Annie and I were on one of our long walks discovering our new home of Toulouse. These walks had become a fixture of our first days in France, a way to break up the stress of trips back and forth between the bank, the post office, and governmental agencies.
We envisioned our time studying abroad as a constant party but the reality upon arriving in Toulouse was different. We needed metro passes and bank accounts, we had to buy phone cards and call the electricity company, several agencies required down payments and deposits. Being in France, none of this was easy. We spent hours waiting in lines, struggling to communicate in a foreign language, and realizing we had no idea what we were doing.
Our walks taught us about Toulouse and helped us get oriented to the city. With no destination in mind, we strolled, turning down any street that looked interesting and finding ourselves lost after awhile. Around the city center our hunger overcame us. A café looked promising and as we got situated at a table, the server explained that they were no longer serving lunch. Disappointed and starving, we were getting up to leave when the server exclaimed, “But mademoiselles, we have the best cheesecake in France!” That was all it took for us to stay.
Soon two slices of cheesecake appeared. The cake was firm and dense, creamy, and just tart enough to balance the sweetness of the salted caramel drizzled on top. At that moment, we knew the initial stress was worth it and we were going to do just fine during our time in Toulouse.
To me, ‘the best cheesecake in France,’ symbolizes a moment of growth, pride, and self-discovery. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be back in Toulouse, and even if I tried, I don’t think I could find the cafe that served the cheesecake. But, I’ll never forget the taste of the cheesecake or the memories and feelings it recalls from my time in Toulouse. Just one bite takes me right back to that cafe table.
Daily life is exhausting in a new country, but it’s never boring. I felt alive by the challenges of getting through each day. I felt fear when terrorism shook our city. I felt a bittersweet sadness when I had to leave the city I had grown to love.
The best kind of travel encourages you to take risks on the unknown, leaving you stronger and more courageous, and leading you to better experiences than those you could have planned. I may prefer the fun aspects of travel but it’s the challenges that change and reward me the most.
SALTED CARAMEL CHEESECAKE
Also known as The Best Cheesecake in France
The cheesecake is easy to make but does need to be made the day before serving and then refrigerated overnight. You can make the caramel the day before and then refrigerate it overnight and warm it gently until it’s thin enough to drizzle over each piece. The caramel can also be made the day you’re serving the cheesecake, but make sure to let it cool to room temperature before drizzling it on each slice.
You could garnish each slice with fresh whipped cream, but I opted to sprinkle some flaky sea salt on each piece before serving.
- [b]For Crust:[/b][br]
- 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
- 1/2 cup (100 grams / 3.5 ounces) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 8 tablespoons (113 grams / 4 ounces) butter, melted[br]
- [br][b]For the Cheesecake:[/b][br]
- 1 pound cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup (200 grams / 7 ounces) granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 3 large eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup creme fraiche
- 2 cups sour cream[br]
- [br][b]For the salted caramel[/b][br]
- 2 cups (400 grams / 14 ounces) granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
- 12 tablespoons (6 ounces / 170 grams) butter, cubed, at room temperature
- 1 cup heavy cream, heated slightly
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Wrap a 9-inch springform pan in a double layer of aluminum foil to make it water tight.
- Whisk together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl. Pour in the melted butter and stir together until moistened. Press the crumbs into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake for 10 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Let cool completely.[br]
- Increase the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.
- Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and sugar until very smooth, about 3 minutes on medium speed. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
- Add in the cornstarch and mix for 20 seconds to combine.
- With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs and yolks, one at a time and mix for 30 seconds after each addition. Stop the mixer between additions to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
- Add the lemon juice, vanilla extract, salt, creme fraiche, and sour cream and beat on low speed just until incorporated.
- Pour the batter into the pre-baked graham cracker crust. To prepare the water bath, place a clean dish towel in the bottom of a roasting pan that is just large enough to hold the springform pan. Place the springform pan on top and carefully pour in enough very hot water to go about 1-inch of the way up on the springform pan. Bake for 50 minutes or until just set on top. Without opening the oven door, let the cake cool for 1 hour. Remove to a rack and let cool to room temperature then refrigerate overnight.
- Add the sugar to a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Pour in the water and shake the pan gently to spread out the mixture and moisten the sugar.
- Over medium heat, let the mixture cook without stirring until the sugar dissolves. If the sugar is cooking unevenly, gently swirl the pan to blend. Continue to cook the sugar until it begins to darken and reaches a deep amber color or just begins to smoke. Be sure to watch carefully because it can burn very quickly.
- Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter. Whisk until completely incorporated and smooth. The caramel will bubble up and sputter so be careful. Stir in the heavy cream and continue to whisk until smooth. Stir in the vanilla extract and salt. The sauce should be smooth but if there are some lumps or hard bits, put the pan back on low heat and stir the caramel until it smooths out.
- Pour into a heat safe container and let cool before tasting.
- To unmold the cheesecake, soak a dish towel in hot water and wrap it around the sides of the springform pan for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side of the pan. Carefully remove the sides of the springform pan. Slice the cheesecake (use a warm knife and wipe it clean after each slice) and drizzle each slice of cheesecake with the salted caramel.