strawberry mango (dulce de leche, whatever) yogurt cheesecake

dr bob has a long tradition of baking for Christmas, although not practiced very much in recent years. As a kid he and his three brothers always made chocolate chip cookies and fudge for their elementary school teachers. And in those naive happy days of the fifties and early sixties, the teachers didn't have to worry about what was in the baked goods. Now we're protected from almost everything by tamperproof packaging. Which at times almost prevents access without resorting to the angry meat cleaver treatment.

But our neighbors trust us and we trust them. So homemade baked goods won't get tossed in the garbage after a face-saving warm reception. Deciding on the annual christmas gift has always been a chore, but currently we're comfortably settled into a cheesecake period. They like it. We like to make it. The only trouble is living up to expectations. The guavaberry-lingonberry cheesecake still rules, but repetition kills. So we were studying the issue for the true millennium change christmas, and did a test run of a white chocolate cheesecake overheard by bob's childhood baking supervisor (mom) in a physical therapy clinic, trying two crust variations with and without double chocolate chocolate chips as add-ins, test tasted by some unsuspecting friends on short notice. Good but not cutting edge was the first impression, though perhaps too early a judgment call on that one.

Out came the ten cheesecake books (agreeably too many), including several variations of the Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese cheesecake recipe collections. In the back of bob's mind was the new Yoplait strawberry mango yogurt flavor he's been obsessing about this past year. Maybe a little too far back since he'd completely forgotten the earlier experiment in which the yogurt found its way into a mango cheesecake sour cream topping. After browsing all the books, no other idea spoke to him loud enough, so he checked out cheesecake basics in the Joy of Cheesecake and discovered you can substitute sour cream in a cheesecake batter with yogurt (good news for cheesecake fans in Italy where sour cream doesn't exist). All that was needed was a good sour cream batter cheesecake recipe. Scanning again, the candidate became clear: the classic New York Cheesecake recipe from Kraft, simply replacing the sour cream by the equivalent quantity of yogurt. And after all the recipe searching, guess what recipe turns up inside the packages of Kraft Philadelphia cream cheese? The very same one. Because of the fear of a possibly less dense substitute (yogurt versus sour cream), the flour ingredient gets converted into an equivalent amount of cornstarch following the Joy of Cheesecake variation of the New York Cheesecake recipe. And hazelnuts in the crust? How can you live without them!

Since it was Christmas and multiple targets were designated, the actual recipe executed was jacked up by 50 percent and split almost equally 3 ways into two 7 inch pans and one 9 inch pan (3/2= 5/12 + 5/12+ 2/3, can you still add fractions?). Big cheesecakes are just too much these days, so even for lots of people at one sitting, the 7 inch size is fine with appropriately smaller portions. And putting a half recipe into a 9 inch pan for a reduced height result also works.

This recipe hit the mark. Here is the standard full 9 inch pan recipe.

ingredients

bottom only crust
2/3 c graham cracker crumbs
1/3 c hazelnut crumbs
4 T = 1/2 stick butter, melted
batter
4 packages 8oz cream cheese
1 c sugar
3 T flour replaced by cornstarch
1 c sour cream replaced by Yoplait strawberry mango yogurt (two 6 oz containers)
1 T vanilla omitted (optionally replaced by 3-6 t guavaberry liqueur)
4 eggs
thin topping
1 c sour cream
3 T sugar
1 t guavaberry liqueur (substitutible by a strawberry liqueur or even Frangelico or just vanilla)

instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Melt the butter, crumb the hazelnuts and mix with the graham cracker crumbs and then mix in the melted butter until uniformly combined. Press into the bottom of a 9 inch springform pan. [We ignore advice to bake the crust first and let cool slightly before slapping on the batter.]
  3. Beat together the cream cheese and sugar until smoothly combined, then beat in the rest of the batter stuff except for the eggs. Taste the batter while you can do so safely.
  4. Now beat in the eggs one at a time until uniformly combined. We're a bit skeptical about this one-at-a-time business, but are afraid to blow off the advice of so many recipes which repeat this mantra.
  5. Pour batter into the pan and insert into the oven. Lower the temperature setting to 325 F. Bake about 1 hour and 10 minutes, but check after 1 hour just in case your oven is hotter than you think. [Although our oven thermometer seemed to be reading fine at the beginning, it was up around 400 F when we pulled out the cakes, leading to big cracks in the smaller cheesecakes, but none in the larger one of the three.]
  6. Let cool 10 minutes. Prepare the topping by mixing together sour cream, sugar and liqueur. Pour into the center of the cake and spread around towards the edge but leave a ring of cheesecake showing.
  7. Bake 10 minutes more and remove. Let cool. Refrigerate at least overnight.

notes

  1. By putting the eggs in the batter last, one can taste the flavor before risking salmonella. Yum. We decided against adding liqueur to the batter to see how the natural flavor would come through on its own. It came through just fine.
  2. Don't be confused by the 1 cup = 8 oz liquid equivalent you might see on your measuring container: that is for real liquids which are much less dense, no matter how nicely the Yoplait European style yogurt seems to flow. We measured out three 6 oz containers of yogurt and found that it exceeded 3/2 cup by a few tablespoons, so the small excess of using two containers for 1 cup is not worth worrying about.
  3. If you decide to split the recipe for two 7 oz pans (or even two 9 oz pans for an even less health threatening height), you'll need to adjust for the area of the bottom-only crust. One of those formulas from high school you never use anymore. Without recalling it explicitly, you have to adjust by the ratio of the squares of the diameters. Try to get a college student to do that for you sometime... Anyway that ratio for 9 to 7 is 7^2/9^2 =49/81, so use about 5/8 cup instead of 1 cup total of crumbs. Other crust options can be calculated in a similar way. E-mail dr bob if you need help.
  4. The sour cream topping was a judgment call. We were waiting to see if ugly cracks would need to be covered up. They showed up, but in order not to overwhelm the cake (and save on fat ingestion) we did half the normal amount of sour cream topping. Actually only the small cakes cracked, and the larger one was fine... until the last 10 minutes of topping baking when they opened up from beneath under the sour cream. Doesn't interfere with the taste.
  5. Of course, once you realize that you can use strawberry mango flavored yogurt in place of the sour cream batter shot,  it doesn't take a genius to extend the concept to whatever favorite flavor comes to mind. Browsing the painfully small yogurt display in the local super grocery store, hoping for some tempting new product that rarely seems to appear there, bob spots a lonely 4-pack of Dannon Le Crme Dulce de Leche more than full fat cream-laced yogurt and  grabs it immediately. Yummy stuff, but no trace of it at Dannon.com. Maybe a test product? Will it ever appear again? Time will tell, but meanwhile, this serendipitous discovery was the obvious next candidate for this recipe (especially since the flavor had been on bob's mind for some time in this context). We did one-half plus one-quarter recipes in parallel, easy to calculate since most of the key ingredients are divisible by 4, with target pans of 7 and 6 inch diameters respectively. One half strawberry mango (3 t guavaberry liqueur in the batter), one quarter dulce de leche (1 t frangelico in the batter), 1 cup (1 t guavaberry laced) sour cream topping for the former, a light sprinkling of confectioner's sugar at serving time for the latter. Dulce de leche seems to be popping up everywhere this year, and deservedly so. Starting out the new millennium with some latino style in white bread america. [dulce de leche ice cream: Haagen Das, Starbucks, Stonyfield Farms (they call it just "caramel", which is basically what dulce de leche is: caramel spread)]
  6. Well, you cannot serve these two together since the strawberry mango with sour cream top overwhelms the more subtle flavor of dulce de leche with no topping other than the confectioner's sugar, but when the latter is ingested on its own merits, very nice. If you need to crank up the effect, marbling in some real dulce de leche spread is an option. If you can't find the stuff to buy, you can make it yourself.
  7. We soon found time to act on the marbled dulce de leche variation. Again a quarter recipe for a 6 inch pan for a special dinner for 4, with about 8 mounded half teaspoons of dulce de leche spread dropped onto the top of the batter and then swirled into it with a butter knife for the marbled effect. Again just some confectioners sugar sprinkled on top at the time of serving. Real good. And in small portions, not so damaging!

dulce de leche cheesecake: the upgrade

Well, again bob is set up for a big disappointment by the free market system. Yoplait is the first to introduce a great marketing gimmick: moussed yogurt. You take 2/3 the yogurt, fill it full of air [Whips!] and then sell it for the same price in the same size containers and people actually buy it because the mousse-like texture seems to kick its flavor up a notch [Bam!]. Soon Dannon follows suit. But the ironclad law of supermarket yogurt product placement then kicks in. More new products, shelf space remains frozen, some older products have to go. Strawberry mango went.

However, the full fat Dannon dulce de leche yogurt took off with its four other Le Crme companion flavors, and dulce de leche also appeared in the Stonyfield Farms regular [caramel, very addictive, loaded with sugar, like bob's other favorite: vanilla truffle] and the Yoplait custard  [crme caramel] yogurt lineups. Looks like we have to get more serious with this flavor instead.

Meanwhile ani has been building up bob's cheesecake reputation at work and bob is happy to comply. But repetition kills. The best recipes had been delivered more than once and the only way to maintain reputation is to continue to surprise. ani starts lobbying for a cheesecake for a  lunch affair at work, which means no bob at the table. bob gives her some resistance, saying he will help her make the cake but not do it alone. In the end the challenge breaks bob's will and the opportunity is taken to experiment with the dulce de leche upgrade. Subtle is not good at impressing crowds. You have to sock it to 'em.

ingredients

bottom only crust: 10 inch crowd pleaser
3/4 c graham cracker crumbs
1/2 c hazelnut crumbs
1/4 c sugar (optionally unrefined)
6 T = 3/4 stick butter, melted
[kick it up again version: 1/2 c chocolate wafer crumbs]
[kick it up again version: sprinkling of semisweet chocolate minichips (bits?)]  
batter
4 packages 8oz cream cheese
1 c sugar
3 T flour replaced by cornstarch
1 c sour cream replaced by dulce de leche or creme caramel yogurt
  [three 4 oz containers (Dannon) or two 6 oz containers (Yoplait or Stonyfield Farms)]
1 T Frangelico
4 eggs
1/2 c = about 1/3 1 lb jar dulce de leche
topping
2 c sour cream (1 lb, standard large container)
1/4 c sugar
  [kick it up again version: 1 T sugar]
1 t caramel ice cream topping/sauce/syrup
  [kick it up again version: 8 oz = 2/3 c dulce de leche yogurt]
zig-zagging drizzle of caramel ice cream topping/sauce/syrup
light sprinkling of fine hazelnut crumbs

instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Melt the butter, crumb the hazelnuts and mix with the graham cracker crumbs [and optional chocolate wafer crumbs] and sugar and then mix in the melted butter until uniformly combined. Press into the bottom of a 10 inch springform pan. [Make sure the bottom is inverted so that the edge rim is down, allowing easier floss division of the cake right down through the crust as well. Cutting out a round of parchment paper after tracing out the bottom and inserting over the bottom helps removal as well.] Sprinkle lightly with optional chocolate minibits if desired.
  3. Beat together the cream cheese and sugar until smoothly combined, then beat in the rest of the batter stuff except for the eggs. Taste the batter while you can do so safely.
  4. Now beat in the eggs one at a time until uniformly combined. We're a bit skeptical about this one-at-a-time business, but are afraid to blow off the advice of so many recipes which repeat this mantra.
  5. Microwave the dulce de leche in a small bowl for about 20 seconds on high to loosen it up a bit, then combine with about 1/4 c of the batter until smooth.
  6. Pour batter into the pan and then drop spoonfuls of the dulce de leche mixture evening about the top of the batter and then swirl it around to create a marbled effect with a butter knife.
  7. Insert into the oven. Bake about 1 hour and 10 minutes, but check after 1 hour just in case your oven is hotter than you think. We stuck it with toothpicks which came out clean, so called it done even though it looked kind of suspiciously moist in the center.
  8. Let cool 10 minutes. Prepare the topping by mixing together sour cream, sugar and caramel topping. Pour into the center of the cake and spread around towards the edge, making contact with the springform pan side. Shake the caramel sauce sideways in quick jerky movements while pressing on the plastic container slightly to splatter the top elegantly. Fake it, we did. Sprinkle with maybe a tablespoon at most of hazelnut crumbs.
  9. Bake 10 minutes more and remove. Let cool. Refrigerate at least overnight.

notes

  1. We used Salamandra brand dulce de leche = milk caramel, imported from Argentina. We only had a third of the jar left in the fridge, so that became the amount we used.
  2. To serve for large numbers of people outside your home, do the floss prep. Remove the side of the springform pan and clean it to replace later for the transport. Take a piece of dental floss and cut down through the crust first in quarters, then eighths, then each remaining piece into thirds for a total of 24 slices. Restore the side. Transport. Remove the side. Don't watch if you allow self-service. It won't be pretty.
  3. Pretty good. But we are jaded. The coworkers seemed to like it.
  4. The kick it up again version soon followed for Christmas, split into two 7in pans and one 8in pan (total of 2 c of crust crumb mixture with the added chocolate wafer crumbs). Recalling the Italian necessity of using yogurt in the topping for lack of sour cream, two more 4 oz containers of dulce de leche go into the sour cream topping. The usual suspects give it the green light. bob confirms.
  5. Illustrations available.

post mortem

This yogurt tale has racked up its share of casualties along the way. Full fat Dannon Creme yogurt flavor dulce de leche is discontinued by 2003, like a brief falling star in the food sky. But Yoplait custard crme caramel works great in this recipe so we are not flat out of luck like the strawberry mango story. Yet.
[2004: With the explosion of new yogurt product lines, there is no more supermarket shelf space left for this Yoplait flavor, which had to make way for original, light, whips, healthy heart, and thick and creamy custard style yogurts, as well as drinkable yogurts, all in the same sorry tiny yogurt ghetto that used to only house a few of these lines.]

This cake was requested by Ira, the food vacuum not completely without a taste for the finer elements of food production, for a 50 something birthday at the sister-in-law's. Bob decides on further recipe modification. Having found Nabisco Oreo chocolate cookie crumbs for an earlier experiment, it was easy to go full chocolate on the  crust to contrast the dulce de leche:

9 in crust: 1 c Oreo cookie crumbs, 1/4 c sugar, 4 T = 1/2 stick = 1/8 lb butter melted

batter additive: no hazelnut liqueur this time

dulce de leche marbling batter: 1 c batter, 1/2 c dulce de leche, 1 T Kahlua Especial liqueur [higher priced Kahlua for suckers like dr bob who are easily fooled by clever marketing in the search for something better.]

We apportioned the results to a pair of 9 in and 7 in spring-form pans in a 3:1 ratio (wild guess) to keep a sample for ourselves since it looked like we would not be at the party. Ira will never know.

the verdict.
Susannah says it is her favorite from our cheesecake collection. The others liked it too. But bob still leans towards the guavaberry-lingonberry cheesecake. The Especial liqueur was not really noticed here, but the chocolate cookie crumb base was a decided improvement, both visually and tastewise.

2006 update: the saga continues

prune yogurt debuts in America.

  smychck.htm: 30-jan--2006 [what, ME cook? 1984 dr bob enterprises]