Sunday, November 09, 2008

I'm in a cheesecake state of mind...

It all started at the end of last month with my beloved friend June's birthday. Hers is just two days after mine, and we both suffered through childhood, too often celebrated with Halloween-themed cakes. Don't get me wrong--I LOVE Halloween! But one wishes a proper birthday cake, and one NEVER wishes BLACK icing! (Shudder.) In fact, I don't want frosting at all. I don't even need cake. Sometime in my adult years--perhaps by my late twenties--I made it known that I would prefer cheesecake for my special birthday dessert.

Ah, cheesecake. I can't even bring myself to wax rhapsodic about it. My love is too profound. As Claudio says in my favorite Shakespearean comedy, Much Ado About Nothing: "Silence is the perfectest herald of joy; I were but little happy if I could say how much." For June's birthday cheesecake, I had a recipe that I saved for nearly a year to make for her! It came from--get this--AOL's horoscope page. HA! This was said to be the perfect dessert for Scorpios. I don't know about that, as I'm a Scorpio, too, and I'm more of a vanilla girl than chocolate. But for June, this dessert was ideal.

Dark Chocolate Cheesecake with Morello Cherry Demi-Glaze. Isn't the name hypnotic? The recipe, though, seemed strangely flawed. To begin with, the crust only calls for 1/4 cup of crumbs. That would barely cover one part of the bottom of the pan! Also, the filling calls for 3/4 pound cream cheese, but that's only one and a half packages. I've never seen a cheesecake recipe that calls for fewer than three or even four 8-oz. packages. Plus, I was going to be making this in a nine-inch spring form pan, not eight, so I was sure that I would lack filling. Therefore, I made a few changes, as is my way, but it turned out really well--incredibly dense and chocolately, not too sweet, with the sour cherry topping as the perfect tangy complement. I'm afraid that I gave the leftovers to the birthday girl, so I only had part of my piece to photograph. But doesn't it look DELISH? And, I assure you, it was. Oh yes, it was.

Dark Chocolate Cheesecake with Morello Cherry Demi-Glaze
(Source: adapted from
Sabra Ricci)

Crust:
1 1/4 cups Oreo cookie crumbs (18, give or take)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium mixing bowl, combine crumbs, butter and salt. Stir until combined. Spoon the crumb mixture into an 9-inch spring-form pan. Using fingertips, press evenly onto the pan bottom and an inch up the sides. Bake 10-12 minutes until the crust hardens slightly. Set aside to cool.

Reduce oven temperature to 300ºF. Place a pan filled with hot water on the bottom oven rack.

Filling:
8 ounces dark chocolate pieces
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup brewed espresso or strong coffee
1 pound (2 8-oz. packages) cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a heavy-bottomed pot (or in the microwave at 30-second intervals), melt chocolate with coffee over low heat, stirring often, until chocolate is completely melted. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add sugar and salt. Beat on medium speed one minute. Scrape down the sides and add the eggs one at a time, beating on medium for 30 seconds and scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Add the vanilla. Add the melted chocolate mixture to the bowl, scrape down the sides once more and beat on medium speed one minute.

Pour the batter into the prepared crust. Bake 60 to 65 minutes or until the internal temperature is 170ºF. Turn off the oven; let cake stand in oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, cool 20 minutes on a wire rack.

Cherry Glaze:
1 pound Morello cherries (I used one 24-oz. jar of Trader Joe's morellos, drained, with juice reserved)
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 3 tablespoons reserved cherry juice
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

In heavy saucepan, combine the cherries and sugar and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the liquid is slightly reduced, approximately 20 minutes.

Add the cornstarch slurry and simmer until thickened and glossy, about three minutes. Stir in the almond extract and remove from heat. Let cool.

Refrigerate cheesecake overnight. Cut into 12 slices, topping each slice with one tablespoon cherry sauce just before serving.


So that was June's cheesecake. But what about one for ME? The second in my brief cheesecake series began with some weird crackers that I bought but did not like. At the co-op in town, I had purchased a box of something called Walker's Fine Oatcakes--you know, Walker's, the Scottish shortbread company? Well, these looked a little like Wheatolo digestive biscuits, which I love, but these oatcakes were NOT lovable. They had the texture and, it must be said, a similar flavor to cheap pressboard. But they were expensive, and I am too frugal to throw away food before first trying to come up with a palatable use for it. I decided that, mixed with some nuts, butter, and sugar, the oatcakes might make an interesting base for a cheesecake. But what kind of cheesecake? I remembered something I recently saw on a lovely blog called La Tartine Gourmande, a recipe for a tarte au fromage blanc with lemon and poppyseeds. Brilliant!

I took some liberties with the recipe, of course. As usual, I needed to increase the filling for my nine-inch pan. And I eschewed a pastry crust in favor of my experimental oat nut base. By the bye, the oatcakes are wheat-free, so this would be a great swap out for those on gluten-free diets, and if you subbed Splenda for the sugar, it would be low-carb, too, as the oatcakes are also sugar-free (which helps to explain their appalling lack of flavor on their own). Next, I decided to use some farmer's cheese which, to my surprise, I found at the Price Chopper in little old Plattsburgh. I wanted to use the farmer's cheese because it's quite similar to French fromage blanc and would give the cheesecake a more authentic texture and flavor, not unlike a fine ricotta. But as I had no access to sheep's milk yogurt, I just went with vanilla Yoplait. The sheep's milk yogurt would, I'm sure, give it a delicious tang if you can find some. As a bonus, both the farmer's cheese and the yogurt I used were low-fat, and I reduced the amount of mascarpone in the original recipe. So I think this cheesecake is a little healthier than one made with all cream cheese. Finally, I was almost done with the filling and ready to bake the cheesecake when I realized that I was out of poppyseeds. UGH! So I added extra lemon zest and even a bit of lemon oil and let it just be a very lemony cheesecake. And honestly, it was perfection! The poppyseeds would be lovely if you have them, but they are not absolutely necessary. In any case, this one is a must-try!

French-Style Lemon Yogurt Cheesecake
(Source: adapted from
La Tartine Gourmande)

Crust:
3/4 cup oatcakes* (5 small), crushed
3/4 cup pecans, finely chopped (or nut of your choice)
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon sugar
pinch of salt

Filling:
3 eggs, separated
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 pound farmer's cheese
1/2 cup mascarpone
1 cup vanilla yogurt
6 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
zest of 2 lemons
few drops of lemon oil

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Combine the oatcake crumbs, chopped pecans, melted butter, sugar and salt, and press into the bottom and an inch up the sides of an eight-inch spring form pan. Bake for about ten minutes or until just starting to turn a pale brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack until the filling is prepared.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and whip them to firm peaks with a pinch of salt. Add one teaspoon sugar almost at the end, to make them firmer. In the bowl of a food processor, mix the farmer's cheese, mascarpone, yogurt, egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest and lemon oil. Blend until as smooth as you can get it. Empty mixture into a bowl and gently fold in the egg whites.

Pour this batter on top of the oat nut crust and level the top. Bake for about one hour. Check regularly. When the filling is set and the cheesecake has browned around the edges, turn the oven off, and crack the door with a wooden spoon. Let cool completely in the oven, then chill for several hours in the fridge. Dust the top with powdered sugar (which will help camouflage cracks). Serve each slice of cheesecake with a generous dollop of sour cream or, preferably, creme fraiche.


*Graham crackers or Wheatolo biscuits would work fine here, I'm sure. But then you may want to reduce, or even omit, the sugar. Taste the crumb mixture, then decide.

1 comment:

Joanna said...

wow your cheesecakes look amazing. they could put cheesecake factory to shame... and that's a tough thing to do!

the chocolate cherry one looks to die for!