Today is the big day. Today I turn the big 3-0. I don’t look a day over 29, do I? ;-) I certainly don’t feel thirty. Not that I’m sure what exactly it should feel like. But I do know that today 30 will feel like getting pampered at the spa with a manicure/pedicure and a haircut. I’m pretty sure that I should have started doing this years ago. I mean, taking the day off from work and enjoying some relaxation? It’s a no-brainer. I think I may need to do this every year from now on, make it a tradition of sorts. Speaking of traditions…
I have created quite a tradition of baking myself a birthday cake over the last handful of years. The first year I did it I made an Oreo cheesecake, then I did an orange and cream cheese icing twist on Dorie Greenspan’sPerfect Party Cake, and now this beauty. Hmm, there seems to be a theme of cream cheese. I do love my cheesecake. And my cream cheese icings. And peanut butter. And chocolate. And, well, so many other things (pizza, burgers, popcorn, soft pretzels, pizza… oh, I said pizza already). But today I decided to celebrate not only my birthday, but my love of cheesecake, chocolate and peanut butter. And what a delicious celebration it is!
The inspiration for this dessert came from a couple of different places. First, let’s go back to an old-school favorite – the Dairy Queen ice cream cake. For the better part of 10 years, whenever my mom would ask what kind of birthday cake I wanted the reply was always the same: a Dairy Queen ice cream cake. Truthfully, I could do without the ice cream or the whipped topping. I was in it for the fudge and chocolate crunchies in the middle. It was totally the best part. I always saved it for last, eating around it, and then savored each forkful. And so, I started off this dessert with that in mind. Being absolutely insane for chocolate and peanut butter together and loving peanut butter cups, I decided that chopped peanut butter cups would take the place of crunchies on top of the fudge layer.
The rest of the cheesecake took shape quite naturally. There needed to be an Oreo crust because I believe they make the best cheesecake crusts. Especially if peanut butter or other chocolate is involved. (In any other case, this shortbread crust is my go-to.) Given my love for cheesecake and my love for peanut butter (especially when sitting on top of a layer of fudge), I put together a peanut butter cheesecake. Finally, after making the Chocolate Peanut Butter Torte again for my Chief Culinary Consultant’s birthday back in February, I realized how much I love the idea of a chocolate ganache on top of a cheesecake-style dessert. It gives it a smooth and finished look and provides a great canvas on which to decorate!
And so there you have it: my decadent, rich and wonderfully chocolate-and-peanut-buttery 30th birthday cake.
It’s for the little girl in me that cherished a peanut butter and jelly sleeping bag more than anything when she was a kid. And for the slightly more grown-up girl that managed to grow out of a peanut allergy that reared its ugly head when she was 24. And that Reese’s Big Cup on top? My Chief Culinary Consultant bought me a whole bag of them the weekend after I learned I was no longer allergic last year. I have a soft spot for them now. Did I mention that my Chief Culinary Consultant is awesome in every way possible? He is.
Don’t wait for your birthday to make this; it’s much too good to keep filed away. Bake it, to celebrate all of the wonderful little things that happen between the birthday cakes.
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (300 degrees F if you are using a dark or non-stick pan). Butter a 9" springform pan and set aside.
2. To make the crust, stir the Oreo crumbs, melted butter and salt in a small bowl with a fork until the crumbs are moistened. Press the crumbs evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the springform pan. (I like to use the bottom a measuring cup to press the crumbs around the pan. I've found that they get evenly distributed that way and end up looking neater around the sides.) Freeze the crust for 10 minutes.
3. Bake the crust for 10 minutes, then transfer it to a rack and let cool.
4. To make the fudge, put the chopped chocolate in a bowl. Heat the cream to a simmer over medium heat. Immediately pour the simmering cream over the chopped chocolate. Let stand for 1-2 minutes, then add the vanilla extract and stir with a whisk or rubber spatula until smooth and combined. Pour the fudge into the cooled crust and spread evenly over the bottom. Place in freezer for 10 minutes. Remove from freezer and sprinkle surface with the chopped peanut butter cups. Return to freezer for 10 more minutes.
5. Meanwhile, prepare the cheesecake filling. Beat the cream cheese and peanut butter together on medium speed until smooth. Add the sugar and vanilla extract and continue to beat on medium speed until thoroughly combined. Reduce the speed to low and add the eggs one at a time, beating until combined after each addition. Scrape the bowl and mix on low for another 20 seconds.
6. Remove the pan from the freezer and pour the cheesecake filling over the fudge and peanut butter cups. Bake until the sides of the cheesecake are set and the middle just slightly jiggles, about 1 hour. Transfer to a wire cooling rack and cool to room temperature (at least 1 hour). Refrigerate the cheesecake at least 4 hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled. To unmold the cheesecake, wrap a warm towel around the outside of the springform pan to loosen the crust from the sides. Carefully remove the sides from the springform pan.
7. Before serving, prepare the ganache topping. Place the chopped chocolate in a small bowl. Bring the heavy cream to a simmer over medium heat. Immediately pour the simmering cream over the chopped chocolate. Let sit for 1-2 minutes and then stir with a whisk or rubber spatula until smooth. Pour the ganache on the top of the cheese and, using an offset spatula, spread evenly over the top of the cheesecake. Return to the refrigerator to set the ganache, about 20 minutes. Garnish as desired (I had some leftover peanut butter icing from filling a customer cake, so I piped that around the border).