I don’t know what to say to people who tell me that this cake is better than sex. I guess, it’s entirely depends on a personal experience. But I do know for sure the cheesecake is quite good. I prefer my cheesecakes crustless (there… I said it). I like something crunchy to be served on a side. In this case, literally. The brittle is the last minute finishing touch. If you are not serving the cake to a crowd and not certain that the cake will be eaten all at once, don’t press the brittle into the sides since it will melt fairly quickly. Instead, offer the brittle broken into large shards as an accompaniment. Sure, if you have nothing against a cheesecake crust, you can make a chocolate crumb one (you can see Caramel Chocolate Cheesecake for instruction).

We are lucky to have fresh strawberries here all year-round. But if you want to get the decent ones you will have to pay. As for the balsamic I advise you to use something better than 5 bucks-per-bottle from the closest supermarket. It’s probably a good time to reach for that onion-shaped bottle of the Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena.

Don’t get discouraged by all this foodie-snobby stuff. The cake will be awesome served with strawberry or raspberry sauce, and you can use frozen berries for this purpose.

Makes one 9-inch cake, about 16 servings

For the cheesecake:

  • 2 cups whipping cream, divided
  • 1 tsp espresso powder
  • 1 lb bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped, divided
  • 8 oz mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
  • 8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup fine granulated sugar
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch, sifted
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the brittle:

  • use half of this recipe, substituting hazelnuts for cocoa nibs

For the balsamic strawberries:

  • ½ lb of strawberries
  • 2 tsp good quality balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp extra fine granulated sugar

Make the cheesecake:

Center an oven rack and preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a bottom of the 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper circle. Lightly butter the parchment and the sides of the pan. Wrap the pan tightly in a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Set aside.

Place 12 oz of the chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. Heat the 1 ½ cups of the whipping cream and 1 tsp of the espresso powder in a small saucepan over medium heat until the espresso powder dissolves and the cream comes just to a boiling point. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Let stand for a couple of minutes, then whisk until the ganache is smooth. Set aside to cool until warm.

Beat the mascarpone and cream cheese with an electric mixer until fluffy, gradually adding the sugar. Beat in the sour cream and cornstarch. Mix in the chocolate mixture on low speed. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time, then the vanilla extract, beating on low speed until well combined, scraping down a bowl as needed.

Pour the filling into the pan. Place the springform in a large roasting pan and pour hot water into the roasting pan so that it comes about halfway up the springform. Transfer carefully to the oven and bake until softly set, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Turn off the oven. Let the cake stand in the oven for another hour. Transfer the springform pan onto the rack and cool. Cover; chill the cake overnight.

The next day glaze the top of the cheesecake with chocolate ganache. Place the remaining 4 oz of the chopped chocolate in a small bowl. In a small saucepan, bring the remaining ½ cup of the whipping cream to a boil, pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Let stand for a couple of minutes, then whisk until the ganache is smooth. Cool until the ganache is 88-90F and pour it over the top of the cheesecake. Tilt the cake in the pan to facilitate the spreading. Refrigerate until the chocolate glaze has set, for at least a couple of hours.

Run a knife around the edge of the cake to loosen and remove the side of the pan. Transfer the cake to a plate. Bring to room temperature before serving. Right before serving, press the chopped cocoa nib brittle into the sides of the cake if you wish. Serve with the marinated strawberries.

Marinate the strawberries:

Hull and thinly slice the strawberries. Place the strawberries into a small bowl. Add the balsamic and sugar and gently stir to combine. Let macerate for about 15 minutes. Serve.