Autumn just seems like perfect Cheesecake weather to me! Why is that? Every year at this time I get a hankering for the creamy and the dreamy. Here it is for 2011- (Added in 2016: the mini version-see notes section below.)
1 1/4 cups half and half, divided
3" vanilla bean section
1 cup raw sugar
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups (7 ounces or 200 grams) ground hazelnuts, divided
1 cup chocolate graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup melted butter
2 pounds Nuefchatel cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup Nutella
In a small sauce pan combine 1 cup half and half with raw sugar. Split vanilla bean down the middle, scrap seeds with a knife blade. Add pod and seeds to pan and heat over medium heat stirring constantly. When mixture begins to boil, remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Turn oven to 500 degrees to preheat. Using 1 tablespoon of butter, grease the bottom and sides of a 9" springform pan. Combine 1 cup of the hazelnuts with the chocolate crumbs and then stir in the melted butter. Press mixture into the bottom of the springform pan, making an even layer then set aside.
Beat the cheese in a mixer bowl on high speed for 2 minutes, stopping to scrape sides of bowl every 30 seconds. Add 1 cup hazelnuts and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add 1/3 cup sugar and salt. Scrape sides of bowl. Beat at medium speed another 30 seconds or until there are no lumps in batter. Remove vanilla pod from half and half mixture. Reduce speed of mixer to a lower speed and gradually pour in the half and half mixture. Continue beating until well combined. Stop mixer, scrap down sides and add the eggs. Beat at low speed until eggs are blended in, scraping sides of bowl as needed.
Pour batter into the springform pan and bake in 500 degree oven for 12 minutes. Reduce heat to 200 degrees (don't open the oven door) and bake 55 minutes. Turn oven off and prop oven door open with a wooden spoon for another 30 minutes. Remove cheesecake from oven and allow to cool on a counter under an inverted mixing bowl for another hour. When cheesecake is completely cooled, cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill for 24 to 48 hours.
To serve, combine Nutella and remaining half and half over low heat until well combined. Remove from heat. Remove sides of pan and cut wedges of cake. Serve topped with the Nutella sauce and a sprinkling of ground hazelnuts.
Hints: Regular cream cheese can be used rather than the Nuefchatel. I like a soft crust so I don't bake them before pouring in the batter; if you like a crisper crust, by all means bake the crust first. You will want to wait to butter the sides of the pan until after the crust is baked. Use 1 teaspoon vanilla extract if you don't have a vanilla bean. When you turn the heat off, the center of the cheesecake should still be a bit wobbly. This cake is baked by the New York method- with high temps for a few minutes and then lowering the temp gradually. It results in a very creamy, nicely risen end product without any cracks on top. I am going to try baking some of my other cheesecake recipes this way. 24 hours is best but after about 8 hours of chilling you can begin serving. After 24 hours, the flavor just gets better.
This so worth the effort! I know that thinking ahead a day or more is hard to do sometimes if you are the constant and/or only chef but this is a tasteful and tasty way to show you care about your family or your guests. Or even yourself--give into the hankering occasionally!
2016 Notes: For two 12 cavity mini cheesecake pans (total of 24 mini cheesecakes) the following is an adaptation of the above recipe.
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 cup raw sugar
1 1/2 inch piece of vanilla bean, scraped
Mix half and half, sugar, scrapping and bean pod together in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil stirring constantly. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
2/3 cup ground hazelnuts
2/3 cup chocolate graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoon sugar
5 tablespoons melted butter
Mix well and press 2 teaspoon into each greased cavity (I use spray coconut oil to grease them with).
16 ounces Greek cream cheese
1/2 cup ground hazel nuts
2 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
vanilla bean mixture (above)
2 egg whites
1 egg yolk
Beat cream cheese till smooth. Add sugar, salt and cooled vanilla bean mixture. Stir in ground hazel nuts and then eggs. Mix just until incorporated. Fill cavities 2/3 to 3/4 full. Bake at 350 degrees for 19 - 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 1 hour. Remove from pan by pushing up bottoms and remove metal bottom disks. Place in air tight container and chill at least one hour. Serve topped with chocolate ganache (1 cup dark chocolate chunks heated slowly with 3-4 tablespoons cream), whole hazel nuts and chocolate shavings.