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Mascarpone Cheesecake with Dulche de Leche Sauce

Servings: 12-14
Dulce de Leche is a soft milk-caramel confection that is yet again one of the year's top flavors. If you don't have time to make the sauce, look for it with the ice cream toppings at the market. Note that the baked cheesecake must be chilled overnight before serving.

8 ounces shortbread cookies
1/3 cup pecans (about 1 1/2 ounces)
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 8-ounce containers mascarpone cheese,* room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
4 large eggs, room temperature

Candied Pecans (see recipe below)
Dulce de Leche Sauce (see recipe below)

For Crust:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Wrap outside of 9-inch-diameter springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides with 3 layers of heavy-duty foil. Finely grind shortbread cookies and pecans in processor. Add melted butter and process until crumbs are moistened. Press crumb mixture onto bottom (not sides) of prepared pan. Bake crust until golden, about 15 minutes. Cool crust completely on rack. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F.

For Filling:
Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese in large bowl until smooth. Add mascarpone and flour; beat until smooth, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl with rubber spatula. Gradually add sugar and beat until smooth. Beat in vanilla and lemon juice. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition.

Pour filling over crust in pan. Place springform pan in large roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to come halfway up sides of springform pan. Bake cheesecake until top is golden and cake is almost set (center 2 inches will still move slightly when pan is gently shaken), about 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool cake on rack 1 hour. Refrigerate uncovered overnight. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

Arrange Candied Pecans decoratively atop cake. Cut cake into wedges. Serve with Dulce de Leche Sauce.

Candied Pecans:
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
Pinch of cream of tartar
3/4 cup pecan halves (about 3 ounces)

Line baking sheet with foil; spray with nonstick spray. Combine sugar, 2 tablespoons water, and cream of tartar in heavy small saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil without stirring until syrup is deep amber color, occasionally brushing down sides of pan with pastry brush dipped in water and swirling pan, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat. Immediately stir in pecans. Quickly pour mixture out onto prepared baking sheet. Working quickly and using 2 forks, separate pecans into individual halves. Cool completely. Break candied pecans apart, leaving each pecan half intact with some candied caramel attached. (Can be made 1 week ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)

Makes about 1 cup.

Dulce De Leche Sauce:
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk

Combine whipping cream and brown sugar in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Boil until mixture is reduced to 1 cup, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Stir in sweetened condensed milk. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Rewarm over medium-low heat just until warm and pourable.)

Makes about 1 1/3 cups.

*Italian Mascarpone cheese is available at Italian markets and many supermarkets.

Cheesecake makes 12-14 servings.

Recipe Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine January 2003.

Date: January 19, 2003