I really struggled with choosing my final Crush Cake for The Toast. I’ve loved writing this series so much, channeling my flailing and swooning into cakes and the cakes into words. After overthinking it for a while, I decided to simply follow the strenuous pleas of my dear friend Charlotte, who sent me a barrage of texts featuring just one name, in all caps: SPENCER HASTINGS.
Have you ever seen Pretty Little Liars? It is a modern noir soap opera; an overwrought tale of deception and betrayal; like The Wire but with four teenage girls and set in affluent, largely white Pennsylvania. For a while it was honestly rather like The L Word: The Teenage Years, and has of late gone downhill — but it remains deeply compelling nevertheless.
Deeply compelling is also the only way to describe the character of Spencer Hastings, played by Troian Bellisario. When we first meet her she is only 16, but she ages up with the show, and in the last season we jump forward five years and all the characters are 23, which allowed me to breathe a sigh of crush-appropriate relief. (Bellisario herself was born in 1985, which also made me feel a bit more chill about it, since it’s what she brings to the character that makes Spencer so wonderful.)
Spencer Hastings is an overachieving, grade-me-look-at-me-evaluate-and-rank-me, coffee-drinking, underslept Slytherin queen who will casually wear a cloche hat to high school and dispense advice such as “Why enjoy today when you can worry about tomorrow?” She is nothing short of an inspiration. What kind of cake do you make for someone who has survived numerous threats to her life, including: being on a deadly train; a horse kick attack; a murderous brother-in-law; a big fire; and an evil steam room? What do you bake for someone whose chin dimple and shiny, shiny hair and slightly husky voice make you melt into a small puddle? Something bloody fancy, that’s what.
And that’s how I ended up with this Espresso Martini Cheesecake. Crushed-up Oreos make up the base, followed by a cheesecake tinted with coffee liqueur and espresso, and finally a dark dark glaze that’s actually made of white chocolate — deceptive and rich, just like Spencer’s family. (Plus, Spencer’s constant necking of coffee is a running lighthearted thread on the show.) This cake is surprisingly easy to make if you have a food processor — I’ve never made a baked cheesecake before, and I basically made this one up on the spot and it worked perfectly, so I have high hopes for all of you.
Espresso Martini Cheesecake with Oreos and White Chocolate Mocha Glaze
1 1/2 packets of Oreos (about 16 Oreos in total)
500g cream cheese (this is two standard packets/tubs, usually)
one heaped tablespoon instant espresso powder
¾ cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons (or more!) kahlua or similar coffee liqueur
200g white chocolate, broken into pieces
1/2 cup cream
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
Set your oven to 150C/300F. Line the base of a 21cm springform tin with baking paper.
Tip all the Oreos into a food processor and whizz a few times to break them up. Then add the butter and blitz thoroughly until they resemble soft, damp crumbs. Transfer this to the cake tin and press down evenly with the back of a spoon to form the base of your cheesecake. Refrigerate while you get on with the filling.
In the same food processor bowl — just give it a quick wipe, it should be fairly clean — process together the cream cheese, sugar, eggs, and coffee liqueur till a smooth, airy liquid forms.
Dissolve the coffee granules into a little boiling water — a tablespoon or so — and pour this into the food processor. Blend until well incorporated. Spatula all of this over the Oreo base and smooth out the top.
Bake for one hour until the top is quite firm, with a little wobble to it. Remove from the oven.
For the glaze, simply melt the cream, broken-up white chocolate, and espresso powder together in a saucepan over low heat until a rich, dark, creamy liquid has formed. Pour this over the cheesecake and refrigerate for at least an hour. When you’re ready to serve it, run a knife around the edge of the cheesecake to loosen it, then unclip the springform tin and transfer it onto a serving plate.
The bitter taste of coffee paired with the tart, almost savory cream cheese and sweetness of the white chocolate is a spectacular combination, and despite being very intensely rich this cake is also nicely balanced without making you feel like your teeth are about to dissolve.
It’s also ideal to tuck into while watching one of my favorite episodes of all time, “Shadow Play,” the season four nod to classic noir film, in which Spencer has an insomniac-fueled black-and-white fever dream full of clues and twists and incredible 1930s costumes. Spencer Hastings, wherever you are, at the mercy of the show’s writers and your own incredibly high standards: this cheesecake is for you.
The night I made this cake, my aforementioned friend Charlotte came over to my house and we ate some together while sharing our sorrow and horror over the tragedy in Orlando. Friends are a comfort and cake can help bring them together. Thanks to all of you who supported my incessant crushing and cake-making at The Toast! You can always find more of my work at Hungry and Frozen.