Jordan: Remember how I had a bunch of chocolate wafer cookies left over from our last cake, just waiting to be made into a cheesecake crust? Well, today is the day.
Kitra: Plus I’ve wanted cheesecake for a few weeks, and went ahead and bought 3 bricks of cream cheese figuring I’d make one whether or not Jordan wanted to. Win-win.
Cheesecake is never a bad idea, in my opinion, but my partner dislikes it so I always appreciate having an excuse to make one. And since he also dislikes coffee, I figured I might as well go all-in and suggested Smitten Kitchen’s mocha cheesecake.
Which I’ve been eyeing since she posted it because I love the layers and thought it seemed fun. I figured it’d be the kind of thing I’d make for our mom’s birthday at some point (though Jordan was always the birthday cheesecake member of the family). Instead I just packed up half of it for her so I could still make the big layered one I wanted. Also a win-win.
I, however, had enough cookie-rolling last time to last me a while, so I made a lazy variation of this cake. Which means you get two recipes today! One for a beautiful showstopper of a layered cheesecake, and one for a lovely marbled cheesecake bar that you can make for yourself and not feel overwhelmed.
We really switched roles here. For once I wasn’t just complaining that I cannot possibly eat this much. Jordan made the right choice for the times, for sure. But if you’ve got someone to share this with, the layers are pretty fun and only a little nerve wracking.
I stayed on Google Hangouts with Kitra while she assembled her cake and she barely needed my moral support at all.
Nothing broke! Nothing cracked! The only issues were when I accidentally dropped my knife onto a corner and made a dent, and when I removed some of a layer accidentally with my offset spatula while stacking. Both results of just carelessness, and both totally invisible after stacking.
So choose your own adventure here! Both use the same batter and so will be equally delicious no matter what you do.
Layered Mocha Cheesecake
Adapted just barely from Smitten Kitchen
On cocoa powder: Smitten Kitchen (and basically everyone else) calls for Dutch-process cocoa powder, which neither of us ever has on hand. You’ll be just fine with a regular cocoa. That said, if you have black or onyx cocoa powder, use that for half of the cocoa to make it taste just like an Oreo.
The instructions here use a food processor, which is what Kitra used. If you’d prefer to use an electric mixer, check out the original recipe (or use the method in the marbled cheesecake bars below).
Deb topped hers with ganache, but it was plenty rich without. Chocolate curls are just as lovely and don’t add much by way of richness or extra dishes to wash at the end. Use a vegetable peeler to get small curls and flakes like the ones pictured.
Finally, this is a totally manageable one-day cake but you can also make the wafers a day or two ahead and just leave them out on the counter.
For the wafers:
- 1½ cups (195g) flour
- ½ cup (40g) cocoa powder (see note)
- 1 cup (200g) sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ cup (115g) unsalted butter (softened if mixing without a food processor)
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the cheesecake:
- 1½ pounds (3 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, soft
- 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- ¼ cup (60 grams) sour cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 ounces (115 grams) semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled slightly
- 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
- 1 teaspoon molasses
- chocolate shavings, to top
Preheat your oven to 350°.
First, line two 9×13 inch pans with foil. Be careful not to tear it, the easiest method is to shape your foil over the outside of your pan, then flip it over and set the shaped piece inside. Coat with nonstick spray.
Make the wafer layers
To make the wafers combine flour, cocoa powder, sugar, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of your food processor and pulse to mix. Add butter and run the machine until the butter is fully mixed in; it will look like a coarse powder. Add the egg and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and run the machine until the dough clumps together into a couple of large masses.
Place the lump of dough between two very large pieces of parchment paper and roll it out until it’s about 13×18 inches. If it’s feeling a little soft and unmanageable, place the whole thing in the freezer for 5 minutes or so.
Peel the parchment off the top, then lightly rest it back in place. Flip over and peel the parchment from the other side–basically, you’re just trying to loosen it from the parchment. Take that top sheet of parchment and cut it into two pieces that fit inside the bottom of your pans. Using one of those rectangles as a guide for the right size, cut the dough in half. Place the cut parchment pieces back into the greased pan (they’ll help you remove the cheesecakes later after baking).
Line each pan with half of the dough, patching any problem sites with any leftover dough scraps. If your dough isn’t too sticky, gently trim any excess dough from the sides. If you’re having trouble, go ahead and trim just after baking while the cookies are still hot.
Bake for 10 minutes until mostly but not fully baked. If you weren’t able to trim the edges before, do that now so that you have a giant cookie sheet in the bottom of your pan. If any bubbles have formed, gently press them down with the back of a fork or spoon.
Make the cheesecake
In your food processor—no need to fully wash it if you used it before—combine cream cheese and sugar and process until very smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, processing until smooth between each, then the sour cream and vanilla extract and (once again) process until smooth.
Divide the cheesecake batter into two medium bowls. Whisk the espresso powder and molasses into one half of the batter. Whisk the melted chocolate into the other half of the batter.
Pour one bowl of batter into each wafer-bottomed pan. If your pans are slightly different sizes, put the espresso batter in the smaller pan. Bake both for 15-18 minutes, rotating halfway through. The cheesecake should be set at the edges but have a jello-like jiggle in the center. The espresso batter is thinner, so you might need to bake it for a few minutes longer than the chocolate one.
Cool both cheesecakes fully in their pans (moving them to the fridge/freezer if you want to speed this up).
Assemble the cake
Once cool, assemble the cheesecake. Carefully lift each one out of the pan using the foil. Use an offset (or regular) spatula or some other thin utensil to loosen the bottom of each cake from the parchment paper. Carefully slide your hands underneath the espresso cheesecake, then gently lift the cake up and place it on top of the chocolate layer.
Run a sharp knife under hot water and trim all four sides of both cakes until they’re nice and even. You’ll want to rinse the knife in hot water between each cut to get a smooth edge. Cut the cake into thirds—both Deb and Kitra recommend using a ruler instead of just estimating this—and carefully stack them into a tower. Trim any uneven edges one more time if need be.
Put the entire cake in the fridge to cool completely before topping with chocolate shavings and serving.
Marbled Mocha Cheesecake Bars
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, with crust guidance from a different Smitten Kitchen cheesecake
This makes a small cheesecake, with about 8-10 light servings or 6 heartier ones. You can easily double it in a square cake pan or triple it in a 9”x13” pan. If doubling/tripling, add an additional egg (so 3 eggs for a double batch, 4 eggs for a triple batch). The ingredient amounts for a triple batch are the same as in the layered cake above.
The crust here is quite thick, so if you aren’t a bit crumb crust fan, a) who are you? and b) you can use ⅔ cup crumbs, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 2 tablespoons melted butter for a more standard thickness.
Finally, the directions below use an electric mixer, but you can also use a food processor instead. Just make sure you process each set of ingredients until smooth before adding the next.
- 1 cup (110g) finely-crushed chocolate wafer cookies (homemade or storebought)
- 2 tablespoons (25g) sugar
- 3 tablespoons salted butter
- 8oz cream cheese, softened
- ⅓ cup (65g) sugar
- 1 egg, at room temperature
- 4 teaspoons (20g) sour cream
- ⅓ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1⅓ oz (40g) semisweet chocolate
- ⅔ teaspoon instant espresso powder
- ⅓ teaspoon molasses (optional, for color more than flavor)
Preheat your oven to 350°. Line a loaf pan fully with foil.
Make the crust
In a small bowl, microwave the butter until it’s about half melted, then stir until it’s completely melted.
In a medium bowl, combine cookie crumbs, 2T sugar, and about ⅔ of the butter and stir well. It should be sandy and kind of clumpy but not wet or greasy. If it seems a little dry, add the rest of the butter. Wipe any remaining butter from the small bowl and set aside.
Dump the buttery crumbs into the prepared pan and press firmly and evenly into the bottom. (Something flat like the bottom of a cup is helpful here.) Wipe your crumb bowl out—doesn’t need to be perfect—and set it aside.
Bake the crust for 9 minutes, then set aside to cool. Leave the oven on.
Make the filling
In an electric mixer, combine cream cheese and ⅓ cup sugar and beat until fluffy but very smooth, which may take several minutes on medium speed. Add the egg and beat until smooth again, then the sour cream and vanilla extract and (once again) beat until smooth.
In the small bowl you used for your butter, melt the chocolate in the microwave, stirring every 15-20 seconds, until it’s about halfway melted. Stir until the remaining lumps melt as well.
Pour half of the cheesecake batter into the medium bowl you used to mix your crumbs. (The easiest way to do this with a scale is actually is to tare the scale with the bowl, add all of the batter, and then pour half of it back into the original bowl.) Whisk the espresso powder and molasses into one half of the batter. Adding a spoonful at a time, whisk the melted chocolate into the other half of the batter.
If you want a lovely marbled cake, start by dropping large spoonfuls of the chocolate batter on top of the crust in something like a checkerboard pattern. No worries if it’s not perfectly evenly distributed. Pour the thinner espresso batter in the gaps around the chocolate. Use a knife, held vertically, to gently swirl the two batters into each other.
Bake the cheesecake for 20-25 minutes, until the edges are set and the center has a jello-like jiggle to it. Cool to room temperature, then move to the fridge to cool completely before serving.