A Manhattan is a bourbon-based cocktail with sweet vermouth, bitters, and either a twist of lemon or a cherry for garnish. For my man's birthday, I thought that these flavors could blend beautifully into his favorite dessert of all - cheesecake.
The final product was made of three parts: home-made cheesecake on ginger snap crust; vermouth-and-bitters cherry filling; and bourbon-spiked caramel.
I drool even typing those words.
This took awhile to make and I did it in phases, but I guarantee it's worth it. I made the caramel and the cherries a few days before I made the cheesecake, so I'll start there.
Manhattan Cherry Filling:
12 oz pitted frozen cherries (bless you, Dole; pitting cherries is the worst)
1/3 cup sweet vermouth (I prefer Dolin)
6 dashes Agnostura bitters
1/4 cup sugar
I combined the sugar, vermouth, and bitters in a sauce pan over low heat until all of the sugar melted. Then I dumped in the cherries and basically cooked everything down until the liquid reduced by half.
Bourbon Caramel Sauce
Before this cake, I'd never made caramel. Let me tell you - it's really easy until OH MY GOD CREAM AND HOT BOILING SUGAR MAKE YOU THINK YOU ARE GOING TO SELF-IMMOLATE. It's super calm until it's super intense and then everything is silky and creamy and delicious. Bear with me.
The ingredients? 1 c sugar, 1/4 c water, 1/2 cream, 3 - 4 tablespoons bourbon (Maker's Mark is the preferred bourbon in our house). You combine the sugar and water, bring to a boil, and stir until it starts to turn slightly golden. Here are my shaky "What Am I Doing?!" iPhone pictures of this:
Once it barely starts to turn that beautiful brown color, take it off the heat and slowly add in the cream while whisking. Maybe I did this entire thing wrong but OH. MY. GOODNESS. For about 15 seconds I was convinced I ruined my whisk and had a solid block of caramel-ish blob. But I kept stirring and finally everything was incorporated and silky smooth.
Ironically, I probably could have used a shot of 3 - 4 tablespoons of bourbon before the Is My Caramel Broken!?! meltdown. Instead, you add it to the very end. Careful if you're serving this to kids or non-drinkers - it isn't as sharp as drinking bourbon itself, but there is still some alcohol alive and well in the caramel.
The final product, as promised, is gorgeous. It's silky and sweet and goes with everything and then, just as you think you've tasted all the layers of caramelized sugar and cream, that punch of bourbon smacks you in the mouth. It's a good smack, I promise.
I refrigerated both the cherry filling and caramel for 3 - 4 days until I made the cheesecake. Both of them kept beautifully. In fact, the remnants of the caramel still live in my fridge and still tastes delicious drizzled on ice cream, cookies, or sometimes in a desperate PMS-ing moment, on the end of a spoon. We've all been there, right?
Are you still with me?? We're on to The Cheesecake. This was a large cake and I brought about half of it to my office to simply rid our fridge of leftovers. Not a single morsel remained. I've made cheesecake before and my secrets lie in two areas. First, I think that graham crackers have had their day when it comes to my cheesecakes and instead I make a ginger snap crust. I crumble ginger snaps, 1/2 cup melted butter, and sometimes some lemon zest and press it into the bottom of a springform pan. Bake it for 8 - 10 minutes at 350 degrees until it starts to set.
My second tip? Using a blend of ricotta and cream cheese. Ricotta is one of my favorite
12 oz ricotta (I prefer part skim)
16 oz cream cheese
1 cup sugar
Vanilla extract to taste
In a stand mixer or bowl, mix all ingredients except the eggs until smooth. Gently add each egg one at a time and mix until incorporated.
I poured half of the batter into the crust, added all of the solid cherries and most of the liquid from the filling, and topped it all off with the remaining half of the batter.
I had a little "juice" from the filling left over, so I poured it across the top and swirled it with a knife.
Tap the edges of the pan gently but firmly to remove any and all air bubbles. Place the springform into a larger pan and surround with water. This "water bath" will prevent the cheesecake from drying out while you bake it. Bake at 300 degrees for an hour or until the center is set. Cool in the oven (heat off, door open) for one hour and then move to a cooling rack.
Spoiler alert: the cherries all fell immediately to the bottom of the cake. In future iterations, I'd pour the entire batter into the pan first, then add the fruit on top, and then bake.
It still looks incredible, right? And let me assure you - it was.
This is truly my perfect dessert. The spiciness from the ginger crust, the dense cream cheese and the fluffy ricotta, the sweetness from the cherries tempered with the bitters and vermouth, plus the smooth caramel sauce on top. Every single bite of this cake deserved slow, careful consideration. Don't be scared of cheesecake - you can easily adapt it to your favorite flavors and making it fresh really makes a difference in both texture and flavor. I'll definitely feature more cheesecake varieties in the future!