Kettle Corn Cheesecake Recipe

Were I ever to be told that all desserts on the planet would be henceforth deleted from the global consciousness except one and I was the savior of the one dessert which could remain, I’d choose ice cream. Hands down. Cheesecake would be a close second, and here’s why: both ice cream and cheesecake are nearly-neutral bases out of which to spin a hundred variations. The boredom of one choice of dessert would vanish under the many flavors available of said dessert. And anyway, I’m astonishingly predictable for someone who typically vacillates between menu items for twenty minutes: if ice cream is offered, that is my choice. I am not even a tremendous snob. While I draw the line at Pet or other equally lame brands, I’m open to the concept that if I ever again visited a McDonald’s (doubtful) and if that McDonald’ses ice cream machine was miraculously working (also doubtful) that their .59 cent cone might be something sort of palatable and not to be immediately sneered at. We’ll see. I might be stretching my good faith in that regard.

Anyhow. I’m here to talk about cheesecake.

Last week on Instagram I began to circulate rumors that a new cheesecake recipe would be forthcoming. I hinted in no shy terms that it would be kettle-corn flavored, and that information seemed to excite a great many of you. At least, there was a general melee at the suggestion of cheesecake and when that died down I saw the few true kettle-corn believers standing at attention. Thankfully, this recipe pleases both categories of fans.

I don’t know what it is about kettle-corn that is so nice. I guess maybe it’s the fact that it isn’t so overtly sweet and treat-ish as caramel corn. It doesn’t stick to your teeth, it barely sticks to your fingers, and it’s still salty enough that you get your popcorn fix rather than a dessert fix. Of course I’ve done away with that latter point in this cheesecake: you can have your kettle-corn and your sweet-tooth too.

A small rabbit trail: why is it that a great many of my dessert recipes seem to spring from the concept of combining two entirely unrelated food concepts? First we had my cake rendition of chocolate chip cookie dough, followed by banana pudding cupcakes, two cakes inspired by my favorite tea lattes, and a PB & J ice cream? Where does this impulse come from? No idea, but it’s yet to steer me wrong so I guess it’s okay.

This cheesecake recipe sprang from the base I developed for my cinnamon roll cheesecake (the more I look at that recipe the hungrier I get - it was a True Delight), which in turn was inspired by my favorite cheesecake I ate in New York City a few years back. For the purposes of keeping this recipe simple, I give you a couple options for increasing the difficulty level, but suggest easier pathways. Example: I recommend using caramel sauce from a brand like Trader Joe’s (theirs is legit caramel, not soupy corn-syrupy stuff) in the cheesecake batter, but you can make this from scratch if you’re ambitious and want to go that far. Secondly, you can top the cheesecake with normal whipped cream and perhaps some crushed up kettle corn but I do recommend the optional step of steeping kettle-corn in heavy cream overnight, then straining and whipping the next morning. It’ll add a little somethin’-somethin’, cross my heart.

When I used to work at the restaurant we made a popcorn hollandaise in a similar way, by steeping popcorn in the melted butter. Since absolutely everything in the restaurant kitchen becomes sexualized in some way (why?), we went around asking each other where the “popcorn ho” had gone. Even the ISI canisters were labeled like hookers with a snack-food fetish. So that’s my story about popcorn hollandaise.

The “popcorn” flavor actually comes from the inclusion of powdered corn nuts! After making Alison Roman’s grilled corn salad I had some leftover toasted corn nuts and started thinking how tasty they’d be in a graham cracker crust. The idea checked out and lends a super delicious, toasty, county-fair flavor to the crust. The whole thing is a sort of sleight-of-hand because at no point in the making of this recipe do you ever actually need kettle-corn (toppings aside). But the salty, corn-nuts crust and the lightly caramel cheesecake do the job of deception admirably.

I really hope you make this recipe for yourself! It’s such a nice cheesecake for sharing! I put an APB out on Instagram afterward for friends to claim the cheesecake and ended up giving away eight hefty slices which, to be honest, I was surprised at. I forget everybody else likes free, delicious food as much as I do. (This brings me around again to a question with a sadly obvious answer, which I nevertheless can’t get out of my head:

Q: Why hasn’t anyone invented a snackshare app? Like an app where you have extra of something delicious and you can post it and people can sign up to come take a slice?

A: There is absolutely no way to regulate this and people are listening to too many crime podcasts to make them feel comfy about accepting food from strangers’ kitchens.

Okay! But what if you formed snack-share social circles with people you knew and trusted? Like the opposite of a meal-train app: instead of signing up to give food, you sign up to accept food? Anyone wanna workshop this with me?) As there seem to be no takers, I’ll go ahead and share the recipe. Enjoy!

Kettle-Corn Cheesecake
Makes one hefty 9” cheesecake

1 sleeve graham crackers
1/3 cup toasted corn nuts
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 tsp. Salt

4 8-oz packages full-fat cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup high-quality caramel sauce

Optional Kettle Corn Cream:
1 cup of heavy whipping cream
1 cup of kettle corn
2 tsp. Powdered sugar

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. For the crust, pulse graham crackers and corn nuts together in a food processor until sandy. Make sure to remove any larger pieces of corn nuts that don’t fully break down. Mix with sugar, salt, and melted butter and press firmly into the bottom of a 9” cheesecake pan. Par-bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool on the counter.
  2. For the cheesecake filling, beat 1/3 cup of sugar with one package of cream cheese. Beat well, then scrape down the beater and sides of the bowl. Add in the next package, then scrape the sides of the bowl. Repeat for remaining two packages of cream cheese. Beat in the remaining sugar and the vanilla. Then beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl between each. Add the whipping cream, mixing only till fully incorporated and being careful not to over-mix. Gently fold in the caramel sauce, then pour into the crust.
  3. Carefully wrap the cheesecake pan in several layers of extra-wide heavy duty foil, being careful not to let the sides of the foil drop too low - we are going to bake the cheesecake in a water bath to prevent cracking, and you don’t want the water to seep into your crust and cause a soggy bottom.
  4. Settle into a deep-sided baking sheet in the oven, then fill that dish with water till it comes 1/2” up the sides of the cheesecake pan.
  5. Bake at 350 for an hour and fifteen minutes or until the sides are set and the center still jiggles but no longer sloshes.
  6. Remove from the water bath and remove foil, then allow to cool till room temperature on a wire rack. Cover, and refrigerate till chilled, at least four hours or preferably overnight.
  7. If you’re making the kettle corn cream, gently heat the heavy cream and pour over kettle-corn. Chill well (overnight is best), and in the morning strain out the popcorn. Add the infused heavy cream to the stand mixer and sprinkle in powdered sugar, then whip to stiff peaks.
  8. Remove sides of cheesecake pan and top with whipped cream and an additional drizzle of caramel sauce.

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