Chocolate Cheesecake and Degrees of Fabulousness

The tradition in our family is that on your birthday you get the kind of cake you want. It’s telling that the last two cakes I’ve made my children – for Marie in Boise in September and for Lincoln this week (to bring to Vermont) – have been chocolate cheesecake. This is one of those that I’ve made quite often over the years. It always cracks, but that never matters! It’s totally fabulous. There are no words to describe its fabulousness.

You start with a box of Nabisco chocolate wafers crushed up fine. These are dark, thin and crisp. They crush into fine crumbs nicely. I used to use my food processor, which works great and creates fine, even crumbs, but then I was in a hurry one time and didn’t want to bother taking the machine out, setting it up, using it for one minute and then having to clean, dry and put it all away again. So I tried using a gallon-size ziplock bag and a rolling pin, which requires more uumph but does the trick, and have been doing that ever since. Plus I always figure that if I work a little harder to make the cake, if I exert more energy, burn more calories, I have less to worry about when the time comes for eating it. This may be faulty logic, but it has served me well 😊


One package of cookies is 9 oz (255g) which crush to about 2 cups (500ml), a little more maybe depending on the size of your crumbs.

crumbs in cup (2).jpg

The cookie crumbs get mixed with ½ cup sugar and 5-6 tablespoons of butter. It’s better if the butter is soft to begin with, but if it’s not, you can manage. I am not being exact on the amount of butter because it doesn’t matter. It works just fine with 5 TB, but 6 makes the mixture a bit more pressable in the pan. A fork works to mix it up, but if you have a pastry blender, that’s a bit better.

crumbs in bowl unmixed.jpg

Mixing it up means evenly distributing the sugar and the butter. It ends up looking like this.

crumbs in bowl mixed.jpg

I’ve made this recipe many times and found it makes a very thick cake, so I took to making two, one small and one large. (Now that I think of it, that’s probably why I started using the whole package of cookies — see recipe below.)  I don’t think Lincoln will object to having two birthday cakes! I used two springform pans, one 26cm (10.5”) and one 17cm (6.5”). You could use any combo that adds up to about the same size, or one very large pan and have a thicker cake.

Into the pans go the crumbs. You press them out with your fingers or the back of a spoon until they are not too loose. You’ll be plopping thick cake batter on top of this.

crumbs in pan.jpg

Oh, the recipe. I copied this years ago out of a book called Great American Cakes, which I cannot find. Looking at the recipe. seems I did make some changes! I use the whole package of chocolate wafers and correspondingly a bit more butter, but I stayed with the ½ cup sugar. The batter part, I promise you, I always make exactly as the recipe says (well, almost, we’ll get to that). Trust me, it’s all good!

recipe (2).jpg

(In case this is hard to read, I’ve typed it out below.)

I did two things differently: 1. After I beat the eggs into the cream cheese mixture (or watched as my beast of an electric stand mixer beat it in), after I added the vanilla, sour cream and chocolate and watched said mixer combine all these ingredients, I turned up the speed. I’m blaming this on Aquaman! Yes! On account of it having been an awesome movie, Samuel and I subsequently watched Captain America and The Avengers, all very (goes without saying) action-packed and fast-moving. Could there be something changing in my brain – hey, speed can be fun! – that I am transferring to cake-making?? It made a beautiful fluffy batter, I can tell you that. (You may note my restraint – I am not going to go on and on about the swirls!)


So I did not allow the mixer to simply “stir in” the vanilla, sour cream and chocolate. I let the machine beat it silly! This produces air in the batter, which may or may not be a thing I decide is a good, permanent change. This is how recipes evolve.

A thing to know is that this cake cracks. I always have followed the recipe exactly regarding the very slow cooling process, which is to help prevent cracking, but it always cracks anyway. When I say crack, I mean crack. It goes from being smoothed out in the pan (pans in this case)…

batter in pans.jpg

…to looking like the Grand Canyon on steroids.


But it doesn’t matter! You take a can of cherry pie filling, spread it on top and watch all signs of cracks disappear! No one is the wiser and it tastes heavenly! Just don’t forget the cherry pie filling (although you could use any flavor of pie filling that you deem appropriate to go with chocolate cheesecake).

About which I must tell you my second change. This cake is for Lincoln, who in the past always left the cherries on his plate. He liked the sweet, pudding-like, thickened cherry juice just fine, but the cherries themselves he couldn’t eat. Last time I made this for him, I tried using (what was then new and I was playing around) my immersion blender to finely chop up the cherries and blend them with the pudding-like part. He loved it! So that’s what I do now.

with cherries.jpg

That’s the thing with recipes, with life! You can do something this way or that way for years (I’ve been making this recipe for at least 20, I’d say) and one day get a brainstorm that turns out to be a much better way. I am unable to firmly say yes-absolutely-go-for-it! regarding the late-stage furious whipping of the batter because with the whipping it’s fabulous and without the whipping it’s fabulous, and who can measure degrees of fabulous-ness?? But on the changing of normal cherry pie filling (with whole cherries in it) to a thick, fruity topping of even consistency – that’s a keeper!

Chocolate Cheesecake with Cherry Topping

2/3 package chocolate wafer cookies, crushed
½ stick (1/4 cup) butter
½ cup sugar
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa
1 Tbsp flour
½ tsp salt
½ cup sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
1 ½ lbs (3 eight-ounce packages) cream cheese, softened
5 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup sour cream
8 oz. (2/3 of 12-oz package) semisweet chocolate morsels, melted (4 mins on power 4 in microwave)
1 can cherry pie filling (for topping)

  1. Combine crushed cookies, ½ cup sugar and butter for crust. Press into bottom and sides of springform pan. (I cover just the bottom.)
  2. In large bowl (I use my large stand mixer bowl) beat cream cheese with electric mixer. Add cocoa powder, sugars, salt and flour; beat till smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each. Stir in vanilla, sour cream and melted chocolate. Pour (plop carefully) into crust.
  3. Bake in preheated 450-degree oven for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees and continue baking. Turn off heat but leave cheesecake in oven for one more hour. After that, still leaving cake in oven, prop oven door open (very slow cooling), another hour. (Remove from oven, transfer to plates by sliding a knife around the edge of the springform pan, opening the release of that pan and carefully removing side part, sliding a wide, strong spatula carefully under cake and easing it onto a plate.)
  4. Spread cherry pie filling on top (put in blender or use immersion blender first if you want to chop up the cherries.) Cool rest of the way in fridge.

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