This was one of the two cakes made for my husband's birthday last week.
My husband loves fresh cherries, and I had a bag of frozen cherries, so I thought I should incorporate them into something. At first I was going to mix them into cake batter...but then I thought...cheesecake!
I didn't have a specific recipe - I kind of winged it with what I had in the fridge and the freezer and the pantry. I had some cream cheese...I had an 8 oz container of mascarpone (that I hadn't needed when I made the Chocolate Tiramisu for one of my Valentine's Day posts...and frozen cherries...and chocolate chips.
Now, personally, I'm a plain cheesecake kind of person. I like some other flavors or toppings now and then, but if I could only have one kind ever? Plain, NY style cheesecake is what I'd want. But it wasn't my birthday.
So here's what I did.
First, I made a crust for the cheesecake. Actually, not a crust. I didn't have (oddly enough) ANY cookies or biscotti or anything like that to pulverize and mix with melted butter to make a typical cheesecake crust. So then I thought - I just won't make a crust at all. And then I thought that might not be socially acceptable, so I thought...hey, I've got sliced almonds...and sugar...and melted butter...that would taste good.
So I took about a cup and a half of sliced almonds and toasted them in a pan until they started to turn golden, and then let them cool a bit.
I melted about 2 tablespoons of butter.
I put the cooled almonds in my food processor, added about 2 tablespoons of sugar,
and pulsed to combine them and grind up the almonds a bit.
Then I poured all that into a bowl
and combined with the melted butter.
I used an 8 inch springform pan, and I wrapped a couple of sheets of foil around it (underneath and up the sides) so that water wouldn't get in later. (Cheesecakes are often baked in water baths.)
I poured the almond mixture into the cheesecake pan,
spread it around so it covered the pan evenly, and patted it all into place. Then I put the pan in the fridge while I made the batter.
When I decided to make cheesecake, I took out all the possible cheesecake components so they could start to come to room temperature. (Those that were in the fridge, that is.) Here's what I ended up using:
12 oz neufchatel cream cheese
8 oz mascarpone
2 6-oz containers of yogurt (one was blueberry, one was strawberry - both were Stoneyfield Farm, lowfat). (Why yogurt? Because I didn't have any more cream cheese or mascarpone, didn't have sour cream, and knew this cheesecake would need a bit more of something in the dairy dept. Why blueberry and strawberry? Because that's all that was left in the fridge.)
1/2 cup sugar
zest of one lemon
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
12 oz frozen cherries (thawed)
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
I also got a large cake pan (larger in diameter than the springform pan I had prepped for the cheesecake) and set that aside. I also set the oven to 350 degrees F.
First thing to do, if for some reason (like, oh, not planning ahead) your cream cheese and mascarpone aren't softened yet, is to put them in your mixing bowl and beat them until they are smooth and soft and creamy. If you don't, you'll have lumps of cream cheese or mascarpone in the cheesecake. It doesn't ruin it, but it's not necessarily desirable.
Once you've got those two softened, add the yogurt...
and then the sugar...and the eggs
and the vanilla.
When the batter is nice and smooth,
stir in the cherries and lemon zest
and the chocolate chips
and combine well.
Pour the batter into your chilled springform pan and set that in the center of the larger cake pan.
Pour about an inch of water into the pan and place in the center of your oven.
Shut the oven door, set the timer for an hour, and go find something to occupy your time.
After an hour, go ahead and look at it. It's not ready yet, which you can see if you jiggle the pan ever so gently. There's still a lot of motion in there, right? Not done. So shut the oven door and check it again in about 30 minutes. It's probably getting closer, but it's still not there, I bet.
Since you're using a rather gentle cooking method (the water bath), it's not going to suddenly be overcooked in another five minutes, so go ahead and let it cook another fifteen minutes or so. Keep checking until the center barely moves (or doesn't at all), and then carefully take it out of the oven. If you bring the whole thing - cake pan with VERY HOT water and springform pan - work slowly and carefully and set the whole thing down somewhere flat as soon as you can, just to avoid spilling any hot water on yourself.
Next, remove the springform pan from the water and set on a rack to cool.
Remove the foil, too, by the way. You should probably put a towel or paper towels under the rack - there will be drippage.
It's going to take a LOOOOOOOOOOONG time for the cheesecake to cool. In fact, unless you're up early in the morning making this, don't plan on eating it until tomorrow. After it comes to room temp, then you need to refrigerate it for a good long time - 6 hours or so, or overnight. Yes, it was silly of me to make this ON Bill's birthday as a birthday cake...but I wasn't really thinking that far ahead when I started in. I just thought - CHEESECAKE! - and I was off and baking. Fortunately we had that other cake to eat on Bill's actual birthday.
Anyway. You've let the cheesecake cool to room temperature and you've refrigerated it for at least several hours or overnight.
When it's time to serve, the first thing you'll need to do is run a knife around the cake to separate it completely from the sides of the springform pan. Then pop the hinge on the pan
and lift it off.
The easiest way (well one of them) to slice the cake is to run your knife under hot water before you make each cut.
Wipe the knife clean in between cuts as well. This way the cake won't stick to the knife and pull against the rest of the cake.
Not that it will taste any different.
Now some feedback...
Bill liked it a lot, and since I'd made it for him, that's really all that mattered.
Alex bravely tried a bite, but he didn't like it. It's a texture thing.
Julia liked it.
My sister, her family, and some of her husband's friends who tried it also liked it.
My parents liked it.
Overall, I was surprised and happy with how well it turned out. The "crust that's not a true crust" was fine, but it's a different texture from a traditional crust, so there's a bit of mental adjustment needed. (Or not. I think I'm the only one who had any mental adjusting to do. Figures.) The texture of the cheesecake was creamy and light, and the cherries added a nice burst of juicy fruitiness throughout.
I'm not sure if I'd put the chocolate chips in again. I guess I just don't like hard bits of things in my cheesecake, but that's just me. I used mini chips, which I think was a better move than using the standard size, but maybe if I did this again, I'd make the following changes - I'd make a cookie crust, and then melt a layer of chocolate over the crust, chill that til it's hard, and then pour the cheesecake batter over the top and bake it. Or...I'd serve it with a drizzle of chocolate ganache. A healthy drizzle.
Or maybe I'll make something without cherries...maybe steep toasted hazelnuts in some cream for a while and add that to the batter...with a ribbon of ganache running through it and more chopped, toasted hazelnuts on top...or in the crust...or both...and some whipped cream.
Or maybe I'll just satisfy my purist heart and make a plain one.
To borrow from Sondheim, "so many...possibilities."