Friday, November 11, 2011

Cardamom Cheesecake with Coconut-Cashew Crust and Tamarind Marble

Cheesecakes are great party cakes. They must be made ahead of time. They serve a lot of people. And they are almost infinitely variable to incorporate virtually any theme. So when I offered to bring dessert to a friend's annual Diwali Party (the Hindu festival of lights), I already knew it would be some kind of cheesecake. The hard part would be matching the standard I had set the previous year with the Mango-Coconut Cheesecake.

I started by brainstorming a list of exotic and tropical ingredients, leaving nothing on the table as far as how it might participate as a dessert. From there, I chose some that seemed most non-traditional and researched how I might use them. Ultimately, what I came up with was a cardamom cheesecake with tamarind swirl and coconut-cashew crust. Tamarind has a sour-citrus flavor with a burnt caramel undertone. It's quite strong, and if you don't know what to expect, it could taste a bit "off" but I found it provided a unique and complimentary tartness to the sweet crust and creamy filling of this dessert.

For crust:
about 6 ounces coconut "shortbread" cookies, enough to make 1 1/2 cups of crumbs
1 cup whole roasted cashews, or about 3/4 cup smaller cashew pieces (I used salted, which will make the crust noticeably salty, but in a way I like, similar to salted caramel)
1/4 cup butter, melted
a couple of drops of coconut extract

Preheat oven to 350. Pulse the cookies and nuts together in the food processor until finely ground crumbs. Add the extract to the melted butter and pour over the crumbs, pulse a couple of times to combine evenly. Press firmly into the bottom and partly up the sides of a 9" springform pan. Bake 12-15 minutes just until golden brown. Reduce oven to 325.

For Filling:
1 1/2 pounds cream cheese, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
3 eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons tamarind paste or puree

Beat together the cream cheese and sugar. Use the paddle attachment of a stand mixer to avoid incorporating too much air from a whisk. If your sugar is lumpy, you might want to press it through a sieve to break up the lumps. Make sure the cheese is soft to get the smoothest possible texture, if there are any lumps when you add the eggs, the lumps will not mix in. This isn't a deal-breaker, but the best cheesecakes are perfectly smooth.

Add the eggs one at a time mixing well to incorporate. Remove about 2/3 cup of batter to a small bowl, and mix cardamom and allspice into remaining batter. Add the tamarind to the small amount of batter and mix well.

Pour the white batter into the prebaked crust. Using a spoon, drop about 6 dollops of the dark batter on top. The pattern doesn't really matter, but make sure the dollops aren't touching on order to get the best marble design. Drag a knife across about 1/2-inch deep to "swirl" the colors. I drag lines about 1 inch apart, and then again at a 90 degree angle.

Bake at 325 for about 75 minutes, until center is still wobbly but set. I did not bake this in a water bath, because I wanted a crisper crust, and the top cracked. If you bake in a water bath (place the cake pan in a larger pan and fill slightly more than half-full with water) the top with not crack but your crust will be a little softer.

The version with the "glaze" and garnishes that covered over the attractive marbled design.

Notes: I tried to make a tamarind glaze to drizzle over the cake, but it didn't work. I used a bottle of Jarritos tamarind soda, reduced to a about 1/4 cup, and stirred in 3 tablespoons of butter. It didn't get syrupy even though the ingredients say it is made with real sugar. I used it anyway on one cake, with additional cashews and coconut flakes for garnish, but then realized it just covered the marble design, so you don't really need any garnishes.

I have always baked my cheesecakes in a water-bath, and rarely experience cracking. This time, I wanted a crunchier crust, and I was baking two cheesecakes at the same time (so there wasn't room in my oven for a water bath!) You can see that the top did crack. It's not unattractive, but I will probably go back to the water-bath method. To do so, wrap the outside of your springform pan in a double layer of foil while it is empty. When you are ready to put it in the oven, place it in a larger baking or roasting pan, then fill the larger pan with water until it reaches half-way up the side of the cake pan. The water helps regulate the temperature during baking so that the cake is unlikely to crack.

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