CHICAGO — Carole Kaiser's only regret about her buffet table is that it can accommodate no more than 16 cheesecakes.
Whenever she has a party she must limit herself to 16 cheesecakes among her recipe collection of more than 200. The decision is more difficult than choosing entrees, appetizers or dinnerware.
Kaiser loves cheesecake.
She searches for a restaurant with great cheesecake the way some people search for the perfect pizza. When someone asks if she wants to eat Chinese, French or Italian, her response is more likely to be cheesecake.
And when people dine in her home cheesecake is an obvious part of the menu.
"If people are smart they'll save room for cheesecake when they come to our home," Kaiser said.
Her most unusual recipes are for a rutabaga cake and for Russian pashka packed into a flowerpot and allowed to set for a day or two.
Kaiser has never met a cheesecake recipe she didn't like (or at least wasn't curious about).
"It's appealing because I love cheese. That's No. 1; it's the mainstay of my diet. I love the way it looks. Cheesecake makes a good presentation," she said.
Adaptations of Other Desserts
Any flavor combination that one craves in another dessert, Kaiser can duplicate in a cheesecake. For example, there's a grasshopper cheesecake with a delicate green color and hint of mint. Then there are the adult adaptations of children's favorites, such as butterscotch and chocolate-peanut butter cheesecakes.
Her only frustration seems to be that her family, including her nine children and her husband, aren't particularly fond of the dessert.
"The boys might try a plain classic," she said. "When strawberries are available I do a plain cheesecake covered with strawberries and piped with whipped cream," she said.
Because she's the only audience for most of her cheesecake creations, Kaiser doesn't make the dessert just for the family. "It would be disastrous to the waistline," she said.
Kaiser has some pointers for fellow cheesecake cooks.
"I always do cheesecakes ahead because there are always last-minute emergencies," she said. "With nine children, there is always something to interrupt my baking. What takes other people a week takes me two weeks.
Quick-Freeze the Cake
"I completely bake and then refrigerate a cheesecake, as per directions. If I'm going to do something, such as garnish with nuts or whipped cream, I do it before freezing," she said. "Then I take the ring off the spring form pan and quick-freeze the cake (freeze without any wrapping). When it's frozen solid, I'll take the base of the spring form off, totally wrap the cake with plastic wrap, then foil.
"I thaw cheesecakes at room temperature. I've never had any problem with cream weeping," Kaiser said.
A frequent worry for bakers is cheesecakes that develop crevices.
"People shouldn't panic if cakes crack," she said. "Whipping cream, nuts and fruit can hide a lot of things. A sour-cream coating can hide a crack."
"Some cakes naturally crack; recipes will say that. But to help avoid that, let all the ingredients come to room temperature before using, especially the sour cream."
Here are some of Kaiser's cakes that are painless to cut into.
CHOCOLATE COOKIE CHEESECAKE
4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup whipping cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons creme de cacao
Graham Cracker Crust
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped cream-filled chocolate cookies
5 cream-filled chocolate cookies, halved crosswise
2 cups sour cream
Swiss Fudge Glaze
Beat cream cheese in large bowl of electric mixer on low speed until smooth. Beat in 1 1/4 cups sugar and flour until well blended. Beat in eggs and yolks until mixture is smooth. Stir in cream, 1 teaspoon vanilla and creme de cacao. Pour half of batter into Graham Cracker Crust. Sprinkle with chopped cookies. Pour remaining batter over cookies, smoothing with spatula. Bake at 425 degrees 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 225 degrees and bake 65 minutes. Blend sour cream, remaining 1/4 cup sugar and remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla. Spread over cake. Bake 7 minutes longer. Refrigerate overnight.
When cake is cold, set on platter and remove spring form pan. Pour Swiss Fudge Glaze over top of cake. Arrange chocolate cookie halves, cut side down, around outer top edge of cake, pressing into cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes about 16 servings.
Graham Cracker Crust
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Combine graham cracker crumbs, butter, sugar and cinnamon. Toss to blend. Press onto bottom and 1 inch up sides of 9-inch spring form pan. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.
Swiss Fudge Glaze
1 cup whipping cream
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla
Scald cream in heavy medium saucepan over high heat. Add chocolate and vanilla. Stir 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir until all chocolate is melted. Cool in refrigerator 10 minutes.