Given that it is but two days after one of the most indulgent meals of the year, I suspect the last thing you want to hear about is the most indulgent cake I have ever made, and yet, given the quality of the last two vegetable-focused, lighter dishes I have made — both of which I’d give a resounding “eh” — trust me, what I’ve got going on here is much more worthy of your attention, and your table at some distant dinner party. So pull up a chair.
Because this cake is ridiculous, ridiculous bordering on obscene, so obscene that even a wee sliver of it takes an eating intermission mid-slice just to get through. Perhaps you’ll go get yourself a glass of water, do some stretches or deep yogic breathing, but I guarantee that you’ll do whatever it takes to psych you up enough to take on the second half.
Because did I mention the part where this cake is ridiculous? Let’s start from the bottom. A standard cheesecake crumb crust consists of ground cookies and melted butter. This crumb crust takes those ground cookies and melted butter and raises it some brown sugar, fresh nutmeg and, oh, nearly half a pound of ground up bittersweet chocolate. For real.
From there, a normal cheesecake would delve into the, you know, cheesecake layer. Not this one. This one decides that you need an inch-thick cushion of fudgy Kahlúa-spiked ganache to soften the blow of the cappuccino cheesecake layer, which — as I am sure you’ve figured out by now — is also less than intuitive. You’d think that to make a coffee-flavored cheesecake, you’d simply dissolve some instant espresso in your batter. You probably wouldn’t think to also stir in rum, vanilla, and molasses (molasses, people!) but I did as the recipe instructed and landed on a coffee cheesecake that is neither sweet nor obvious, but laced with the faint bitter complexity you’d want from a good cup of coffee. You know, if that good cup of coffee had four bricks of cream cheese in it.
I suspect by now you yourself need an intermission, and perhaps a run around the block to clear your head before you take on the rest of this description and yet the cheesecake marches on, slicking a sour cream-vanilla layer upon the cheesecake, and more Kahlúa ganache atop that and then, since we are obviously no longer pretending we care anything about subtlety, you might as well stud it with some chocolate-covered espresso beans. To make sure people get the idea.
And I am sure you are wondering how this landed on the Thanksgiving dessert table — what happened to the traditional potato pies and cranberry tarts and pumpkin cheesecakes and apple pie, Deb? Did you really put the baby in a sweater vest and insist that he help you peel apples? — but nobody else did. When you put out a cake like this, all of the questions — and conversations and clattering of dishes in the kitchen — just stop.
One year ago: All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Dough, Rolling and Crimping, Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting and Cabbage, Apple and Walnut Salad
Two years ago: Tiramisu Cake, Curried Lentils and Sweet Potatoes and Rugelach Pinwheels
Three years ago: Apple Pie, Infinitely Adaptable Blondies, Fettucine with Porcini and Potato Salad with Sherry Mustard Vinaigrette
Cappuccino Fudge Cheesecake
Adapted from Bon Appetit, February 2002
If this cake were a turkey, it would, by Butterball’s portion calculator, serve 2 adults and 4 kids (My little guy, incidentally, would serve 11 adults and 4 children and yes, I do call dibs on the cheek meat.) Bon Appetit says it serves 12. But I’m going to put it’s portion size at 30 one-inch wedges. Yes, 30. Because if you know anyone who can eat more than a one-inch wedge of this cake, I might need to meet them. I might have to shake their hand.
The only major change I made to the recipe was I tweaked it to fit in the 9-inch springform I had, rather than the 10-inch springform the recipe calls for, by keeping the crust, ganache, and sour cream topping amounts the same while only making 3/4 of the cheesecake filling. It just made it. So your cake looks exactly as mine does, this is what I’ve shared with you below. Check out the original if you’d like a higher proportion of cheesecake to the crust and its cronies.
1 9-ounce box chocolate wafer cookies or 9 ounces of homemade chocolate wafers
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
7 tablespoons hot melted unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups heavy or whipping cream
20 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup Kahlúa or other coffee-flavored liqueur
3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons dark rum
1 1/2 tablespoons instant espresso powder or coffee crystals
1 1/2 tablespoons ground whole espresso coffee beans (medium-coarse grind) (I skipped this, increased the espresso powder instead)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons mild-flavored (light) molasses
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
A handful of chocolate covered espresso beans (optional)
Make crust: Finely grind cookies, chopped chocolate, brown sugar, and nutmeg in processor. Add butter and process until crumbs begin to stick together, scraping down bowl occasionally, about 1 minute. Transfer crumbs to 9-inch-diameter springform pan with 3-inch-high sides. Wrap plastic wrap around fingers and press crumb mixture firmly up sides to within 1/2 inch of top edge, then over bottom of pan.
Make ganache: Bring cream to simmer in large saucepan. Remove from heat; add chocolate and Kahlúa. Whisk until chocolate is melted and ganache is smooth. Pour 2 cups ganache over bottom of crust. Freeze until ganache layer is firm, about 30 minutes. Reserve remaining ganache; cover and let stand at room temperature to use later for decorating.
Make filling: Position rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350°F. Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar in large bowl until blended. Scrape down bowl, making sure you get to the bottom, where little pockets of unmixed cream cheese love to hide. Beat in flour. Stir rum, espresso powder, ground coffee, vanilla, and molasses in small bowl until instant coffee dissolves; beat into cream cheese mixture. Beat in eggs one at a time, scraping down sides of bowl between each addition.
Pour filling over cold ganache in crust — it will go nearly all of the way to the top, don’t panic. Place cheesecake on rimmed baking sheet. Bake until top is brown, puffed and cracked at edges, and the center two inches moves only slightly when pan is gently shaken, about one hour. Transfer cheesecake to rack. Cool 15 minutes while preparing topping (top of cheesecake will fall slightly, making room for topping). Maintain oven temperature.
Make topping: Whisk sour cream, sugar, and vanilla in medium bowl to blend. Pour topping over hot cheesecake, spreading to cover filling completely. Bake until topping is set, about 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer cheesecake to rack. Refrigerate hot cheesecake on rack until cool, about three hours.
Run a small sharp knife between crust and pan sides to loosen cake; release pan sides. Transfer cheesecake to platter. Spoon reserved ganache into pastry bag fitted with small star tip. If you’d like to make an approximation (perhaps less rushed?) of the above decoration, pipe 6 diagonal lines atop cheesecake, spacing 1 inch apart. Repeat in opposite direction, making lattice. Pipe rosettes (or, uh, stars if you realize you do not have the energy nor inclination to practice rosette piping at that hour) of ganache around top edge of cake. Otherwise, have fun decorating freely. Espress(o) — ow — yourself!
Garnish with chocolate-covered espresso beans, if desired. Chill until lattice is firm, at least 6 hours.
Do ahead: Cake is best made a day ahead, so the flavors have time to settle. The cake also takes enough time to make that it’s best not to rush through it the day you want to serve it. It can be made up to four days ahead. Wrap loosely in foil, forming dome over lattice; keep chilled.