S'mores Cheesecake

When I think about summer desserts, three things come to mind.  There’s ice cream, which is probably the most obvious choice when the temperatures start soaring.  Whether it’s homemade or from your local ice cream shop, it’s all good.  It would also be a shame not to take advantage of the wealth of sweet summer fruit and make at least a few desserts.  It’s not easy to resist eating the fruit as is when it’s summer good, but when you take that first bite of blueberry pie (my personal favorite!), you’ll know it was worth it.  The final dessert that screams summer to me?  S’mores.  You’ve probably gathered by now that I sort of love s’mores; in the past year or so I’ve shared no fewer than 3 s’mores-inspired treats, starting with cupcakes, moving to ice cream and most recently cheesecake bars.  But can you blame me?  In a place where snow covers the ground for 1/3 of the year, it makes me so happy to sit around a fire with friends on a summer night, toasting marshmallows and smooshing them into sandwiches with sweet milk chocolate and crunchy graham crackers.  It’s incredibly simple but so delicious, and in my opinion, the messier the better when it comes to the ooey-gooey marshmallows!

S'mores Cheesecake

This cheesecake incorporates everything that’s good about s’mores into a slightly more refined dessert.  A creamy milk chocolate cheesecake sits on a buttery graham cracker crust base, and finishing it all off is a fluffy marshmallow topping that’s been toasted until golden.  I’ve had marshmallow toppings in the past that either became rubbery or wilted after an hour or two, but I didn’t run into any of those issues here.  The marshmallow sets up yet retains its light, fluffy texture, even after a night in the fridge.  There’s no question that of all the s’mores-inspired desserts I’ve baked, this is by far my favorite.  I’m a milk chocolate lover and I don’t think I’ve ever uttered the words “too sweet,” so the use of milk chocolate in the cheesecake was perfect for me.  That said, if you’re worried about sweetness or don’t like milk chocolate, some of the reviewers over on Epicurious noted that they made the cheesecake with dark chocolate instead so it’s easily adaptable.  You can also make it ahead of time – the cheesecake can be done 2 days in advance, and the topping one day – stick it back in the fridge and you’re all set to serve the following day.  What I’m really trying to say is that I don’t think you can go wrong with this s’mores cheesecake if you’re looking for a dessert for your party this holiday weekend :)

S'mores Cheesecake

S’mores Cheesecake
from Bon Appetit, July 2008 (via Epicurious.com)

Crust
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 9-10 whole crackers)
3 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Filling
9 oz milk chocolate, chopped
2 8-oz packages cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
3 large egg, at room temperature

Topping
1 cup sugar
2 large egg whites
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon salt
12 large marshmallows, cut into quarters with wet kitchen scissors
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

To make the crust:  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Spray a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray.  In a medium bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs and sugar.  Pour the melted butter over the mixture and stir until the crumbs are evenly moistened.  Press into an even layer in the bottom of the prepared springform pan.  Bake for 12 minutes, or until set.  Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool to room temperature.  Reduce oven temperature to 325 F.

To make the filling:  Add the chocolate to a microwave-safe bowl and heat in 30 second intervals at 50% power, stirring in between each interval, until the chocolate is melted and smooth.  Cool until just barely lukewarm, stirring occasionally.

Combine the cream cheese, sugar, and salt in the bowl of your food processor and pulse until smooth. With the machine running, pour the heavy cream through feed tube and process just until blended. Again, with the machine running, add the melted chocolate and then the eggs, one at a time, blending and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition until the mixture is smooth.  Pour the batter over the cooled crust.

Bake for about 55 minutes, or until the outer edge is slightly puffed and the center is barely set (the center will jiggle slightly when the pan is gently shaken).  Transfer the pan to a wire rack.  Run a small sharp knife around the cake to loosen it from the pan.  Let cool slightly then refrigerate for at least 8 hours.  (I left mine uncovered in the fridge until it was cold, then used plastic wrap to cover the pan.)

To make the topping:  In a large metal bowl (I used the bowl for my stand mixer), combine the sugar, egg whites, water, cream of tartar and salt.  Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly until the sugar dissolves and the mixture feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes.  Remove the bowl from the pan and add the marshmallows; let stand for a few minutes until the marshmallows soften.  Place the bowl back over the pan of simmering water and beat the topping with a hand mixer for 4-5 minutes, or until stiff, shiny peaks form.  Beat in the vanilla.

Let the topping cool just slightly (don’t wait too long or it’ll set and you won’t be able to spread it).  Meanwhile, remove the sides of the pan from the cheesecake.  Transfer the topping onto the cheesecake; use a spatula to spread it to the edges.  Let stand for about 15 minutes, or until set.  Use a kitchen torch to toast the topping lightly.  (You could also do this under your broiler but keep a VERY close eye on it, it’ll go from brown to burnt quickly.)  Transfer the cheesecake to the fridge and chill well before serving.