On Trial: ToH Best Desserts Ever – Layered Mocha Cheesecake

A few years ago, I was given a subscription to Taste of Home Magazine as a Christmas gift. I had never heard of it before. At the time, the subscriptions I had were from Bon Appetit, Gourmet and Chocolatier, so you could imagine what I thought of this little country bumpkin magazine with recipes by amateur chefs. However, as most of my cooking repertoire was baking, I thought I should give it a whirl so I could at least try to find some dinner recipes. As I cooked through the magazines, I found as many misses as hits, but it eventually won me over.

Just the other day I had a brief discussion about this magazine with Citizen Chef, who apologetically remarked that Taste of Home is a bit “low brow” as far as cooking is concerned. At first I took great offense. Then I remembered he is a huge Rachel Ray fan, and the best recipe I’ve had of hers is a chicken breast plopped into a pot with a quarter cup of store bought hot sauce, slapped in between two buns with some blue cheese salad dressing and a slice of lettuce, and I started to feel a lot better. In fact, I am laughing as I write this, knowing that Citizen Chef will read this paragraph and know of my ultimate victory based on the paragraph above. As a consolation prize, I offer this ridiculous photo of Rachel Ray:

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You’re welcome. Don’t say I never did anything for you.

In the last year, the Taste of Home editorial staff has changed, and the magazine has taken on a new format. Rather than miscellaneous pages with random recipes everywhere, the magazine is organized and focused, with themes a reader can actually follow. It appeared to me that they were stepping up their game to target the slightly more food savvy “Food Network” fanbase. It was a commendable change.

But then, a couple of weeks ago, I received this:

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Best Ever?

To say that I love baking wouldn’t be strong enough. I have purchased expensive books just for that one must have delicious dessert recipe that I could not live without, spent a great deal of money on pricey ingredients and spent long, long hours on a single dessert. Twenty-four hours on a cake? No problem.

If you claim best ever desserts, you’d better be prepared to rock my socks off. The cover looked great, but after flipping through the recipes I had serious doubts.

This month we’re putting Taste of Home’s “Best Ever Desserts” on trial, starting with the cover recipe: Layered Mocha Cheesecake.

Let’s take a look at the ingredients. You can get a pretty good idea of what it’s going to be like based on the list.

Crust
1 1/2 cups cream-filled chocolate sandwich cookie crumbs
1/4 cup butter, melted

They lost me on the first ingredient. This is supposed to be a decadent, best ever mocha cheesecake and the crust is crushed Oreos? This is a red flag if I’ve ever seen one.

But I had to keep going in case they proved me wrong. After tossing a bunch of Oreos into my food processor, I mixed them up with the melted butter and pressed them into the bottom of a springform pan. It does not get pre-baked as most other crusts do. Just set it aside and make the rest of the recipe.

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Sure, it looks delicious, but don’t be fooled. It tastes like nothing more than oreos and butter. I know what you’re saying: “Oreos are delicious!” And they are. While we may love the delicious taste of Oreos, they have no business being in a “best ever” anything, much less something that supposedly tastes like a mocha. They get dipped into a glass of milk and then go in my mouth, and that’s it.

Moving on. The filling is simple, and that’s fine. I’m okay with simple as long as the result is delicious. In this case, the author of the recipe has you make one basic cheesecake filling, then divide it evenly into two bowls. From there you alter each bowl to create your layers.

Filling:
2 Tbsp. plus 1 1/2 tsp. instant coffee granules
1 Tbsp. water
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 all purpose flour
4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups (12 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled

Once again, they lost me at the first ingredient and I’ll explain why using a mathematical formula:

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I don’t care how expensive that espresso powder was, but it does not translate into a delicious mocha. No. Stop arguing with me. It doesn’t turn into something you would want to top with whipped cream and inhale. In fact, I can assure you that it tastes as far from a mocha as anything could taste. So if this is true and it does not taste like a delicious mocha, what makes anyone think that putting it into your recipe is going to turn it into a decadent mocha cheesecake?

It isn’t.

Ingredients 4 – 8 get dumped into a bowl and mixed up until it is creamy. Simple enough.

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Separate it into two evenly distributed batches. Bowl #1 gets some melted chocolate. This goes fine with the Oreo crust. Then there’s Bowl #2 that receives a funky concoction of the boiling water, cinnamon, and espresso powder – something I would never have imagined in a million years would go with an Oreo crust.

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Bowl #1 is poured on top of the crust, followed by bowl #2. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 – 50 minutes and refrigerate overnight.

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The verdict: Not even close to being a Best Ever Dessert.

The whole thing was a mess, and the texture was more like a thick mousse than a cheesecake. The “mocha” was only in the top layer and, aside from the problem of it not tasting anything like a mocha, the concoction did NOT go with the Oreo crust. It tasted more like a curious chocolate dessert than a mocha anything, and most people who tried it failed to even recognize it as a cheesecake. Eating this is akin to the disappointment you receive when someone says “Britney Spears” and you’re hoping for the “Baby One More Time” girl, but you’re instead getting the pimply, post K-Fed, shaved head girl in need of some panties. I am ashamed to say it, but there are better cheesecake recipes in the (older publications are better) Better Homes and Gardens red-and-white checked cookbook.

Next week we’ll put ToH’s “Toasted Pecan Cake” on trial so stay tuned!

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