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The Importance of a Killer Dessert

To make the cheesecake crust, grind the graham crackers into fine crumbs in a blender or food processor or put them in a plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin or large can. Transfer to a medium bowl.
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You can slave in the kitchen for days making the perfect meal, but if the dessert doesn't prompt guests to demand seconds, thirds and fourths, you might as well have ordered out. Even guests who tell you they're on a diet or they don't eat carbs or they're too full will remember an outstanding dessert. And if you somehow made a mess of the main dish, they'll forget it immediately because they're slavering over something much better.

You can even make your mark at someone else's dinner party if you volunteer to bring the dessert -- as long as it looks fabulous and tastes even better.

What do I bring to get attention?

Chocolate Cheesecake - serves 12-16 (adapted from Help! My Apartment Has a Dining Room)

3 8-ounce packages Neufchâtel or cream cheese
1 1/2 cups chocolate graham crackers
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1 12-ounce package chocolate chips
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup light sour cream

Remove Neufchâtel or cream cheese from the refrigerator to begin softening.

Place an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

To make the cheesecake crust, grind the graham crackers into fine crumbs in a blender or food processor or put them in a plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin or large can. Transfer to a medium bowl.

Melt the butter, add to the crumbs and mix thoroughly. Transfer the crumb mixture to an 8- or 9-inch springform pan (a special pan with a bottom that separates from the sides). With the back of a large spoon or your hands, press the mixture firmly into the bottom of the pan and about 1 inch up the sides. Try to make the crust equally thick everywhere.

Melt the chocolate in a thick-bottomed pot over very low heat, stirring until it's almost melted. Turn off the heat. The heat of the pan will melt the remaining chocolate.

Put the Neufchâtel or cream cheese in a food processor bowl or large mixing bowl and process or beat until smooth. Add the sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt, melted chocolate and sour cream and process or mix until well blended and no streaks of white are showing.

Pour the mixture into the crumb crust and shake the pan gently to distribute it evenly.

Place the pan on a cookie sheet to catch possible drips. Bake for about 1 hour, or until the top begins to brown. Check it after 50 minutes to make sure it hasn't begun to burn. The center may seem a little wobbly, but it will firm up as it cools. Remove the cake from the oven and cool on a rack.

When the cake reaches room temperature, cover the top of the pan with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold.

To serve, run a knife around the inside of the pan, loosening the cheesecake. Remove the sides from the pan, and slip the knife under the bottom of the cheesecake to loosen it. With the help of 2 metal spatulas, you should be able to transfer the whole cheesecake onto a serving plate. If it sticks, serve the cheesecake with the base in place. This cheesecake tastes best cold.

Photo by Nancy Mills

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