This is one of my favorite cheesecakes. I take it to every party I'm invited to as a hostess gift. It is sweet, salty, creamy, and crunchy all at the same time. Eli's Cheesecake originally started experimenting with nut crusts because our daughter Haley can't have flour, but she still loves cheesecake! It has become one of Eli's top sellers.
Prepare the Toasted Almond Crust (see recipe below) in a 9-inch springform pan. Follow the recipe as directed.
Prepare the Flan batter (see recipe below). Follow the recipe as directed.
Preheat the oven to 280°F. Generously grease and flour the springform pan. Fill the springform pan with the Flan batter and place it on a baking sheet.
Place the baking sheet in the center of the oven, directly on the middle shelf. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the cake is slightly firm to the touch and jiggles in the center (this is a shallow cake, so it shouldn’t soufflé much). (If at the end of this baking time, the cake is starting to soufflé but still has a loose center, reduce the oven temperature to 250°F and bake for another 8 to 10 minutes, until the center is firm.) Remove from the oven and set aside to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.
Refrigerate for 1 hour to cool the cake completely.
Loosen the cheesecake from the springform pan by sliding an offset spatula around the inside ring. Remove the springform pan from the cake and transfer to a plate. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight before decorating.
Prepare the Salted Caramel (recipe below). Set aside while still warm, but not hot.
Pour the Salted Caramel on the center of the cake. Using the back of a wooden spoon or a silicone offset spatula, spread the caramel evenly over the top of the cake, being careful not to spread over the cake’s edge.
While the caramel is still warm, press the toasted almonds into it. Work quickly! As caramel cools, it becomes less sticky and decorations do not adhere as well. Sprinkle with the sea salt crystals.
Transfer to the freezer for 2 to 3 hours before slicing.
Slice the cake with a thin, nonserrated knife that is dipped in hot water and wiped dry after each slice. Serve immediately or store in the freezer well wrapped for up to 3 months.
To make the Toasted Almond Crust:
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the “S” blade, grind the almonds, sugar, and salt. Process until the mixture becomes moist and crumbly.
Add the melted butter and process again until thoroughly combined.
Grease the pan(s). Press the mixture into the bottom of the pan(s).
To set the crust, bake for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.
To make the Flan Batter:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, until it is light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the stand mixer bowl to prevent lumps from forming.
Add half of the sweetened condensed milk to the bowl of the stand mixer and beat on low speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the stand mixer bowl and continue beating on low speed for 1 minute more, until the mixture is smooth and creamy and free of lumps. Repeat this step with the remaining sweetened condensed milk.
Reduce the mixer speed to low. Slowly add first the whole egg and then the egg yolks to the bowl, one at a time. After adding each, scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Continue beating on low speed for 1 to 2 minutes, until the mixture is fully incorporated.
Add the vanilla to the bowl of the stand mixer and beat on low speed for 1 minute, until the vanilla is just incorporated into the mixture. The mixture should be well blended, but not overbeaten. (Overbeating at this stage incorporates too much air and will cause the cheesecake to puff up while baking and then fall and crack while cooling.)
To make the Salted Caramel:
In a heavy 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, combine the corn syrup, water, and salt. Stir with a spatula and cook for 1 minute, until the salt is dissolved and the corn syrup has melted.
Sprinkle the sugar into the saucepan, taking care to cover the bottom of the saucepan as evenly as possible. Do NOT stir. Cook, using a pastry brush dipped in water to lightly wash down the sides of the pot, for 3 to 4 minutes, until the mixture begins to caramelize. (Brushing the sides of the pan prevents the formation of sugar crystals.)
Once the mixture becomes a light amber color, immediately remove from the heat and add the warmed heavy cream to the saucepan. Stir with a heatproof rubber spatula, scraping the sides and bottom of the pot and making sure to fully incorporate the cream into the caramel, until the mixture is fully combined. Note: Be careful at this stage, as the caramel is extremely hot and the cream will bubble up and release very hot steam.
Transfer the caramel to a medium heatproof bowl. Set aside to cool to room temperature for 30 minutes; the caramel will thicken as it cools.
Recipe reprinted with permission from "The Eli's Cheesecake Cookbook" by Maureen Schulman, Tara Lane, Diana Moles and Jolene Washington.