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R&I ? Editorial Archives ? 2003 ? June 15 ? Food

Taking the Cake Walk
Cheesecake wins customers with traditional and adventuresome guises

Creamy, rich and indulgent, cheesecake is the stuff empires are built upon. The Cheesecake Factory certainly knows this to be true as do other restaurants that have spun signature cheesecake into a profitable side business.

Without question, cheesecake is in hot demand, a perennial favorite that appears on nearly half of all restaurant menus, according to Restaurants and Institutions most recent Menu Census. Uncomplicated, homey and imbued with a dose of comfort, it appeals to a wide audience.

Cheesecake looks good and customers know it will taste great, says Marc Schulman, owner of Elis The Place For Steak and Elis Cafe in Chicago. Both Elis concepts rotate 70 varieties throughout the year.

Calabasas Hills, Calif.-based The Cheesecake Factory tempts with more than 30 types, including Sticky, Chewy Chocolate Pecan Cheesecake and Craigs Crazy Carrot Cake Cheesecake. The 61-unit chains plain versiona subtle, slightly tangy symphony of creamy cheeseremains the hands-down favorite.

Cheesecake, a simple batter of cream cheese, sugar, eggs and vanilla, almost dares cooks to tailor the formula, and if the first add-ins were as simple as lemon zest or chocolate chips, the pace of innovation soon quickened. Both in the cake and on top, flavor enhancements keep the dessert current. Mascarpone, fudge, roasted nuts, caramel, crumbled cookies and fruit are among the ingredients that bolster the basic format. Cheesecakes neutral platform also bows to current ethnic flavor trends with such additions as chai spices, lemongrass, lavender, ginger and kaffir lime.

To vary the form, Philadelphia-based Aramark goes over the top by dipping cheesecake in chocolate ganache and coating the slice with roasted peanuts or cookie crumbs. The dessert is garnished with various sauces, including caramel.

Kathryn King, pastry chef at Aria in Atlanta, develops memorable desserts by juxtaposing temperatures and textures, as in Arias warm chocolate-swirled cheesecake. In Chicago, a red-grapefruit garnish cuts the richness of lemon cheesecake at Sugar, a dessert bar.

The menu is low-country cuisine at Georgia Browns, owned by Washington, D.C.-based Capital Restaurant Concepts (CRC). The most popular dessert is sweet-potato cheesecake, a tawny-colored confection spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg set in a crust of graham crackers, brown sugar and toasted pecans. But at J.Pauls, CRCs version of an American saloon, classic cheesecake fares best, says Bryan Yealy, director of food and beverage.

I dont think people care whether cheesecake is healthy or not, he says, referring to lighter versions of the typically dense dessert. People order cheesecake for the sheer comfort of the dessert.

Smile and Say Cheesecake

Dense and creamy or light and airy, cheesecake varies in texture depending on ingredients and preparation. Some suggestions from the pros:

For the crust, butter cookies, graham crackers and zwieback are common, although gingersnaps, chocolate wafers or even sandwich cookies can be incorporated along with smaller amounts of nuts, grated ginger or citrus rind.

Ricotta lends more texture to the baked cake.

Sour cream is often used, either baked into the batter or as a thin veneer over the top.

Baking method affects texture. For best results, bake in a 10-inch springform pan in a water bath at 350F for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Some formulas use a lower oven temperature.

When using frozen cakes, thaw overnight in the refrigerator to minimize surface sweating.

Cheesecake is best served with some of the chill removed; allow to rest 30 minutes at room temperature before serving. As cheesecake contains dairy product, it should be refrigerated.

  • Caramelized-Apple Cheesecake with Spiced Crème Anglaise and Butterscotch Sauce

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