Potlucks don't really qualify as special occasions, but I sometimes use them as my excuse to make things I never make at home, like, say, cheesecake. (If you must know why I never make them just for us, it's because 1. They're expensive... but really it's because.... 2. I'd eat nearly ALL of it.) I have a long-standing and permanent love affair with cheesecake of any shape, size, or flavor, and I also wanted to use a bag of caramels** I'd been saving that my sister had given me after Christmas. Life is short, so I combined the two desires into one.
Enter Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake. I didn't want the caramel flavor to be overwhelmed by too much chocolate, but I couldn't bear to leave chocolate out entirely, so I sandwiched a thick vanilla cheesecake between layers of chocolate and caramel. And pardon the pictures. I put the slice on a potluck chair in the middle of the potluck meal in order to take a potluck picture. POTLUCK!
The crust and caramel layer were perfection, and I'd love to make this again, especially considering how long it sat in the warmth before I tasted a bite. I took it out of the fridge before we left for church, and we didn't eat it until almost 1 in the afternoon. That's not the best scenario for cheesecake eating, so I think it deserves another chance to shine. This would allow the cheesecake layer to be more firm, like cheesecake should be. Besides, I always want to give cheesecake a chance to shine. (Admirable of me, yes?)
Lastly, this is more like a Philly or New York-style cheesecake instead of a Chicago, but, really, is it worth the breath to quibble over this and that style when dealing with cheesecake?!
I thought not.
So here's what I did.
About 3 1/2 cups crushed chocolate crumbs (out of thriftiness, I use generic oreos, but chocolate graham cracker crumbs also work, and you could add some finely chopped almonds, too.)
If using generic oreos, stir in about 1/3 cup melted butter, enough to help the mixture stick together. If using chocolate graham cracker crumbs, stir in 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup melted butter.
Press onto the bottom and 1 and 3/4 inch up the sides of a greased 9-inch springform pan. Bake for five minutes in a 350 degree oven and cool completely on a wire rack.
30 individually wrapped caramels (unwrap them, please)
3 tablespoons milk
In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat the caramels and milk over low heat, stirring constantly, until melted and smooth. Set aside 1/3 cup of the melted caramel mixture. Pour the remainder over cooled chocolate crust.
4 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, melted
5 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Beat cream cheese and sugar in a large bowl until smooth. Beat in butter, and then add the eggs one at a time, beating until just combined. Mix in vanilla extract. *Don't overbeat the mixture once you've added the eggs. This beats air into the cheesecake batter, which will cause the cheesecake to fall and crack while baking.
Pour cheesecake batter into chocolate/caramel crust and bake in a 350 degree oven for about one hour or until the center is almost set. (Sides should be puffed and set, and center will move slightly when shaken) Cool in a cracked-open oven for ten minutes. Carefully run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the crust. Cool for one more hour and then refrigerate overnight to let the flavors ripen.
Before serving, reheat the reserved caramel mixture. (If you have a microwave, use it! I used a small frying pan.) Cool slightly until no longer hot. Pour the warm mixture into a piping bag or into a plastic baggie with a small hole cut in one corner (OR just use a spoon) and drizzle the mixture on top of the cheesecake. Melt about one cup chocolate chips with about one tablespoon of butter (again, if you have a microwave, use it! If using a stove, melt over low heat to avoid scorching the chocolate). Using your preferred method, drizzle the melted chocolate on top of the cheesecake.
Eat a slice. Then enjoy a second slice for me. And then eat a third slice for my dog, even though I don't have a dog. Finally, immediately drive yourself to the emergency room as your body enters sugar-shock. Tell them I sent you.
Place foil or a cookie sheet under the cheesecake because many springform pans leak.
Dip a knife in warm water before cutting the cheesecake, and wipe and dip again in warm water before making each cut in order to make clean cuts.
** If you don't have caramels but do have heavy cream, make homemade sauce in place of the wrapped ones. Tho' not as convenient, it's more delicious, plus you get to lick the spoon(s)!