- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Long before there was an Easter, the Romans used cheesecakes and cakes bound with cheese in their fertility rites. This was natural. Spring gives birth to new grass-lined pastures, and cows graze contentedly on fresh greens again, after a winter diet of straw and hay. The milk is richer and more plentiful, and cheese making begins again in earnest after the long winter.

Cheesecakes are associated with Easter in many cultures. In Italy, ricotta cheese figures in Easter pies and pastries. In Russia, an elaborate dessert called pashka is laced with freshly made ricottalike cheese and often accompanies kulich, the traditional Easter bread.

Here at home we can combine these two Easter traditions in a spectacular dessert to serve for the holiday. It’s a layered cheesecake in which white and dark batters are separated by a moist and flavorful devil’s-food cake.

Here are a few hints for success. Bake the cake layer a day or two before you intend to assemble the cheesecake, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate it. It will be firmer and easier to slice through when you are ready to assemble the finished cake.

Make sure the pan you use is at least 3 inches deep or the batter will not have room to puff slightly, as it often does. Finally, make your life easier by baking the cheesecake a few days in advance and storing it wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator.

To unmold the finished dark and white chocolate cheesecake successfully, set it on a heated burner of stovetop to warm for a few seconds, then run a sharp paring knife between the cake and the inside of the pan. Unbuckle the side and remove it. Slide a wide spatula under the cheesecake and ease it onto a platter. Allow the cake to come to room temperature before serving.

Cut the cake with a sharp, thin-bladed knife dipped in hot water and wiped between each cut. Then sit back and accept all the praise for making the perfect Easter dessert — one that is steeped in tradition and also delicious.

Dark and white chocolate cheesecake

Butter for greasing pan

Water

1 layer 1942 devil’s-food cake, sliced horizontally into two layers (recipe follows)

2 pounds cream cheese, softened

1 cup sugar, divided

5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted

2 teaspoons vanilla, divided

6 large eggs, divided

5 ounces best-quality white chocolate, melted (see note)

Butter bottom only of a 9-inch springform pan that is 3 inches deep and line bottom with parchment or waxed paper. Have available a 10- by 15-inch jellyroll pan. Heat a kettle filled with warm water to be used for baking the cheesecake.

Make 1942 devil’s-food cake layers, slice one in half horizontally to make two layers and place one of those sliced layers in the bottom of the prepared springform pan.

With paddle attachment of a heavy duty standing mixer set on the lowest speed, beat half the cream cheese until smooth, no more than 30 seconds. Stop mixer and scrape bowl and beater. Add half the sugar in a stream and beat for no more than 30 seconds. Stop and scrape bowl and beater.

Add melted dark chocolate and beat only until absorbed, no more than 30 seconds. Beat in half the vanilla. Add 3 eggs, one at a time, mixing only until each is absorbed. Stop and scrape sides and beater after each addition.

To make the white chocolate batter, use another bowl and follow the same procedure as for the dark chocolate batter.

Wrap aluminum foil around the bottom of the springform pan to come at least 1-inch up the sides. Pour dark chocolate batter into pan over cake layer already in pan. Place other sliced cake layer on batter and pour in white chocolate batter. Place pan in the jellyroll pan and pour warm water into pan to a depth of ½ inch.

Bake cheesecake on middle rack of preheated 350-degree oven for about 75 minutes, or until lightly colored and firm except for the very center. Remove from oven and carefully remove cheesecake from pan filled with hot water. Remove foil and cool completely on rack. Wrap cheesecake and chill overnight before unmolding.

Note: Make sure to use the best quality of white chocolate you can find, or it won’t impart much chocolate flavor to the batter.

1942 DEVIL’S-FOOD CAKE:

Only one of the layers is used to make the cheesecake above. You may freeze the other layer and keep it until the next time you prepare the cheesecake or simply serve it with whipped cream.

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut in 6 pieces, plus butter for greasing pan

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

Water

1½ cups sugar

6 tablespoons sour cream

11/3 cups bleached all-purpose flour (see note)

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

Butter two (9-inch) round pans and line with parchment or waxed paper.

Melt chocolate in a large heat-proof bowl set over hot but not simmering water. Let cool. Add 6 tablespoons butter to bowl of chocolate then pour in 3/4 cup boiling water. Stir well to mix. Whisk in sugar and sour cream.

Stir together flour, baking soda and salt to mix well. Stir flour mixture into chocolate mixture. Whisk in eggs last. Pour batter into prepared pans and smooth tops. Bake on middle rack of preheated 350-degree oven for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until well risen and firm.

Cool cakes in pans on racks 5 minutes, then unmold and finish cooling. If you are going to finish the cake on the same day you baked it, wrap layers in plastic and keep at room temperature.

Freeze for longer storage. Makes 2 9-inch round layers.

Note: To measure, spoon flour into dry-measure cups and level off.

Nick Malgieri is the author of “Perfect Cakes” and “A Baker’s Tour” (HarperCollins) and “Perfect Light Desserts” (Morrow).


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