Posting one of my favorite desserts today: Cheesecake!
That irresistible, pure vice dessert that draws me back into the kitchen again and again for marathon baking sessions.
Unfortunately, cheesecake isn't about instant gratification. It can be maddening when you're enduring cravings. Waiting for the ingredients to lose their chill. Then the long baking time and even longer time to cool, chill and set up. The reward for all that waiting: a rich creamy dessert that promises happiness with each bite, while it stealthily fills out your hips.
This cheesecake is an absolute winner. The flavors are amazing and I can honestly say it is one of the best cheesecakes I've ever eaten.
Let me take you on a brief cheesecake tour, starting from the bottom up. We've taken the classic graham cracker crust and added ground pecans, cinnamon and cloves to give it a subtle spicy nuttiness. The creamy cheesecake is fragrant with orange blossom and zest. Then we have our sauce, a sweet and tart reduction of pomegranate, raspberry and honey. Complementing the floral citrus flavor of the cheesecake perfectly.
It was so good that I ate every single slice I cut to stage and photograph. How many was that? Forget it. I will never admit it.
The recipe was inspired by a similar cheesecake in the wonderful (and massive) Bon Appetite Dessert cookbook. One of the few cookbooks I own that doesn't just provide a New York cheesecake recipe and then consider the cheesecake portion of the cookbook complete. It's a great resource for cheesecake lovers looking for something new or inspiring. However, when it came to this particular recipe... I didn't have much confidence in the high temperatures the recipe called for. So rather than test the recipe--and possibly waste ingredients-- I decided to adapt the flavors into one of my own very reliable cheesecakes.
The resulting cake was pure bliss.
Now before I get to the recipe, some of you observant folks will notice that I call for but am not using a spring-form pan. I am indeed baking this cheesecake in an ordinary high sided cake pan. However, this is one of those instances where you should do as I say, not as I do. I'm only using it because the bottom of my 9" spring-form is missing and let me tell you, successfully inverting a cheesecake out of a cake pan isn't easy.
Orange Blossom Cheesecake with Pomegranate Raspberry Honey
Modified from Bon Appetite Desserts
yields one 9" cake
This will yield enough crumbs to make a cheesecake crust that comes up the side of the cake. Because of the pan type I used, I reduced the recipe by a third to produce the bottom-only crust seen above.
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 1/4 whole pecans (you may substitute walnuts), ground
6 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup un-salted butter, melted
4 8-ounce packages full fat cream cheese, at room temperature*
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon orange flower water**
2 tablespoons orange zest***
4 large eggs, at room temperature
4 cups chilled pomegranate juice (I recommend POM Wonderful)
12 ounces fresh or frozen raspberries, puréed and strained to remove seeds
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey*
boiling water for a water bath
*No reduced fat cream cheese here, please. The best way to cut the fat and calories in a cheesecake: Cut a smaller slice.
** Orange flower or blossom water is a common ingredient in Middle Eastern cooking. You can find it at many Asian, Indian, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern grocers. It can also be located at gourmet and well stocked grocery stores. The specific brand I use is available here, online.
***This is roughly the zest of one large navel orange. Look for fresh oranges with pebbly skins, those will produce the best zest.
*I recommend using orange blossom honey if you have it on hand but it isn't a requirement for this recipe
Thoroughly combine the dry ingredients for the crust using a whisk. Then mix in the melted butter with a fork or your fingertips. Press the crust mixture into the bottom and 2-inches up the sides of a 9-inch spring for pan. Bake at 350°F for 20 minutes and then allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
Reduce oven temp to 325°F.
Prepare the custard by beating the cream cheese on medium in your stand mixer with a paddle attachment until smooth and fluffy. (This should take 3 minutes if your cheese is at room temperature. If your cheese is still cold it will be lumpy and difficult). Reduce the mixer's speed to medium low and slowly add the sugar in a steady stream. Add the orange zest and orange blossom water and mix until well combined. Then add the eggs, one at a time, mixing each until just combined. Do not over beat the batter at this point. After you add the eggs, mixing begins to beat air into the batter and this can lead to all sorts of trouble later on.
Pour the batter into your prepared crust. (When baking cheesecakes without crumbs on the sides I like to line the sides with parchment, this prevents the batter from sticking and allows the cake to easily contract when cooling. Thus preventing cracks)
Set the spring-form into two large pieces of foil and smooth them up the sides of the pan. Set the cake into a large roasting pan and place in the oven. Fill the roasting pan with boiling water (about half way up the sides of the cake, but no higher than the lowest edge of the foil) using a kettle or a ladle. Bake the cake for 60-65 minutes until the cake is puffy, set but still slightly wobbly.
Remove the cheesecake from the foil and water bath and set onto a wire rack to cool. Once the cake has cooled to room temperature, you can lightly cover and transfer it to your refrigerator. Allow the cake to chill overnight before serving.
Next, prepare the pomegranate raspberry honey.
In a medium saucepan, bring the pomegranate juice to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Allow the juice to reduce by half (about 35 minutes) and then add the raspberry puree and sugar. Bring the mixture back to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Continue to cook until it has further reduced and thickened (about 20 minutes). Then stir in they honey and transfer to a container and chill
To serve, slice the cheesecake and drizzle with the sauce. Use only a little, as this keeps the sweet/tart sauce in balance with the creamy floral cheesecake.