Friday, November 2, 2012

S'mores Cheesecake

This is it - the final Willow Bird Baking Challenge! I have been having so much fun innovating along with Julie and the Willow Bird Baking crew, and am super proud to have participated in each of the five weekly challenges.

That being said, I almost sat this one out. Not because I didn't want to participate, but because things have just been crazy busy around here, with school (little miss), work (daddy), broken legs (little man and daddy), hurricanes and random assorted other goings on, not to mention the fact that a typical cheesecake is not exactly allergy-friendly for little man. I considered trying a vegan alternative, but then decided I'd just jump in - use Julie's basic cheesecake recipe and create something the rest of us could enjoy, and provide other yummy goodness for little man.

Julie is something of a cheesecake master, and has made some absolutely amazing versions over the years. While she did not require that we use one of her recipes, I thought it would be appropriate to base my cheesecake on her tried and true base recipe.

The requirement for this challenge was to innovate a cheesecake that represents our own culinary journey.  I am not sure my selection really represents a true culinary journey, but it does represent one of my favorite flavor combinations, not to mention a flavor combination I have been thinking of incorporating into each and every one of the Willow Bird Baking challenges: s'mores.

I started with the crust - graham crackers.

I then prepared a ganache, using half milk chocolate and half semi-sweet. I used chocolate chips, but, if you are a purist, I'd recommend finding really good quality chocolate and chopping it into pieces.

The chocolate was mixed with hot heavy cream until smooth, then a couple of cups of that delicious, creamy ganache was poured right into the crust. As you can see, my crust was a little... crumby... so it fell apart a little bit as I tried to spread the ganache out, but I didn't mind too much.

While the ganache-covered crust went into the fridge to set, little miss helped me prepare the cheesecake filling. Well, she helped me get the cream cheese into the mixer.

Then she went into the other room and played. But that's an okay option for a six year old baker, too.

The filling was so light and creamy that, were it not for the eggs, I would have eaten it right out of the bowl. But I resisted, and poured it into the prepared and cooled crust.

This then went into the oven for about 40 minutes, until it was beautiful, golden and set.

But there was one problem. All of Julie's awesome cheesecakes (and the idea behind this challenge, really) have layers. This plain cheesecake layer was supposed to comprise half of the full cake. But it came up to the top of the pan. Oops.

I had originally planned my s'mores cheesecake to have a chocolate mousse layer with marshmallows folded into it on top of the cheesecake layer.  But now there was no way to give that mousse layer any structure.

So I had to resort to plan B.

I covered the prepared cheesecake with more ganache, cooled it, then topped it with lots and lots of marshmallow.

I then popped this under the broiler.  While it toasted, little man helped me crush up some more graham crackers.

And a minute and a half later, the marshmallows were nice and toasty.

We alternated layers of graham cracker crumbs and drizzled ganache to finish off the cheesecake.

Then the whole thing went back into the fridge until it was time for dessert.

The marshmallow layer was a little bit messy to cut through (next time I may try marshmallow cream or a marshmallow frosting instead...), but the whole thing was decadently sweet and amazingly delicious.

Julie, thank you so much for these amazing, fun challenges. And for the inspiration to innovate. I can't wait to try more braids, stuffed cookies, cinnamon rolls, cupcakes and cheesecakes, and will think of you and these awesome challenges each time that I do. I can't wait until you challenge us again!

S'mores Cheesecake
(inspired by Willow Bird Baking)

Graham Cracker Crust Ingredients:
2 heaping cups graham cracker crumbs
6 tablespoons butter

Ganache Ingredients:
20 ounces chocolate, chopped (I used half semi-sweet and half milk, you can use any type you like)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Cheesecake Ingredients:
3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs

Make the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a springform cheesecake pan. Combine the cookie crumbs and melted butter in a small bowl. Toss with a fork to moisten all of the crumbs. Using a flat-sided glass, press into an even layer covering the bottom and sides of your cheesecake pan (you want it to be tall — try to get to about 2.5-3 inches high — and a little thicker than for your usual cheesecake; maybe 1/4 inch thick so it won’t crumble). Bake the crust for about 6 minutes and let it cool as you make your cheesecake filling.

Prepare your ganache: Place chopped chocolate into a medium sized, heat proof bowl.  Then, in a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream until it begins to simmer. Carefully pour the hot cream over the chocolate and allow it to sit for a minute or two. Then, slowly and carefully mix the cream and chocolate (I start with a spatula and end with a whisk) until it is smooth.

Pour about 1 1/2 - 2 cups of the ganache into the prepared crust, spreading carefully to coat the crust (even up the sides, if you can). Freeze the crust for about half an hour to set the ganache while you prepare the cheesecake filling/

For the cheesecake filling: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar on medium-high speed until well blended. Beat in the flour. Add in the vanilla and beat until well incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl between each addition. Pour the filling into your prepared, ganache-coated crust.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes.

When you pull the cheesecake out, you can use a sharp knife to score a circle around the top of the cheesecake about an inch inside the crust so that as it cools and chills/sinks, it won’t pull the crust in too much. Don’t worry if the circle you cut isn’t pretty, because you won’t be able to see it in the finished product! Let cheesecake cool completely on a wire rack. Add another layer of ganache to the top of the cheesecake before chilling it in the fridge for at least 3 hours (I let mine chill overnight).

For the S'mores topping:
mini marshmallows (I used about half a batch of my homemade marshmallows, cut into small pieces)
prepared ganache, re-warmed to drizzling consistency
graham cracker crumbs (just a little bit, about one graham cracker sheet worth - for decoration)

Remove the chilled cheesecake from the refrigerator and turn your oven to the broiler setting. Top the cheesecake with your mini marshmallows/marshmallow pieces and place under the broiler for about 1 1/2 minutes, watching very carefully. You just want the marshmallows to melt and look a bit toasty. Too long and they will burn. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and turn off the broiler. Sprinkle the marshmallow coating with a few of the graham cracker crumbs, then drizzle with some of the ganache. Repeat graham cracker crumb and ganache layers one more time, or to your preferred design/taste. Chill the cheesecake for at least one hour before serving.



  1. Oh my Gahhh, Shelley..this is so decadent! Best cheesecake ever! I guess this is where you had all of that ganache leftover!! Pinning it!!

  2. Your topping looks just perfect and so does the rest of the cheesecake! A fabulous combination!

  3. OH MAMA! This cheesecake is soooo amazing! I want it! Now! :) I am definitely saving this recipe and making it the first chance I get!


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