Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake Spread
Is it possible for chocolate to be out of season?
Chocolate has become such a common favorite it is hard to think so. Yet late in the summer, when the temperature soars, I find myself using it sparingly. Maybe I add some chocolate chips here and there but densely rich desserts get replaced by something lighter at that time of year and chocolate is relegated to being offered in small doses.
Then in the autumn, when I begin to crave heartier main dishes to ward of the gathering chill, chocolate seems to disappear from the menu altogether. There are, of course, chocolaty Halloween candies that I sometimes grab for between meal snacks but chocolate seems absent from most of my thoughts about autumn cuisine. It gets overlooked in favor of rustic apple pies, pumpkin flavored quick-breads, tart cranberry dips, nutty bar cookies and gingerbread cakes. Rich texture and crunchy fillings seem to be the stars of dessert menus as crisp air and rich colors grace our landscapes.
These wonderful fall flavors can be tricky though. Not everyone likes the strong flavors and distinctive textures of the season. Personally I have never cared for the texture of pumpkin pie. My children avoid cranberries that aren’t smoothed into a gelatinous sauce and then they only eat them for Thanksgiving dinner. In many ways chocolate is a safer bet, especially when you are the guest and are bringing a dessert or party food to share with people whose tastes you are unsure of. Chocolate, it seems, is almost universally appreciated.
So how can we dress chocolate for the season? This recipe gives it just a spark of spice and texture. It can be dressed casually as a spread for crunchy purchased gingersnaps, even passing on the praline in the ganache if time is short. Or it can be dressed up as a small plated dessert, settled on a swirl of chocolate sauce and adorned with bits of candied hazelnuts or with additional coffee hazelnut truffles. In either case this cheesecake highlights the elegant versatility of chocolate while also offering a hint of some of our favorite flavors of the season.
Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake Spread
1 Tablespoon coffee liqueur
¼ teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon espresso powder
½ cup hazelnuts, chopped and lightly toasted
6 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons water
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 Tablespoon butter
3 Tablespoons of chocolate wafer crumbs
8 oz package cream cheese
5 oz container non-fat Greek yogurt
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 oz dark chocolate, melted
½ cup heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons coffee liqueur , if desired
½ teaspoon espresso powder
8 oz bittersweet chocolate chips, or other dark chocolate broken into bits
1. Prepare the praline:
Note:The hazelnut praline can be prepared up to several days in advance. If time is short, or if you prefer no candied nuts in your cheesecake, then feel free to skip this step and to leave the candied hazelnut bits out of the ganache.
Lightly oil or butter a 12-inch square of aluminum foil. Set aside.
In a small bowl mix together 1 Tablespoon coffee liqueur, ¼ teaspoon ginger and 1 teaspoon espresso powder. Microwave on high for 15 seconds and stir to dissolve the espresso powder. Stir in the hazelnuts, mixing until well coated. Set aside.
In a small saucepan, stir together 6 Tablespoons sugar and 2 Tablespoons water. Cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture begins to turns a light golden color (approximately 4 minutes).
Stir in the hazelnuts and cook until coated and golden brown, (approximately 1 minute).
Remove from heat and immediately pour onto the prepared foil, sprinkling the sea salt evenly over the candy and spreading the candy with a spoon as thinly as possible.
Let set until completely cool.
Break into pieces. Set aside a few attractive fragments for garnish and a few whole nuts. Place the rest in a food processor and process until the biggest pieces are small bits.
2. Prepare the filling:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Use 1 Tablespoon butter to generously grease the bottom and sides of a 6-inch spring form pan. Add the chocolate wafer crumbs, tilting and tapping until the crumbs thoroughly cover the bottom and sides of the pan. Set aside.
In a small mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the yogurt and egg, beating until well combined. Add ¼ cup sugar, vanilla and the 2 ounces of melted dark chocolate. Continue mixing until smooth.
Pour filling mixture into the prepared pan.
3. Prepare the ganache:
Scald the cream over low heat in a small saucepan until hot but not boiling. (Small bubbles should form around the edge of the pan).
Stir in 2 teaspoons of coffee liqueur, if desired, and ½ teaspoon of espresso powder. Remove from heat.
Pour mixture over the chocolate chips and allow it to sit for a few minutes until the chocolate is very soft. Stir until smooth.
Stir in the processed candied hazelnut bits.
Randomly drop 1/3 cup of the ganache on top of the Chocolate Cheesecake batter with a tablespoon. Tap the pan on the counter top to settle the batter. Insert a butter knife straight down into the batter, not quite touching the bottom of the pan, and drag it back and forth at 1 to 2 inch intervals front to back then side to side. Repeat as necessary to achieve a marbled effect in the batter.
Bake at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until done.
Cool on wire rack.
Loosely cover and refrigerate until completely cooled, several hours or overnight.
Cover and store remaining ganache in the refrigerator.
4. Assemble Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake Spread:
Remove sides of spring form pan. Settle cheesecake onto a serving plate.
Rewarm the remaining ganache in the top of a double boiler or carefully microwave on high, at 15 second intervals, stirring each time until soft.
Pour 1/3 cup or so of the ganache on top of the cheesecake smoothing to the edges and allowing it to drizzle down the sides slightly, if desired. Garnish with reserved pieces of Hazelnut Praline.
Serve Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake Spread with ginger cookies, sugar cookies, chocolate wafers or sweet crackers. Or cut the cheesecake into slices and serve plated on a swirl of chocolate sauce or Chocolate Hazelnut Ganache and garnish with Hazelnut Praline pieces.
Note: Use any leftover ganache to make Chocolate Hazelnut Truffles by shaping into teaspoon sized balls and rolling them in a mixture of 1 Tablespoon cocoa powder and 1 teaspoon espresso powder.