It’s been a little quiet around here this week and I bet you already know why: moving out is the easy part! Moving in, hoo boy. You walk into an empty new home with freshly painted walls and there’s nothing but possibility. You run from room to room, whee! Then your stuff arrives and the pristine landscape is forever compromised. The first boxes aren’t so bad: you prioritize bedding, toilet paper, toothbrushes and whiskey (um, just play along here.) The next few boxes are pretty doable too: glasses go where they always have, books go in bookcases and lamps go on tables. But then, eventually, you get down to the last six boxes and you look around and you realize that the closets, cabinets, dressers and shelves are all full so where does this go? Then, if you’re us, the great unraveling begins: how did we get to a place where we had so much stuff? I thought we were going to resist the siren call of consumption (says she who just purchased what can only be considered a luxury ice cube tray). How did I get to a place in my life where I had 125 cookie cutters, 9 shades of sanding sugar and cupcake wrappers in at least 7 patterns that I can neither bring myself to throw away or justify the space they will take up? The last 6 boxes take forever to unpack; you’ll be glad you prioritized the whiskey.
So, right on top of all of this, something else happened: my husband — who has the audacity to look younger and more handsome every year — turned 40. If you heard me freaking out (just a little) over our move being delayed a week, it was because the one thing we were trying to avoid was having people over for drinks and then going out to engage in vodka encased in ice blocks and tableside-prepped chopped liver but 24 hours after moving, which is exactly what happened, and of course, it was no big deal and, if anything, forced us to make quick work of the first half of the boxes. Happy birthday, baby: don’t you feel young after a few days of moving furniture around and schlepping boxes?
My mother came over on Thursday ostensibly to help pack but really we made Alex a birthday cake. The general rule for Alex’s birthday cakes “chocolate and…” It can be ice cream or layer cake; it can be peanut butter, coffee or caramel or hazelnuts; it just has to begin and end with chocolate. And so we decided to make Martha Stewart’s raspberry swirl cheesecake, but with a chocolate crust and puddle of ganache over the top, but it turned out to be so visually stunning (oh, and fun too) that we couldn’t bring ourselves to cover it. The trick, and maybe all you food styling types knew this already but it basically blew our minds, is something I found on an old Martha video, is to make individual droplets of the raspberry sauce all over the top and then use a toothpick or skewer to swirl them. With this method, it is literally impossible not to make a beautiful cake, and my mom and I were, well, perhaps abnormally for other people but pretty squarely in what you should expect from us, excited about this.
What happened next I am less proud of: we all but forgot about the cake. What? It’s been a busy week! I understand that this is like a breach of cheesecake contract, that we probably don’t even deserve to eat cheesecake now after showing it so little respect, but so it happened, nonetheless, that on Wednesday evening, four full days into my husband’s 40th year, we sat outside (the only place we can avoid the view of unpacked chaos) with friends with wedges of cheesecake on our laps and it was perfect. Our neighbors were out on the next deck so we brought them some too. I’m starting to think we’re going to like it here.
Instagram: Just to make things complicated, I have two Instagram accounts, the first @smittenkitchen is the official one, you can use it to find out when there’s a new post up here. @debperelman is my personal one; I use it to document almost everything but food (though sometimes food too, of course). And, in the last week, I’ve been sharing glimpses of the new place and pleading for advice on various things that I’m clueless about. Okay, a tiny fraction of the things I’m clueless about. I don’t want to scare you guys.
Alex’s Birthday Cakes, previously: Brownie Mosaic Cheesecake, Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake, Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake, Espresso Chiffon Cake with Fudge Frosting and, in the book, Chocolate Hazelnut Crepe Cake.
Related birthday cakes for Alex’s chocolate-obsessed family: Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake, Hot Fudge Sundae Cake, Double-Chocolate Layer Cake, The Biggest Birthday Cake Yet, Fudgy Chocolate Sheet Cake and S’More Cake (in the book)
One year ago: Rice-Stuffed Tomatoes
Two years ago: Vanilla Custards with Roasted Blueberries
Three years ago: Roasted Eggplant with Tomatoes and Mint
Four years ago: Zucchini and Almond Pasta Salad
Five years ago: Summer Pea and Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Salad
Six years ago: Grilled Eggplant with Caponata Salsa
Seven years ago: Brownie Mosaic Cheesecake
Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s version, just a little
2 cups (about 250 grams) finely ground chocolate cookie crumbs (from about 1 9-ounce sleeve chocolate wafers; see more suggestions below)
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons (40 grams) granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt
6 ounces (170 grams) fresh or frozen raspberries (which have been thawed or they will not puree easily)
2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
32 ounces (905 grams) cream cheese, very soft at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, room temperature
Chocolate sauce for serving (optional)
1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy or whipping cream
4 ounces (115 grams) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
Heat oven to 350°F (180°C). Wrap exterior of a 9-inch springform pan (including base) tightly in a triple layer of foil; set aside.
Make crust: Stir together cracker crumbs, melted butter, and sugar in a medium bowl. Press crumb mixture firmly into bottom of pan and up the sides to about 1-inch from the top of the pan. I like to use the bottom and outside of a 1-cup measure to help press them in firmly. Bake until set, about 10 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.
Make raspberry sauce for swirl: Process raspberries with sugar in a food processor until smooth, about 30 seconds. Pass puree through a fine sieve into a small bowl; discard solids. Set aside.
Make cheesecake: Put cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. With mixer on low speed, add remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar in a slow, steady stream; scrape down bowl. Add salt and vanilla; mix until well combined. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing each until just combined and scraping down the bowl. Pour cream cheese filling over crust.
Using a squeeze bottle, piping bag or a zip-lock bag with a tiny corner snipped off, place tiny droplets of raspberry sauce all over top of cake. Use a toothpick or skewer to swirl the sauce and filling together decoratively. I had extra sauce; it makes a delicious dessert sauce to serve with the cake.
Bake cake: Set cake pan inside a large, shallow roasting pan — I set mine inside a 12-inch round saucepan. Transfer to oven. Carefully pour or ladle boiling water into roasting pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until cake is set but still slightly wobbly in center, 60 to 65 minutes. (This always takes longer in my oven because I always fail to seal the foil around the pan well enough that water doesn’t get in. Just keep baking it until it seems mostly set, like loose Jell-O. A toothpick inserted near the center should not have wet, thin batter on it when removed)
Transfer cake pan to rack; let cake cool to room temperature then refrigerate, uncovered, at least 6 hours or overnight. Before unmolding, run a knife around edge of cake.
If you’d like to serve this with a chocolate sauce, bring heavy cream to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat, stir in chocolate until melted.
Serve cake in wedges, with any leftover raspberry sauce or chocolate sauce, or both.
- Chocolate wafers: I am ever on the hunt for chocolate cookies to make crumb crusts with. Nabisco chocolate wafers are the classic, but I can’t find them anywhere anymore. For a while, I used chocolate Teddy Grahams, because they were cute, but the artificial flavors became cloying. I know there are people who painstakingly remove the filling from Oreos for theirs, but I could never be trusted with that. This time, I tried Leibniz brand cocoa biscuits, something I can disturbingly not find a link to online anywhere (it’s the chocolate cookie, not the chocolate-coated one), which I found at a nearby bodega (I love NYC), which at least had fairly straightforward ingredients. When I found the crumb color a little pale, I added a couple tablespoons (just eyeballed it) of black cocoa powder I’d unearthed while packing to make them more Oreo-ish. If you’re feeling particularly devoted, the chocolate cookie I use for my Homemade Oreos is very, very quick and easy to make and makes excellent crumbs. You’ll make more cookies than you need for crumbs but nobody on earth will mind.
- Even more chocolaty crumbs: The cheesecake crust used here and here has ground bar chocolate in it too and it makes a firm cookie crust with a much stronger chocolate flavor. It would be lovely here.
- If you don’t want chocolate crumbs: Of course, graham or even digestive biscuit crumbs would work here. You might find that different brands and different crumb sizes absorb differently. If yours are too dry to build a crust, add a touch more butter; if they’re too wet, add another spoonful of crumbs.
- If you want more chocolate intensity: We’ve added a almost inch-thick ganache layer to the bottom crust of two cheesecakes in the past. You could do the same here, if you wish, but be sure that you are using a springform with 3-inch sides as it will be taller than the one I’m showing here.
- To amp up the raspberry portion: If you’d like the raspberry flavor to be within and not just on top, try this: pour 1/4 of the cheesecake batter into the prepared crust, then add droplets of raspberry all over. Do not swirl. Do this three more times. Only swirl on the top layer, but use a skewer or toothpick that will reach to the bottom (but stay above the bottom crust or you’ll make holes). The inner swirls will get mostly lost, but you’ll taste the raspberry. The top will stay stunning.