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by Robin Devereaux-Nelson

Admit it. We all love the cheesecake. I don't care what kind of diet regimen you're on, I would bet my own mother that if there was a gorgeous, silky, smooth, yummy slice of cheesecake in your fridge, you would, at some point, sneak in there and devour at least a mouthful of it. Or seven. We can't help it. We're human. And cheese cake is our kryptonite.

While lots of folks love it, many are scared to attempt baking it. You’ve heard how complicated it is, how it dries out, cracks, and just plain doesn’t taste "right." Well, never fear. Dev is here to ease your worried mind and guide you through a recipe for a cheesecake that will make you want to have a cigarette after you ingest a piece—even if you don't smoke.

It's easy. Just take my hand, and put on your apron. We’re going to do this thing.

First off, you’re going to need some equipment. Nothing fancy. I know, I know…all the famous column and television chefs have latest and greatest in kitchen ware. The key word here is "famous." Famous gets you sponsors who supply the dreamy kitchenware. We are Just Folks here in the Tri-Cities, and we are going to use the old beat up kitchen stuff we got secondhand (or stole) from our moms.

You really should have a spring-form pan, however. It doesn't have to be an expensive one. In fact, I purchased three or four different sizes from local thrift stores. If you do choose a used pan, just make sure the spring works before you buy it. It's frustrating to get a cheesecake trapped in the pan. Believe me: it's happened.

You'll need a mixer: a hand mixer or fancy-schmantzy bowl mixer is fine, or you can use a wire whisk if you have a good, strong arm. Other equipment you’ll need is a large mixing bowl, small mixing bowl, measuring cups, rubber scraper, fork, teaspoon or tablespoon and a butter knife. You will also need a small, thin, sharp knife to remove the cheesecake from the pan.

You'll also need to preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Now for the list of ingredients:

For the crust:

2 1/2 cups Oreo cookie crumbs

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons butter or margarine (not spread), melted

Cooking spray, such as Pam

For the filling:

2 8-ounce bars cream cheese, softened

1 8-ounce cup sour cream

1 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/3 cup cocoa-hazlenut butter (Nutella or store brand)

For the ganache:

1 6-ounce bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 shot or 3 tablespoons Frangelico liquor (or hazelnut schnapps)

First, a word about ingredients: People are comfortable with the Ingredients List. I know that. I accept it, and for the most part, will try to follow the norm.

However, as you get to know me, you will find that when I write cooking instructions, I will also tell you ways to make substitutions in your recipes. I do this for many reasons, ingredients that are more or less expensive, items that are out of season or tough to find in some areas, and my favorite: I forgot to purchase all the stuff I needed at the grocery store.

What you need to remember is that cooking is science, and in science, we experiment. You need to think of your kitchen as your lab. Sometimes experiments are successful and sometimes they fail, but for the most part, together we'll get it right and have an awesome percentage of successes. So, if I say you need six ounces of melted chocolate chips and you want to use four Hershey bars instead, go for it.

The first example of this is the Oreo cookie crumbs. You can purchase these already crushed up in a box in your grocer's baking aisle. If you are using the pre-crushed kind, add 2 tablespoons of sugar to the crumbs in a large bowl. If you are using real Oreos, with the yummy, sugary center, you don't need to add sugar. You can either place half a bag of cookies in a Ziplock bag and crush them with a wooden mallet or rolling pin, or you can put them in a food processor (my preference) and crush them on HIGH. If you do use the food processor, you can add the melted butter right to the processor bowl and give the mixture a quick spin. Otherwise, place the crushed cookies in a bowl, add the melted butter and toss the mixture up with a fork.

Spray the spring form pan generously with cooking spray. Dump the crumb mixture into the pan and shake the pan to spread the crumbs evenly. Use a teaspoon or tablespoon to press the crumbs into the bottom and halfway up the sides of the pan. Pop the pan into the pre-heated oven for 4 to 5 minutes and remove to cool.

The trick with the filling is to really beat it up. Start by placing the cream cheese in a glass bowl and warming it on defrost in the microwave for about 2 minutes. No one else will tell you to do this. But trust me, it makes for a creamy cheesecake. Add the sugar to the cream cheese and beat well. Next add the eggs and beat again. Add the sour cream and vanilla and beat yet again. Pour the batter into the crust and level out a bit with the spoon.

Use a teaspoon or tablespoon to stir up the hazelnut butter. It usually settles a bit in the jar and may have a film of oil on the top. Make sure this is all mixed in and smooth. Drop the hazelnut butter in spoonfuls around the top of the batter. Run a butter knife around through the batter, avoiding the bottom crust, to marble the hazelnut butter through the batter.

Pop the cheesecake into the oven for 17 minutes. After those 17 minutes—no more, no less!—remove the cake from the oven and put it directly in the refrigerator. I know, no one else tells you to do that either. Again, trust me.

Allow the cheesecake to set up for several hours. About an hour prior to serving, make the ganache. Melting chocolate in the microwave is dicey, so we are going to use the hot water, double-boiler method.

Place some boiling water in a large mixing bowl, and place a smaller bowl inside. Place the chocolate chips and unsalted butter in the small bowl. Let the chips set a few minutes, then start whipping them with a fork until smooth. Add the Frangelico liquor. Blend until satiny. Remove the cheesecake from the refrigerator, and pour the warm ganache on top. Smooth the ganache out with the back of a spoon. Place the cheesecake back in the refrigerator for an hour.

To remove the cheesecake from the spring form pan, run a small, thin, sharp knife around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the sides. Disengage the lock on the outside of the pan and lift the rim off the cheesecake. Place the dessert on a decorative plate. To cut the cheesecake, use a sharp, wet knife.

Prepare your mouth for a rush of delicious hazelnut and velvety cheesecake, and enjoy!

Drop by Dev's Kitchen next Thursday for an excuse even the most carnivorous will use to eat their vegetables.

© Robin Devereaux-Nelson, 2010