The last several times I saw cheesecake on a restaurant menu, it always listed some cheese other than cream cheese as its defining ingredient: ricotta, farmers cheese, and goat cheese seem to make regular appearances.
This is with good reason: traditional cheesecake is overly sweet and very dense. It feels to me like a 1980's-era dessert, something that no one really serves anymore. I can eat only a couple bites of it before needing a break from the sugar shock, and while the texture is initially nice, it wears me out after a while. I suppose this is why I've made it only once or twice, ever. Inexperience notwithstanding, something about being a food blogger makes me foolish enough to believe that I'll master a recipe immediately, and so when I got a hankering for cheesecake this weekend, I was determined to make the perfect version.
As often as my culinary hubris has backfired, this time, I've gotta say, I think I pretty much hit the nail on the head. I auditioned several recipes beforehand -- everything from toffee crunch to chocolate-coffee to key lime -- just to make sure I considered all the possibilities. Ultimately, I settled on something akin to New York cheesecake, with lemon juice and zest to offset the sugar. I also drew inspiration from all those restaurant menus, using goat cheese in lieu of much of the cream cheese called for in classic recipes. I like goat cheese's tanginess, and I also find it lighter and thus more bearable than cream cheese.
I decided to top off my goat cheese cake with a coat of dark, smokey caramel. I added a bit of lemon juice to the caramel topping to echo the lemon in the cake and cut the sweetness, and included a generous amount of salt because I find caramel is no good unless it's equal measures sweet and salty.
The finished result was excellent. It was still creamy enough to please cheesecake lovers, but it certainly wasn't as dense or cloying as its classic sibling. The caramel was every bit as ooh-ahh tasty as I'd hoped, and the gingersnap crust I had chosen gave the final product a nice hint of spice. I may not make cheesecake very often, but next time I do, I won't need to think twice in choosing a recipe.
Goat Cheese Caramel Cheesecake inspired by Bon Appetit and Rose Levy Berenbaum's excellent book, The Cake Bible
1 1/2 cups/ 7.25 oz. gingersnap cookies (I used TJ's brand "cat cookies") 5 tablespoons butter, melted 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 8-oz. package cream cheese 16 oz. goat cheese or fresh chevre 1 cup minus one tablespoon light brown sugar 2 tablespoons butter, melted 1/4 cup heavy cream 3 eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla extract zest of one lemon 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups cane sugar 1/4 cup water 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice 1 cup heavy cream 1 1/4 teaspoons good flaky salt
For gingersnap crust: Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter or spray bottom of 9-inch springform pan with 2 1/2-inch-high sides with nonstick spray. Stir ground cookies, butter, and sugar in medium bowl until moist clumps form. Press cookie mixture firmly onto bottom of prepared pan. Wrap outside of pan with 3 layers of foil. Bake crust until firm and beginning to darken, about 14 minutes. Leave oven on, and set crust aside to cool.
For cheesecake: Beat cream cheese, goat cheese, and sugar in large bowl (using a hand mixer) or food processor until smooth. Beat in butter, then cream, then eggs, 1 at a time, until just blended. Beat in vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Pour batter over crust in pan. Place springform pan in large roasting pan. Add enough hot water to come halfway up sides of springform pan. Bake cake uncovered about 45 minutes. Do not open oven; turn off heat and allow cheesecake to cool in oven 1 hour without opening oven door. After 1 hour, remove cheesecake and cool uncovered in refrigerator at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
For caramel topping: Stir sugar, water, salt, and lemon juice in large saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil without stirring until mixture turns deep amber, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with wet pastry brush, about 9 minutes. Add cream (mixture will bubble). Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until reduced to 1 1/4 cups, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Chill until thickened but still pourable, about 15 minutes.
Spoon caramel over top of cake just to edges (do not allow caramel to drip down sides). Chill at least 2 hours before serving.
Run knife around pan sides to loosen cake; release pan sides.
Serving tip: wet knife slightly before and in between slicing; this will help prevent the blade from sticking to the caramel, which is very sticky.