Ah...cheesecake. It seems so 80's doesn't it? It's a crowd pleaser that's for sure. If you want to make everyone in the room swoon, cheesecake is what's for dessert. I have heard of people who don't like cheesecake, but I think they are just a little "delicate". And I have no patience for delicate eaters. Okay, I know I'm being harsh but I tend to be that way about dessert.
When I found out that April's Daring Bakers challenge was going to be Cheesecake, I smiled. I have a past with cheesecake. In fact aside from a single cookie recipe I made over and over again as a child, I think cheesecake was my first "specialty". Perhaps the first whispers of a passion to come. It was actually a specialty I shared with my husband. I think Cheesecake is what solidified the beginnings of our now 19 year relationship. You see, DG and I are what popular culture refers to as High School Sweethearts. While I cringe at that term, it is the truth. I credit the cheesecake. In our youth, we would often spend a Saturday afternoon together, shopping, preparing, baking and eating cheesecake. It might have seemed a little geeky or like code for "other things", but no one complained when they had cheesecake for dessert. Since those early years I haven't eaten a lot of cheesecake. I guess I fell in love with other, more refined, desserts or was constantly looking to new things. And perhaps because nothing presses my binge button more than that cheesecake in the fridge. But when I do make it I still love it in all its comfort-food glory. Tonight I've enlisted a handful of bellies to make sure I don't polish this one off late at night in front of the open fridge.
In my mind there is only 1 cheesecake worth its weight in "Philadelphia", and that's the New York Cheesecake. And don't tell, but its actually very simple to make, consisting of a basic cream cheese custard bound together, sometimes, by a crust and baked until just set, then chilled. Some people will say it doesn't need a crust, but its rich, creamy and substantial demeanor beg for something to hold it up. Just a quarter inch base of crushed graham crackers or a shortbread cookie base will do. The crust is where you can get creative too. Since most of the time a cookie crust is what's used, the sky's the limit in terms of the type of cookie used. Gingersnaps with pumpkin, oatmeal with apple, coconut with strawberry, chocolate wafer with chocolate...the options are endless.
The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.
Cheesecake is a dessert that can inspire limitless variations. It is fun to take a basic such as cheesecake and make it into your own, but to me the classic is still what I crave the most, perhaps with a little fruit sauce on the side. When I received the challenge, my creative mind started coming up with everything from After Eight to Mango Coconut and Caramelized Apple. But since I'm doing some spring cleaning of my very ambitiously filled freezer, I came across a container of dessert nirvana: sour cherries! Given to me by some good friends who knew the way to my heart is by giving me fresh picked fruits and vegetables. I'd cooked them up and stashed them away for such a dessert. Sour Cherries and cheesecake, seems so 80's, but classics are classics for a reason.
I flavoured my custard with flavours that accentuate sour cherries, like lemon and almond. For the crust I made my own, something many people don't know you can do. A simple butter cookie crust accentuates a custard unlike graham wafers and it cost pennies to make, compared to the cost of a box of crackers. I urge you to try this and you'll see it takes only a minute more to make than a crushed cookie crust.
One last note on cheesecake: It can't be rushed. There's some planning ahead needed. The method is simple, but the cooking and cooling take a few hours. This is torture for those of us who's dessert buttons are pressed hard by cheesecake, but necessary for the perfect texture. Cheesecakes are all too often, even in professional restaurants, overcooked, which lends a very different heavier product. Baking in a water bath prevents overcooking, keep the heat constant and indirect. This is a technique which separates mediocre from exceptional cheesecakes. Another important step is baking until barely set, then leaving in the turned off oven for about 45 minutes before leaving to cool to room temperate and then finally giving it a good chill. All these step ensure no cracks, keep the custard from curdling (death to any custard) and produce a moist creamy texture.
Lemon Tart's Sour Cherry Cheesecake
base recipe here. With the following alterations:
Butter Cookie crust:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg yolk, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup ground almond meal
Heat oven to 350F and have a 9inch springform pan ready. Cream the butter and sugar together until lightened in colour and texture. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla until well combined. Add flour and meal, mix gently. press into a 9inch springform pan and up about 1 inch along the sides. Refrigerate a few minutes if too soft to work with. Bake about 20 minutes until nicely golden. While still hot, brush the crust with egg white. Cool before adding cheescake batter.
To the custard base I added:
Zest of 1 small lemon.
In addition to the lemon juice and vanilla, I added 1 Tbsp amaretto, 1 Tbsp kirsch, 1 Tbsp limoncello and 1/4 tsp almond extract.
I used some premium sour cherries I cooked them with sugar, lemon and cornstarch and stashed them in the freezer. Buying a jar of Griottes in syrup from France, or some frozen sour cherries and cooking them up until thick with a Tbsp of cornstarch would produce a similar topping.