Monday, May 15, 2017

Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake Squares with Peach Preserves & Pecans

I'm moving! Again.

And I'm going out of the city, away from the gridlock, away from the road rage, away from concrete and away from insane car insurance prices. 

I love a city when it brings food culture to a high point. Example: Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Tokyo, Taipei, Seoul, pretty much anywhere in SE Asia. That means the streets are covered with tiny plastic chair and stools, and shotty steel carts dishing up steaming bowls of noodles - I prefer that over cars alone. Makes for a hectic (and possibly smog-laden) dining experience but I love it!

The best things to bake when you are moving and all of your baking tools are packed in big brown boxes are squares! They are a one-pan deal and always please with their different layers and texture.

These are my favourite cookie bars, build with a base of crisp buttery shortbread and a layer of very dense and decadent chocolate cheesecake - it dips into truffle territory with its super creamy smoothness. 

A tiny spoon of peach preserves and toasted pecans totally transforms these into something even more out of this world! Apricot would make a great substitute, but the beauty is the slight acidity of the fruit and rich butteryness of the nuts that both cuts and complements the taste of that tangy & intense chocolate cheese layer.

The key to a perfect shortbread base is to not over beat the butter and brown sugar. You want it to be slightly crisp but not crumbly, because then it will make a mess and you won't be able to achieve clean and neat slices. Traditional shortbread is rich and dense with a short bite, meaning that it is not chewy. That is achieved by the high amount of butter and lack of moisture which both prevent gluten from forming. For this recipe I cream the mixture by hand with a spatula so that I can control it - it should just be a bit fluffy and smooth but not super pale and white. That will mean you have some structure but it won't be so delicate and short that it crumbles at the touch of a knife. Bingo!

The key to a silky smooth texture is to not over-bake the chocolate layer. Most cheesecakes that I bake (like this super silk one, or these creamy pumpkin bars and when you want to prevent cracks in your cheesecake) are so creamy and custardy without a tinge of chalkiness. I always say to pull it out or turn off the oven when the sides are set but the center just wobbles. That won't happen here. The high content of bittersweet chocolate, with its high content of quality cocoa butter, means that this cream cheese topping will be quite stiff and spreadable.

Cocoa butter is very hard at room temperature (the reason why chocolate snaps) and when you melt it, it obviously becomes soft. But once you stir it into the cream cheese mixture it will start to cool, especially if your cream cheese and/or egg is cold. The cooling chocolate will stiffen the mixture and all the cocoa content will also dry it out a bit. So when it is baked and ready, it won't have a wobble in the middle. Just keep an eye on it once it turns from glossy to matte, pull it out. Err on the side of under-baked if you are not sure. Once these cool they slice up a dream, and trust me you won't stop. 

It's called "truffle cheesecake", so expect to experience all of a chocolate truffle.

Big big love

Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake Squares with Peach Preserves & Pecans
Makes 16 squares

For the base:
½ cup (113g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup (60g) icing sugar
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1 cup (142g) all-purpose flour

For the chocolate layer:
5 ¼ oz (150g) cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup (65g) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tbsp (15ml) milk
5 oz (142g) dark chocolate (60% cocoa), melted

For topping:
peach preserves or peach jam
chopped roasted pecans

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line an 8x8-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang at each side.

In a medium bowl, beat together butter, icing sugar, vanilla and salt using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until smooth, pale and creamy. Sift flour over the mixture and fold it in gently. Turn the soft dough out into prepared pan, dust your hands with flour and press it down in an even layer. Bake for 17-20 minutes, until very lightly golden. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Reduce oven to 300°F.

In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese with sugar until smooth and glossy. Mix in egg until evenly blended and then mix in milk. Add the still warm melted chocolate and stir gently until combined. Work quickly because the mixture will stiffen up as the chocolate sets. If it stiffens up, place the bowl over a saucepan with simmering water until it becomes smooth and glossy like fudge. Spread mixture evenly over base and bake for 15-20 minutes, until it looks matte and feels set at the surface but a tiny bit soft in the middle. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.

Serve with a small spoon of peach preserves and sprinkle with chopped roasted pecans!
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