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I like my cheesecake like I like my film and wine (but not my men; sorry guys, lose the grease, then we’ll talk)—with an Italian flair. And who doesn’t like cheesecake?
Unless, that is, you’ve only experienced that dense, single-note imposter chain restaurants call cheesecake. Yuck. Yes, it’s possible to find an amazing New York-style cheesecake, but sometimes a girl just needs a mouth-wateringly fluffy, cheesy slice of heaven with just a hint of lemon and a drizzle of hazelnut-flavored chocolate.
How does one go about finding this show-shopping Italian cheesecake? By making it, of course. And believe me, it’s really not difficult. Hell, even a 10-year-old could do it.
Most American cheesecakes are made entirely with cream cheese. While cream cheese is wonderful stuff, it doesn’t give that airy texture we’re looking for. If we combine it with mascarpone, however, Italy’s fresh triple-cream cheese made from cow’s milk, we can achieve the fluffiness we’re looking while still maintaining the cheesecake’s basic structure. According to Cheese.com, mascarpone isn’t actually a cheese at all, “but rather the result of a culture being added to the cream skimmed off the milk, used in the production of Parmesan.” Whatever it is, I promise you, it’s delicious.
Mascarpone can be found in the specialty cheese aisle of your local grocery store or specialty food market. It usually comes in 8 or 16 oz. containers like sour cream. Besides in cheesecake, it can be used in sweet or savory applications, such as in tiramisu or mixed with herbs and spices and used as a spread.
This recipe by Giada De Laurentis is one of my all-time favorites. In fact, I just made it for Doug’s birthday this weekend, since he’s a cheesecake lover like myself. What makes this recipe extra special is that it calls for a ganache made from Nutella, a French hazelnut-chocolate spread, and heavy cream. The first time I made this recipe I used a bourbon-chocolate spread I found near the peanut butter and jelly in the baking aisle instead of Nutella. And instead of drizzling it, I literally poured the ganache over the cheesecake, covering every square inch. If you have any questions about how good it was, six girls took down the entire cheesecake in a matter of minutes. Take that, New York. Viva Italia!
Mascarpone Cheesecake with Almond Crust
You can find Nutella near the peanut butter and jelly in your local grocery store. You can pick up a springform pan at most big-box stores or even at your supermarket. It’s a must-have if you’re into baking. For a copy of the original recipe, click here.
1 c. slivered almonds, lightly toasted
2/3 c. graham cracker crumbs
3 Tbs. sugar
1 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
2 (8-oz.) packages cream cheese, room temperature
2 (8-oz.) containers mascarpone cheese, room temperature
1¼ c. sugar
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 c. chocolate-hazelnut spread (recommended: Nutella)
1/4 c. whipping cream
Equipment: Food processor (or a good hammer), 9-in. springform pan
For the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Tightly wrap the outside of a 9-inch springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides with 3 layers of heavy-duty foil. Finely grind the almonds, cracker crumbs, and sugar in a food processor. Add the butter and process until moist crumbs form. Press the almond mixture onto the bottom of the prepared pan (not on the sides of the pan). Bake the crust until it is set and beginning to brown, about 12 minutes. Cool. Decrease the oven temperature to 325˚F.
For the filling: Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, mascarpone cheese, and sugar in a large bowl until smooth, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat in the lemon juice and vanilla. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition.
Pour the cheese mixture over the crust in the pan. Place the springform pan in a large roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake until the center of the cheesecake moves slightly when the pan is gently shaken, about 1 hour 5 minutes (the cake will become firm when it is cold). Transfer the cake to a rack; cool for 1 hour. Refrigerate until the cheesecake is cold, at least 8 hours and up to 2 days.
For the topping: Combine the chocolate-hazelnut spread and cream in a small bowl. Heat in the microwave until warm, stirring every 20 seconds to blend, about 1 minute.
Cut the cake into wedges. Drizzle the chocolate sauce over the wedges and serve.