Sunday, July 19, 2009

Habanero-Lime Cheesecake

Essentially everyone loves cheesecake. Only a few people love habaneros. Why in the world, then, would anyone want to combine these two things? Because it's freaking delicious.

I have to admit that I was terrified of this recipe initially and sent it via e-mail to my chili-head brother (who even lives in Chili Country, just outside of Hatch, New Mexico). He made it and was astounded at how good it is, took it to a party, and astounded everyone there with how good it is. Then he called me and told me, and I was still afraid of the recipe but resolved to try it with him when he came to visit the next time. We did it. It was delicious, and even the chili-fearing children loved the result. We've since done it a couple more times and made a brilliant variation on the recipe that looks and tastes simply stunning. I cannot claim the recipe for the habanero-lime part, but the modification is all mine. For the original recipe, on the FoodTV website, go here.

So... to level with you all about it, the cheesecake is quite spicy, although that could be toned down by using fewer peppers (one or two instead of the three that it calls for). If you're a real chili fan, you could use more, but the result would be quite hot. One suggestion: do not cut corners on the roasting the pepper, seeding the pepper, or peeling the pepper stages (WEAR GLOVES!!!) because if you do, there will be unreasonably hot parts hidden as bonus surprises in your cheesecake (nota bene: my brother and his chili-head friends like those bits and leave some in rather intentionally or out of laziness because being very thorough with those three steps is a bit of a chore). You will need access to a gas burner or some kind of open flame to properly roast the peppers, although a grill will probably work. Since every time I've made this has been at my mother's house where she only has electric, my brother and I end up taking her cheap little grill and building a campfire in it to roast the peppers (once in the rain).

The modification tempers the recipe a little since only half of it is the habanero-lime flavor. The other half is dark chocolate with cinnamon and vanilla, taking a page from the increasingly popular book published by the gourmet chocolate nerds: Xocolātl, which may or may not be the actual Aztec word for their chocolate drink and may or may not have actually been made with chili, vanilla, and cinnamon. Contraversy aside, the name is cool and makes an exotic sounding presentation when you get to tell your dinner guests that they're having "marbled habanero xocolātl cheesecake with essence of lime" (tell me that doesn't sound like it should cost $10-12 a slice, especially if you put some fresh berries around it and drizzle a little cinnamon-caramel sauce, dark chocolate sauce, and/or sweet lime sauce over the top of the thing).

Essentially, the idea is that you'll take half of your basic cheesecake batter, i.e. what you have while making the habanero-lime batter before adding the habanero or lime, and add to it the following:

  • a teaspoon of good vanilla extract (vary to tastes);
  • a half-teaspoon of cinnamon powder (vary to tastes);
  • four to six ounces of nice, very dark chocolate, melted in a double boiler.
Mix both batters thoroughly in separate bowls, and then when you pour them into the crust (or springform pan, if that's your style), you can do one of two things. First, you can layer them, in which case it's brilliant to put the lighter habanero-lime layer on top. Second, you can marble them by pouring them each in at roughly the same time or in stages in swirly patterns and then dragging a butter knife, handle of a spoon, or skewer through them in varying swirly patterns, stopping well before they're mixed nicely. Both presentations work wonderfully and are beautiful (I wish I had pictures). The former has the advantage of being able to sample each flavor individually, and the latter has the advantages of being far fancier looking and more effectively blended in terms of flavors.

For garnish on top of the finished cake, you can take a habanero and slice it several times from tip to stem and then soak the thing in water for a few minutes. It will look a bit like an exotic orange flower, but not many people will want to eat it. You'll probably want to warn them to avoid touching it at all, in fact, but it looks really cool. A fresh sprig of mint leaves looks nice too, of course....

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