'Happy Birthday, Eleanor! Cheesecake,' or, Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake

If Eleanor was still alive, today would be her 95th birthday!* Over the last few months, I've learned a bit about Eleanor and what made her tick, and so, in her honour, November's cheesecake is the first non-plain cheesecake I've made from the box. To me, making a chocolate cheesecake instead of the plain ones of the last nine months was an excitement I don't think anyone who hasn't made one cheesecake a month every month for nearly a year can understand. But I recognise that it may not be the best honour for Eleanor, who, by all accounts preferred plain cheesecake to nearly any other dessert. Nevertheless, I think she would appreciate the effort... even if she didn't understand why I started this project in the first place. I don't know how Eleanor liked to celebrate her birthday, but I can imagine that most years it involved Bingo, a cheesecake, and a lot of time with her friends... and let's be real, that sounds like a pretty great birthday to me.

Grandparents are a rare breed-- when they become parents (and then grandparents), they give up so much of themselves in favour of their children and grandchildren, and it always strikes me how much of that involves giving up their own birthday celebrations. I can't even count the number of photos that exist of me sitting on the lap of one of my grandmother's, helping them blow out their birthday candles, stealing their thunder when I was still tiny. It's not a unique thing: we all do it when a child comes into our lives. We share our birthdays, we share Christmas, we share the holidays-- it's just what we do. But I just turned 30, and, selfishly, I still love having my own birthday. So the older I get, the more I respect that Eleanor shared her birthday with all of us, but still managed to have her own parties, her own celebration, and her own vibrant life, even as a grandmother. She was a strong, brave woman, and I hope that when I'm 95, I'll have inherited some of that spunk.

We're ten months into the Cheesecake Saga, and though I originally counted 13 cheesecakes in the box, I can only find one more recipe now, so maybe I miscounted and perhaps we're closer to the end than I thought! But regardless, here's to Eleanor, and the first cheesecake I've made that came out of the oven without a single crack in it. I think she was probably looking down from heaven and giving my cheesecake just the right amount of je ne sais quoi that it needed... or maybe I'm just finally learning what I'm doing. This one is a bit of a pain-- it involves the food processor (to grind the crumbs for the crust), the mixer (to blend the filling), and then a whole separate bowl (to whisk together the chocolate layer). But somehow, despite all that, it seemed to go faster than the last few and much smoother than my early iterations.

If you've been debating making one of these cheesecakes because you're on the fence about plain ol' cheesecake, then this one is at your service. Creamy and chocolate-y without being overly sweet or heavy, it's straightforward and gorgeous, so it's perfect for taking to a holiday party, making for yourself, or (if you can bear to part with it) eating on Thanksgiving. AND if you HAVE been making plain cheesecakes along with me, then take note that this one doesn't require beating any egg whites OR even separating any eggs (we take our gratitude where we can get it in the House of The Recipe Box Project).

*You may be noticing a theme here, which is that in the month of November, my family has a lot of birthdays: mine, then my mom's, then Eleanor's, then my grandfather's-- all one week apart each. Weird, right?

The verdict:

5 spoons out of five. It's swirly, pretty, smooth and fluffy, and with just enough chocolate to make it exciting.

The recipe:

Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake

the directions:

Preheat oven to 165C/325F.
Combine crumbs, 2 tbsp sugar, and melted butter and pat into the bottom and up the sides of a springform pan, then set aside.
In a microwave, slowly melt chocolate chips with ½ c sugar, stirring frequently until melted and smooth, then set aside.
In the bowl of a mixer, beat cream cheese until light and fluffy.
Gradually add ¾ c sugar, beating until smooth.
Mix in sour cream and vanilla.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Divide batter in half and stir melted chocolate into one half, leaving remaining half plain.
Pour chocolate batter into prepared pan, then gently (and as slowly as possible), pour plain batter on top, then use the tip of a knife to marble the cheesecake.
Bake for 35 minutes until just set, then leave it in the oven with the door slightly open until cooled to room temperature.

the ingredients:

1 ¼ c rich tea biscuit crumbs
2 tbsp + 1 ¼ c sugar, divided
¼ c butter, melted
1 c semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 c cream cheese
½ c sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
4 eggs