08 August 2010

Classic Cheesecake, with Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote

Andy's birthday was looming, and while he didn't want any fuss, and it had already been established that the guy is pretty happy with anything I cook for him, I was feeling a bad girlfriend for never having made a birthday cake for him, so figured better late than never.

While Andy had long told stories of the 'black forest gateau' his mother would bake for him and all of his five siblings for birthdays, he'd also told me that he didn't like cherries, and seemed surprised to find they were a main theme in his nostalgic dream of a birthday cake. Figuring I shouldn't be competing with a childhood memory anyway, I chose the next best thing -- cheesecake. My fella loves him some cheesecake. Of the thousands of recipes out there, I chose one that was at once over the top (2 1/2 pounds of cream cheese worth) and simple (from Ina Garten).  
I read through the recipe several times after noticing there was no water bath involved, and rather dubiously placed the cheesecake all by itself in the oven. It turned out the dreamiest, creamiest cheese cake ever. The one hitch was, the custard mixture was too much for my 9-inch pan, though a 9-inch pan was called for. I can only imagine Ina has taller springform pans -- mine is 2 1/2 inches deep. I poured the extra custard in a few ramekins and did my best to adjust the cooking for them. 

Ina's original recipe calls for a raspberry sauce, which I'm sure would be nicely tart not to mention beautiful piled atop this perfectly un-cracked cheesecake. I used the last of the seasons strawberries, simmered with a few spoonfuls of rhubarb-strawberry jam procured from ye olde farmers market. The only other major alteration I made was substituting some ginger snap crumbs for part of the graham crackers, which I think gives an extra tang to the crust.  
Classic Cheesecake, with Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote
Adapted from Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa Family Style
Serves 12 (or 2 for one week)

For the crust:
1 cup crumbs from graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup ginger snap crumbs (optional -- if not using, increase graham cracker crumbs to 1 1/2 cups)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:
2 1/2 pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
5 whole extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 extra-large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (1 lemon)
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the topping
1 pint fresh strawberries, or 2 1/2 cups, hulled and sliced in thirds 
2 heaping tbsp strawberry-rhubarb jam, (or strawberry jam)
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

To make the crust, combine the graham cracker and ginger snap crumbs (or just graham cracker crumbs) and melted butter until moistened. Pour into a 9-inch springform pan. With your hands, press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan and about 1-inch up the sides. Bake for 8 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

Raise the oven temperature to 450 degrees F.

To make the filling, cream the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Reduce the speed of the mixer to medium and add the eggs and egg yolks, 1 at a time, mixing well. Scrape down the bowl and beater, as necessary. With the mixer on low, add the sour cream, lemon zest, and vanilla. Mix thoroughly and pour into the cooled crust.

Bake for 15 minutes. Turn the oven temperature down to 225 degrees F and bake for another 1 hour and 15 minutes. Turn the oven off and open the door wide. The cake will not be completely set in the center. Allow the cake to sit in the oven with the door open for 30 minutes. Take the cake out of the oven and allow it to sit at room temperature for another 2 to 3 hours, until completely cooled. Wrap with saran wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Remove the cake from the springform pan by carefully running a hot knife around the outside of the cake. Leave the cake on the bottom of the springform pan for serving.

To make compote:
Combine sliced strawberries and jam in saucepan and warm on low until jam melts.  Add lemon juice and continue cooking on low simmer for 5 - 10 minutes.  Pour into cool bowl and let come to room temperature.  Pour over entire cheesecake or individual slices.  

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