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A&E >  Food

Champion cheesecake: Tips for a decadent dessert that’s both light and creamy

The secret to making cheesecake that’s light and airy, with a rich and creamy yet feathery texture, is simple and twofold.

Low and slow.

That’s according to Thomas Speight, who owns Spokane Cheesecakes with his wife, Gillian. The bakeshop, which opened in December and celebrated its grand opening at the end of April, specializes in small, individual-sized cheesecakes.

The couple have developed more than 30 flavors of crust and cake combinations – from their signature Mayan chocolate cheesecake with chocolate ganache, Saigon cinnamon, a hint of chile, and dark-chocolate- and-orange-scented crust, to their limón cheesecake with a vanilla-lemon crust.

While the Speights specialize in mini-cheesecakes, they take custom orders for the full-size variety.

There are no graham crackers at the Speights’ mom-and-pop cheesecake shop. They only do from-scratch crusts, often perfuming them with spices such as nutmeg.

Customers don’t take any lumps, either. In addition to being patient – baking their cheesecakes upward of an hour at a relatively low temperature – the Speights insist upon using cream cheese at room temperature.

“It’s easier to work with and it makes the cheesecakes smoother, without any lumps,” said Gillian Speight, demonstrating the technique in the kitchen of their shop just east of downtown Spokane.

If the cream cheese is cold and hard, lumps are pretty much guaranteed, and who wants a lumpy cheesecake?

Another trick of the trade: Gillian Speight beats cream cheese with her stand mixer until all ingredients are well blended and the consistency is silky before pouring the batter into paper panettone cups.

“We try to stick to the European standard where there’s enough sugar to satisfy your craving but not enough to drown out other flavors,” she said.

Gillian Speight and her husband started Spokane Cheesecakes in September 2011. The couple rented a commercial kitchen in Spokane Valley, selling their cheesecakes from a spot in the Spokane Public Market until mid-2012 when Gillian became pregnant. After the birth of their daughter, they began looking to resume their cheesecake business.

They bake together evenings and Mondays, when the shop is closed. He staffs the shop during the day.

Thomas Speight loves cheesecake.

Twenty years ago, while serving in the Peace Corps in his wife’s native Jamaica, he introduced her to the decadent dessert.

“It’s not a big part of our culture,” Gillian Speight said, noting cream cheese is expensive in Jamaica.

When she moved to Spokane and they married, she began experimenting with different recipes. The ginger cheesecake, for example, is flecked with pieces of crystallized ginger and sits atop a moist gingersnap cookie crust.

Today, ginger – along with limón and classic New York cheesecake – make up their year-round staples.

Nine varieties of individual-sized, 3-inch cheesecakes are typically available at a time, selling for $5 to $5.50.

“We rotate them, depending on the season,” Gillian Speight said.

Autumn favorites are pecan praline, apple caramel, pumpkin and pumpkin spice rum. Come summer, there’s rum raisin, huckleberry and blueberry swirl.

Gillian Speight prefers the huckleberry and raspberry white chocolate. Her husband’s two favorites are limón and ginger. (He also likes the honey vanilla.)

He tries, he said, to only eat two per week.

Ginger Cheesecake

From Gillian Speight of Spokane Cheesecakes

The Speights plan to keep most of their recipes secret. But they were willing to share this one for ginger cheesecake, one of their shop’s year-round staples.

2 pounds cream cheese at room temperature

1 1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 cup sour cream

2 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup crystalized ginger, dusted with a pinch corn starch (to prevent pieces from lumping at the bottom of the cheesecake)

Gingersnap Cookie Crust (recipe below)

In a large mixing bowl or bowl of a standing mixer, combine cream cheese and sugar until well blended, pausing occassionally to scrape down the sides. Add cornstarch and continue mixing. Mix in sour cream until mixture is thoroughly blended, continuing to pause to scrape down the sides.

Combine eggs and vanilla in a small mixing bowl, then add egg mixture to cream cheese mixture and beat until well incorporated. Add heavy whipping cream and continue to mix and scrape down the sides until thoroughly mixed. Add crystallized ginger, stirring to distribute evenly in batter.

Pour into prepared crust and bake at 275 degrees for 1 ½ hours. Leave cheesecake in oven, popping door open slightly, until cheesecake is completely cooled. Refrigerate.

Yield: About 18 (3-inch) individual cheesecakes, or 1 (9-inch) cheesecake

Gingersnap Cookie Crust

From Gillian Speight of Spokane Cheesecakes

3/4 cup shortening

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoon baking soda

1 large egg

1/3 cup molasses

1 to 2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 1/3 cup flour (unbleached is best)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Beat together shortening, sugar, salt and baking soda. Beat in the egg, then molasses. Add ginger to flour, then mix it into egg/molasses mixture.

Drop dough using a teaspoon cookie scoop onto baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for about 8 to 11 minutes.

Cool, then crush into cookie crumbs and form cheesecake crust in a springform pan.

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