cake Swirled Cheesecake

This cheesecake came out of a conversation about pot roast, which led to the topic of over-cooked carrots, which I personally loathe. That led to a question to me, from my friend Clayton: "Have you ever heard of carrot pie?" I said I hadn't, but "if you think about it, it's not far removed from sweet potato or pumpkin pie, and there is carrot CAKE." A minute later, inspiration hit. The BEST part of carrot cake, everyone knows, is the cream cheese frosting! At that point, I decided to skip trying carrot pie and went straight to a carrot cake swirled cheesecake.

My initial thought was to brighten the carrot part to a more dramatic orange, thinking it would be great for Easter (because bunnies love carrots, right?). Then Clayton, also privileged to be an alum of the University of Miami, said "What about making it orange and green? A Hurricane cheesecake!" That sounded like a bit much to me (at first... I do bleed orange and green), but with St. Patrick's Day coming up, it occurred to me that I could do an orange, green and white swirled cheesecake - all the colors of the Irish flag.

Swirling three colors of batter was trickier than I anticipated, but the resulting cheesecake is orange and green swirled on top, with a few flecks of white, and a white layer underneath. Obviously, the green is not at all necessary, but like I said, it's St. Patrick's Day!

Despite some skepticism from people I talked to, the carrot cake part of the cheesecake was really easy, if a bit labor-intensive. It got rave reviews from everyone who tried it, and the carrot cakey-flavor was balanced nicely by the vanilla cheesecake. I only put walnuts in the crust, but they could certainly be sprinkled on top too. If you want to really go all out, a piped border of cream cheese frosting would do the trick.

For a 9 inch cheesecake:
First the crust:
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped toasted walnuts
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup melted butter or margarine
Combine all and press on the bottom only of an 9 inch springform pan. Bake 8-10 minutes at 350. Let cool.

Batter:
  • 4 8 ounce pkgs cream cheese, softened
  • 4 eggs, room temp (take them out when you take the cream cheese out to soften)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
Beat cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add sugar and continue beating until sugar is absorbed. Add eggs one at a time, beating for one minute after each one is added. Add vanilla with one of the eggs. Sprinkle cornstarch over the batter and stir by hand, then beat one more minute with the mixer.

Divide batter in thirds. Set two thirds aside. To the other one third, add the following:
  • 3/4 cup carrot puree (see directions below - do not use baby food!)
  • 1-2 teaspoons cinnamon (depending on your taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon additional cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2-3 drops each red and yellow food coloring, optional
Whisk gently until combined.

Spray the sides of the springform pan with cooking spray. To fill the pan, place half of plain batter onto crust. Top with carrot batter. Repeat with plain batter and then swirl with a knife, working across and back and forth over the batter.

If you want to do the tri-color version above, take out 3/4 cup of the plain batter and add several drops green food coloring to it. Dot the green and orange batters on top of ALL of the plain batter instead of layering as I just described. Swirl the colors together and continue below.

Place a big roasting pan in the oven and fill with boiling water. Place cheesecake on rack above the roasting pan. Bake 50 minutes at 350 -- resist the temptation to peek! -- and then turn the oven off and open the door a little bit. Let the cheesecake cool in the oven for an hour, remove and finish cooling before refrigerating it. Refrigerate at least 8 hours before serving.

Cheesecakes crack -- it's a fact of life. This recipe is written with the tips and tricks that help stop that from happening: greasing the sides of the pan, adding cornstarch to stabilize the batter, not over-beating the eggs and adding a pan of water to the oven. If it still cracks, and it may, that's what whipped cream is for. UPDATE: When I made this again, I used an extra shot of cooking spray on the cheesecake pan ring, and lowered the oven temp to 325 and baked for 60 minutes. PERFECT!!! See here:

Carrot Puree:
Scrub and trim 2 large carrots. Cut into small pieces. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Simmer 15-20 minutes or until VERY tender. Drain and let cool. Puree in food processor, adding a teaspoon or two of water to help make them smooth if needed.

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