cooking milestones: salted caramel cheesecake

Similar to a baby's first steps or first word, there are milestones in the world of cooking.  
The first time you use a double boiler.
The first time you make a Thanksgiving turkey.
The first time you forget you left bread under the broiler 
(or is that just me and Rachel Ray?)

There were wo milestones I hadn't passed until a few weeks ago:
Cheesecake from scratch and caramel (see genius gif creation at top) from scratch. 
I decided to kill two birds with one stone (more like two 'stones with one recipe) 
A little frightened, I followed her recipe to a T (except I used a graham cracker crust in a spring form pan) and it came out beautifully. 
Pay attention to ingredients needed at room temp. - this matters!

Below is my recipe for Salted Caramel Cheesecake. 
It will knock your face off.
Salted Caramel Cheesecake

2 C. graham cracker crust crumbs
2 T. brown sugar
pinch of salt
4 T. unsalted butter, melted

1 lb. (2 blocks) cream cheese, at room temperature (I used the 1/3 less fat kind and it still came out great).
1 1/3 C. granulated sugar
1/2 t. salt
2 t. vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 C. plus 2 T. heavy cream
1 t. lemon zest (optional) - I was out of lemons and used orange zest instead. Worked great.

1/2 C. granulated sugar
2 T. water
2 T. light corn syrup
1/3 C. heavy cream
2 T. unsalted butter
1/2 t. sea salt

Arrange oven racks to be in the upper and bottom third of the oven.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  You'll need a spring form pan (or a 9-inch pie plate) and a 9x13-inch glass pan for boiling water.

To make crust, place grahams in food processor and grind to a fine crumb (or put in Ziploc bag and bang/roll with a rolling pin).  Add brown sugar, salt, and butter.  Toss together, moistening all crumbs. Pour mixture into spring form pan and press with fingers until sides and bottom are evenly coated with crust. (I worked mine up about an inch up the sides of the pan).  Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown.  Remove from oven and cool while you make filling. 

Reduce oven temp to 325.  Place a tea kettle of water on stove top to boil.  You'll add this hot water to the 9X13 pan under the cheese cake (this technique is called a bain marie and is to prevent the cheesecake filling from cracking while baking)

To make filling, in bowl of stand mixture with paddle attachment, beat together cream cheese and granulated sugar.  Beat until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes.  Beat in salt and vanilla until well incorporated.  Add eggs one at a time, beating between each addition.  Once creamy and smooth, slowly beat in cream, beating on medium high until creamy and luscious.  Add zest if using.  Pour into prepared crust.

Place 9x13-inch pan in bottom shelf of hot oven.  Carefully pour in hot water and fill to 1/2 full.  Slide rack into oven.

Place cheesecake on upper oven rack.  Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until cheesecake is browned and puffed.  When puffed and doesn't have loose jiggle in center, turn oven off and use a towel to prop open the oven slightly.  Let rest for another 45 minutes in the cooling oven.  Remove from oven and cool completely, for at least 4 hours (overnight is best).  

While cheesecake cools, make caramel so it can cool as well.  To make caramel, add sugar, water, and corn syrup to a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring once or twice.  Continue to boil and allow to brown.  Once sugar has browned to a medium amber color, remove from heat and immediately add heavy cream and butter.  Mixture will boil and foam (SO COOL!).  Stir well.  Add salt and stir well to incorporate.  Caramel may seem thin...that's okay.  Place in a bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and cool in fridge for at least 4 hours (overnight is best).  (side note:  this process was so neat to watch.  See that snazzy gif at the top of the post for what it looks like).

After 4 hours or over night, pour cooled caramel over cooled cheesecake, return to refrigerator until ready to serve.  Sprinkle with a dash of seal salt then slice and serve. 

Cheesecake will last up to 4 days, well wrapped in the refrigerator. 

NOTE:  Best not to take completed cheesecake down into the steaming hot bowels of the New York City Subway during summer.  We had a melt-idge situation on the way to our dinner party.  Wups!
Test this out and pass two milestones.  You'll feel awesome. 

{all photos, including amazing gif by me}
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