Tag Archives: Cheesecake

Walnut Crusted Caramel-Bourbon Cheesecake

Our own Backstage Baker entered a cheesecake into the March 4 Cheesecake Bake-off too. His entry was a Walnut Crusted Caramel-Bourbon Cheesecake – an ode to George and Martha.

The bourbon flavoring was so appropriate to the characters of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”   And the presentation was as dramatic as they are!

James' Cheesecake

To decorate,  James made “ice cubes” by melting down something called Isomalt, a beet sugar concoction used for making hard candies.  That sounds impossibly complicated, but to hear him tell it, it seems almost feasible for the average baker:

“I had never used Isomalt before. You buy it in crystal form – it actually looks a lot like the ice melting pellets you use in the winter – at any cake decorating store. I got mine at the NY Cake Company. Take about a cup of the crystals and put them in a heavy bottomed stainless steel pan. ADD NOTHING TO THE PAN, no water, no oil. Heat it on low, stirring constantly. Eventually the Isomalt will begin to melt. Once melted let it boil for a few minutes,  STIRRING CONSTANTLY. Pour it into candy molds or silicone molds. Make sure you grease the insides of the mold but wipe out any excess oil otherwise it will burn (the melted Isomalt is VERY hot). I was warned that if I poured the heated mixture into a regular plastic ice cube tray it would melt the plastic. I did lay down some waxed paper on a cutting board, so after I filled the candy molds for the cubes, I poured some on the waxed paper to make the puddles to make the ice cubes look like they were melting. Last, I got a cup from the theatre, filled it with the caramel sauce and poured it over the cake, leaving the cup on one end.”

Pretty complicated, yes, but the result is smashing, no?

Walnut-Crusted Caramel-Bourbon Cheesecake


1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/3 cup butter, softened
2 tbsp. bourbon or amber colored rum
3 cups walnut pieces
1 cup granulated sugar, divided
3 tbsp. melted butter
3 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
3 eggs
1/4 cup bourbon or amber rum
1 cup toasted walnut halves  


1.  In small saucepan, combine brown sugar, whipping cream and butter. Bring to boil over medium-high heat; boil for 3 minutes. Remove 1/3 cup of the sauce; refrigerate until chilled. To remaining sauce add 2 tbsp. bourbon (or rum, if using); set aside.

2.  Combine walnut pieces and 1/4 cup of the granulated sugar in food processor; pulse until it resembles coarse crumbs (do not overprocess). Transfer to medium bowl and stir in melted butter.

3.  Using back of spoon press nut mixture into bottom and half-way up sides of 9-inch (23 cm) springform pan. Bake in 325 degree F (160 C) oven for 15 minutes.

4.  Meanwhile, beat cream cheese with remaining 3/4 cup granulated sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating just until blended. Stir in 1/4 cup bourbon (or rum, if using). Pour cream cheese mixture into nut crust. Drizzle the 1/3 cup chilled sauce on top; gently swirl with knife.

5.  Return cake to 325 degree F (160 C) oven; bake for 1 hour. Turn oven off; leave cheesecake in oven without opening door for another hour (prevents cake from cracking in center). Cool on wire rack; cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

6.  Just before serving, gently warm bourbon sauce; when not entering the cake in a contest I stir in toasted walnut halves. To serve, spoon sauce over slices of cheesecake.

And the Cheesecake Bake-off Winner is . . .

Lisa Bracigliano!!

Lisa was James’ production assistant on Jon Robin Baitz’s “Chinese Friends” that premiered at Playwright’s Horizons in 2004.  Lisa has gone on to fame and fortune as the Executive Pastry Chef and Founder of The Chocolate Swirl.  (You HAVE to check our her website, or her shop if you’re lucky enough to live in Queens!  There’s an Iphone birthday cake on the site that is absolutely remarkable!)  So, I guess she was a bit of a ringer, but with a cake of such delicious decadence, who’s going to complain?


The cheesecake awards were handed out by Shannon Oliver, the current Miss New York,  and Katie Berry, the current Miss Manhattan.


James just knows everyone, doesn’t he?

The event raised $700 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.  A total of 13 cheesecakes were baked and over 60 people attended.  We’ll be posting selected recipes over the next few weeks.

Lisa Bracigliano’s Crown Winning Cheesecake with Caramel, Chocolate and Pretzel Topping


For the Crust:

2 cups Pretzels (crushed)
2/3 cup Butter (melted)
2 tablespoons Brown Sugar

For the Chocolate Layer:

7 ounces Dark Chocolate (chopped)

For the Filling:

3 8-ounce packages cream cheese (softened)
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

For the Topping:

Crushed pretzels
Melted dark chocolate
1-2 packages soft caramels (unwrapped)
Heavy cream (can also use skim milk, or whatever milk you have on hand)


1.  For the crust:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the inside of a 9 inch spring form pan with butter. Lay two large pieces of aluminum foil crosswise on your work surface. Place the cake pan in the middle and crimp the aluminum around the pan.

Stir the crust ingredients together in a medium bowl. Once fully incorporated press into the bottom and sides of the prepared spring form pan, creating an even layer.

2.  For the chocolate layer:

Melt the chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave. Pour over the prepared pretzel crust. Transfer the spring form pan to the refrigerator for 5 minutes or until chocolate has set.

3.  For the filling:

Whip together the cream cheese and sugar until fluffy. Add the sour cream, eggs, egg yolk, vanilla and salt and stir together until incorporated.Pour the filling over the prepared crust and chocolate layer.

4.  Transfer the cake to a roasting pan and carefully fill the roasting pan with warm water until it comes 1/3 of the way up the sides of the spring form pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes or until the center only jiggles slightly. Remove and allow to cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes.

Refrigerate Overnight

5.  For the topping:

Remove cheesecake from Springform pan. Crush up pretzels and put them on top of cheesecake. Melt the unwrapped caramels in a microwave safe bowl in 30 second intervals.   CAREFUL!  IT WILL BE HOT. Once melted add 3-5 tabl spoons of heavy cream and mix well. If it is still sticky put it back in microwave. Pour evenly over pretzels and let it  drip down sides.

NOTE: If you want you can easily omit this step and use jarred caramel sauce, that will work well too 🙂

Melt more dark chocolate and drizzle over cake