Caramel Validation. Caramelidation? *groan*

My husband likes almost everything I make. There are definitely shades to his enjoyment of my food, so I can tell when something is REALLY good or just mediocre (it’s in the eyebrows). But he will not tell me when something is bad. He is an excellent cheerleader but not a very discerning judge.

Which is why winning is so nice. Actual proof that I am doing something right! Delivered by a jury of my peers!

Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake. (bears by JD)

I was a little worried, because there were a few really delicious contenders. I realized right away that I had made a potentially fatal mistake: people were gravitating to the hand-held, no-fork-required desserts first. Mental note for next time.

There were some phenomenal looking Chocolate Amaretto cupcakes with an Amaretto Buttercream and a Cherry-Almond filling, and on TOP of that, they were vegan!!! And delicious! They were definitely my biggest competition. They won for Best Presentation (no surprise there, they brought a fancy cupcake tree), but I edged them out for the top prize. I think maybe the cupcakes were a tad TOO sophisticated, if that makes sense?

There were also Some ooey gooey Caramel Walnut Brownies that were also delicious. They won for Best Use of Chocolate. I think, though, that the caramel part was not homemade, which I am apparently now a total snob about. (Don’t even get me started on desserts that used some kind of a mix).

So the Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake prevailed! The “Best Dessert” category was announced last, and I was nervous because I had been a finalist in a number of the other categories and hadn’t won, but it all turned out well in the end.

The recipe, as I mentioned before, was from Smitten Kitchen. I went ahead and used the Chocolate Teddy Grahams in the crumb crust, which turned out to be a smart move when we wanted to add some whimsy and had a whole half a box of Teddy Grahams left.

I didn’t do much to the recipe, so I won’t reproduce it here, but I will say two things:

1. Double the crumb crust. I didn’t have enough for the sides in one batch, just the  top, so I wound up making a second batch.

2. Maybe cook at a lower heat for longer to avoid the humongous cracks? I haven’t made a ton of cheesecakes so maybe my technique is off, but man those suckers were huge.

And finally, definitely top with the salted butter caramel sauce. The caramel flavor in the cake itself is way subtle, and the topping adds a huge punch and a nice salty note.

Now to decide what to make for my own office holiday party! No contests at this one, but still want to impress!

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