Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cherry Cheesecake

When I was working in restaurants, one of my specialties was pastry and baking. Yet you may have noticed that I have yet to post a single dessert recipe on this blog. First, I don’t do much baking at home and second, I tend more to follow written recipes rather than create my own, since baking relies far more on exact measurements and proportions. But here is a good one for you. I took the proportions from a recipe in a book but made changes to the flavours and used a couple tricks I learned as a professional. This is a fantastic cheesecake that is just a little bit different.

Cherry Cheesecake

2 1/4 cups chocolate cookie crumbs - I used a local brand of cocoa snaps
½ cup granola, ground to crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup coconut flakes (unsweetened)
2/3 cup melted butter

3x 250g packages Philadelphia cream cheese
2 oz plain goat cheese
½ cup + 2 Tbsp sour cream
2 cups sugar
3 extra large eggs
1 cup cherry pie filling - see recipe below

To Finish
2 cups cherry pie filling or enough to cover
1/4 cup toasted coconut flakes

First prepare the crust. This follows the procedure for a standard graham cracker crust but I have substituted a few ingredients for flavour. Instead of graham crackers or oreo cookies, I used ShaSha brand cocoa snaps made by a Toronto-area bakery. I suppose some other chocolate cookie crumbs might do - even oreo crumbs if you must. But they should be chocolate as this is a very good match with the cherries. Grind the cookies and granola together to form crumbs and combine with the sugar and coconut flakes (keep the coconut flakes whole for texture). Then add the melted butter, adding just enough to hold everything together. Press the mixture into a 12-inch springform pan or tart pan with removable bottom. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes or until the crust has hardened. Let cool.

Be sure that the cream cheese has softened to room temperature. Normally I prefer organic dairy or at least dairy products that are local and without tons of additives. Yet cheesecake is somewhat fickle so you need a cream cheese that is sufficiently firm so as not to make your filling too watery. This is why traditional cheesecake recipes do not work with low-fat cream cheese - they have more water in them. The next time I make this I will probably try an organic cream cheese and see if it works. Whip the cream cheese, goat cheese and sugar together in a stand mixer using the paddle attachment until the mix is smooth. Mix in the sour cream. I learned this trick working in restaurants. One of the restaurants I worked in (in pastry) had an amazing cheesecake recipe and the secret was the addition of sour cream. I have since found many experienced pastry chefs also are using sour cream in their recipes. It really boosts the flavour. Then add the eggs, one at a time. Make sure each egg is fully incorporated into the batter before adding the next one. Now with the oven preheated to 325 degrees, assemble the cheesecake. Pour the batter into the crust, then take the cherry filling and swirl spoonfuls of it into the batter. This will produce a small amount of marbling in your cheesecake. Bake in the centre of your oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the cheesecake has firmed up. Then turn off the oven but leave the cheesecake inside for another hour. This will allow the cake to cool more gradually without cracking. Due to the low oven temperature and a relatively small amount of egg, you don’t need a water bath for this recipe. Leave it to finish cooling at room temperature but do not take it out of the pan until fully cooled. Once cool, refrigerate the cake overnight. When ready to serve, unmold and top the cake with more of the cherry filling, leaving maybe a half-inch on the outside uncovered. Sprinkle flakes of toasted coconut on top and serve.

Cherry Pie Filling

No - I am not saying it’s okay to buy a commercial product here. This is rather easy and quick to make. The only difficulty is that it is hard to make this in small quantities. But then, you would require large amounts of this if you ever want to make cherry pie, and if you freeze the excess you will have filling available.

1 1/4 litres water
1 litre cherry juice
680 g sugar
170 g cornstarch
10 lbs thawed frozen sour cherries (in cherry season, stores often carry 10lb pails of frozen, pitted cherries exactly for this purpose - making pie)

Juice of ½ lemon

If the cherries are packed with sugar you will need to calculate how much sugar is already in the cherries and subtract that from the amount of sugar called for. 10% sugar by weight is typical, therefore a 10lb pail of sweetened cherries would contain 1lb of sugar (454g), meaning you would only add 266g of additional sugar. Cherry juice can be found at health food stores.

Combine half the cherries, one litre of water, the cherry juice and sugar in a large pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes or until the cherries have cooked down and softened. Then add the remaining cherries and the lemon juice and bring back to a boil. Dissolve the cornstarch into the remaining 250 ml of water, then whisk this mixture into the cherries. Let this boil for one minute, whisking constantly, and being mindful that, as the mixture thickens, there is a risk of splatter and that can hurt. After a minute, turn off the heat and let the mixture cool before portioning into containers and refrigerating or freezing. Though this sounds like an insane quantity, this will only fill 4 cherry pies. Of course for the cheesecake you will be using far less, so feel free to make a half recipe.

UPDATE: I recently used some of the frozen cherry filling for a different application, and realized that, before using thawed cherry pie filling, it must first be reheated to boiling, then cooled back down. Otherwise the cornstarch gel will develop an unpleasant texture resulting from the cornstarch coming out of phase. By re-melting and and heating the filling, the cornstarch will reset and recover its former texture.

This cheesecake is perfect for entertaining. While it takes some time to complete all the steps, it is not very difficult to prepare and looks impressive. And the taste is exceptional.

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