Eggnog Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust

I know, I’m getting way ahead of myself. I should be making pumpkin pies and complaining about the crust not turning out as flaky as I’d like it to, stuffing the bird, and pondering ways to upgrade the forever boring green bean casserole. And I am or will be doing that – with the exception of pumpkin pie, which nobody at our house is too fond of. I know, that’s so un-American… and rather surprising, too, because I literally adore everything pumpkin, soups, muffins, cakes, all but the actual pumpkin pie. I find it too wet and overly sweet, honestly a waste of the great pumpkin, which could be used in hundreds of other delicious ways. And since I’m in a confession mode – even our Thanksgiving will be very low-key. Yes, there will be cooking, because, well, with three constantly hungry men in the house there really isn’t a way to get out of that, but cooking aside, Thanksgiving to us is just another Thursday – with more food that is. And we sure are grateful for that 🙂

Mr. Photographer found the recipe for this cheesecake somewhere on the internet, and when I saw it, I immediately decided to heck with rules, I’m definitely not going to wait another month to make this beauty. Frankly, it might be a week before Thanksgiving, but when you look around in the stores, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas anyway. And with everything that’s been going on in the world around us lately, a little (or a lot!) of eggnog could go a long way to help us cope. Everyone fights his own way… my superpower is to bring people together with food, so that’s what I plan on continuing to do.

Making homemade eggnog is the easiest task of all… at least eggnog the Slovak way, which doesn’t require cooking. You simply whisk egg yolks with sweetened condensed milk and vanilla, and pour in a good rum. Done. The hardest part is the waiting afterwards, because it’s best to bottle the eggnog and let it sit for two weeks before serving. It thickens, the flavors will have chance to marry, and it’ll be absolutely delicious. Please don’t leave me over the irresponsible practice of consuming raw egg yolks – according to some statistics I found, if I eat three raw egg yolks a day (which I don’t), it would take me more than 27 years before I’d actually run across one with salmonella. I’ve decided the best things are worth the risk, and have been happily sipping on homemade eggnog for years. And in any case, we’ll be pouring the eggnog into the cheesecake filling and baking it, so any potential danger will be eliminated… along with the alcohol content unfortunately 🙂

So keep calm and have some eggnog – first in the cheesecake, of course, but don’t forget to pour yourself some in a glass, too. It might help you stay sane during the upcoming busy holiday season 🙂

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Eggnog Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust

(adapted from http://www.rosebakes.com)

Homemade Eggnog:
  • 2 cans (396 g, 14 oz. each) sweetened condensed milk
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 500 ml (2 cups, 16 oz.) good quality rum
Gingersnap Crust:
  • 340 g (12 oz.) gingersnap cookies (I used gluten-free ones)
  • 6 tablespoons (85 g, 3 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
  • ¼ cup (55 g, scant 2 oz.) granulated white sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Cheesecake Filling:
  • 4 bricks (8 oz., 225 g each) cream cheese, softened
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1¼ cups granulated white sugar
  • 1¼ cups eggnog, see Note
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (I used gluten-free flour mix)
  • 1 teaspoon rum (or rum flavoring)
  • ½ – 1 teaspoon cinnamon (to taste)

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Method:
  1. To make the eggnog, whisk together sweetened condensed milk, the egg yolks, and vanilla. Pour in the rum and combine. (It is best to make the eggnog in advance and let it sit for 2 weeks so that it has time to thicken.)
  2. To make the crust, line a 25 cm (10 inch) springform pan with parchment paper and lightly butter the sides. Crush the cookies in a food processor and transfer them to a bowl. Add in the remaining ingredients and mix until the mixture is sticky and holds together. Press the cookie mixture on the bottom and up the sides of your pan. (I use a glass for this task – the crust looks nicer and “cleaner” this way). Set aside. Preheat the oven to 325 °F (162 °C) and place a pan with water on the bottom rack.
  3. Make the filling: In a large bowl, mix the cream cheese until light and fluffy. One by one, add in the eggs, mixing well after each addition. Pour in the eggnog and mix until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients and combine.
  4. Pour the filling onto the crust in your pan and smooth out the top. Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and then turn the oven off and crack the oven door. Let the cheesecake in the oven for 1 additional hour and then take it out and let it cool completely before chilling for at least 6 hours.
  5. Decorate the cheesecake with whipped cream, ground cinnamon, chocolate shavings or fruit and serve.
Note:

My eggnog was not as thick as I would have liked, so I reduced its amount to 1 cup only, and it worked well. See how thick/thin your filling is and make adjustments as needed.

Try not to overmix the cheese filling – if you do, there will be too many air bubbles in the filling, and the cake puffs up too much when baking and then falls when it cools. The dreaded cracks might also develop on the surface. The water in another pan in the oven as well as gradual cooling of the cheesecake in the oven might help to prevent them, but if you end up with cracks in your cheesecake, don’t lose heart: you can repair it with hot water and an offset spatula, and there are many ways to cover them too – you may mix up some dark chocolate ganache glaze and pour it over the top, or just pile up fresh fruit on the cheesecake. Cracks or no cracks, the cheesecake is going to be delicious!

Cheesecake Bars with Strawberry Glaze

I’m sorry if I won’t be my usual talkative self today. I’m tired. I just endured a teenage boy sleepover, which meant a sleepless night the likes of which I hadn’t experienced since my boys were infants, and boy, can I feel it! I don’t even know when we moved from “Can you have your mom to call my mom to see if you could come over?” to “Dude, do you want to hang out today?” but here we are. Parenting teens is awesome and terrible and everything in between. You don’t have to haul them places anymore; they can stay home by themselves. They can feed themselves, they sleep through the night, and are able to get into the car without help. On the other hand, their vocabulary shrinks to pitiful five phrases: “yes”, “no”, “fine”, “I guess”, and “I’m starving”, their sense of smell gets seriously impaired (why else would they be completely happy in a room that stinks like gym socks and wet dog combined?), and, oh yes, they can get into the car without help. And drive off. Anywhere they want. And you can’t do anything but bite your nails waiting till they finally decide to come back. Because they’re starving, of course.

When you get to this stage, you’ll hear your parents coming out of your mouth a lot. The phrasing, intonation, the whole deal. The first couple times it might surprise you, but you’ll get used to it pretty quickly, and there will be moments when you’ll just be glad to have something memorized that you can use in a time of need. Because you know that otherwise you’d yell out utter something much-much worse. (And just in case you’re wondering, when presented with the “Everybody’s doing it!” challenge, you will counter with that hated jumping-off-the-cliff phrase you’ve promised yourself to never use with your kids.)

Anyway. On Saturday three big-footed, voice-cracking and pizza-loving almost men stormed into my house, and after about an hour I was ready for a vacation somewhere far-far away 🙂 But since that wasn’t feasible, I did the next best thing, and barricaded myself in the kitchen. And this is the result: Sweet and creamy cheesecake bars with bright strawberry glaze. I love this recipe for cheesecake bars – they are extremely easy to make (no need to bake them in water bath, so you don’t need to worry about wrapping the pan in tin foil and obsess about water ruining your cheesecake), they’ve never-ever cracked up on me, are easy to cut into perfect portions (just the right amount of cheesecake without the guilt!), and you can totally make them gluten free if you buy gluten-free cookies for the crust. You can also vary them by the seasons, and pour either chocolate or caramel over the top – do whatever you feel like, and they will be delicious every time. I picked fresh strawberries from the market, added some lemon juice and lemon zest in the batter, and made lip-smackingly good strawberry glaze to pour over the top. A couple teaspoons of gelatin helped the glaze to firm up so I was able to get a nice clean cut for the pictures, but if you don’t care about that, you could just use a store-bought strawberry jam. Either way, to me strawberries say spring, and the combination of a chocolate crust, lemon and vanilla scented white cheesecake and the red strawberry glaze is a definite winner. A perfect little spring dessert!

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 Cheesecake Bars with Strawberry Glaze

(cheesecake bars recipe adapted from http://www.bakerella.com)

Crust:
  • 1½ cups ground up cookies (vanilla wafers, chocolate cookies, or graham crackers; I used Mary’s gone crackers GF chocolate cookies)
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons (85 g, 3 oz.) unsalted butter, melted
Cheese Filling:
  • 3 packages (226 g, 8 oz.each) full-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup (200 g, 7 oz.) granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juce
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill Cup-for-cup gluten-free baking mix)
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 225 g (8 oz.) sour cream
Strawberry Glaze:
  • 2 cups fresh strawberries, sliced
  • ¼ cup (50 g, 1.7 oz.) granulated sugar
  • 1/8 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon raspberry liqueur
  •  1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons Knox powdered gelatin
  • ¼ cup water
  • red food coloring (I used freshly pressed beet juice; it’ll give you a nice rich color, and you won’t be able to taste the beets at all)

+ ½ cup powdered sugar mixed with 3 teaspoons milk – for the swirl decoration (optional)

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Method:
  1. To make the crust, combine ground up cookies, melted butter, and brown sugar. Line a 13 x 9 inch (33 x 23 cm) baking pan (or oblong springform pan) with parchment paper, and press the mixture evenly into the pan. Set aside.
  2. To make the cheese filling, mix the cream cheese with sugar, flour, vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest until fluffy. One by one, add in the eggs, mixing well after each addition. Lastly add in the sour cream and mix just until combined. Pour the filling onto the crust and bake at 325 °F (162 °C) for about 30 – 40 minutes until the center jiggles just a bit. (I put another pan with water on the lower rack to have moisture in the oven).
  3. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and let it cool completely. (It may puff up a bit during baking, but it should settle back down as it cools.)
  4. To make the glaze, combine gelatin with water; set aside for about 10 minutes to let the gelatin absorb the water.
  5. Process strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice until smooth. Transfer the berry mixture into a saucepan and bring it to the boil. Cook the mixture until slightly reduced (to about 2 cups). Remove from heat, add in the liqueur and the bloomed gelatin (do not cook, or the gelatin won’t set.) Stir until the gelatin dissolves and then let the glaze cool to lukewarm/room temp, stirring occasionally.
  6. Just before setting, pour the glaze over the cooled cheesecake in the pan. (The cheesecake should have risen edges; do not pour the glaze over them.) Distribute the glaze evenly over the cheesecake and put the cheesecake into the fridge for about 2 hours to let the glaze set. Just before serving cut the cheesecake into bars.
  7. To make the sugar glaze, combine powdered sugar with milk to make a thick mixture. Transfer the sugar glaze into a sandwich bag, snip off the corner and decorate the bars.
  8. Refrigerate the bars, covered, for up to 3 days. I haven’t tried it, but I don’t think freezing them would work well – the gelatin desserts tend to get “wet” when defrosted.

Apple Cheesecake Tart

As I was trying to elbow my way through the masses of people in the supermarket and getting out of the crowded parking lot yesterday, I was pondering that not many people actually seem to be very thankful on Thanksgiving. Everyone just looks… grumpy. Stressed. Maybe it’s just the sheer amount of work involved in making the food that will then be gone in twenty minutes. The mountains of dirty pots and pans that will follow. Or the anticipation of mandatory family visits with more than a few uncomfortable questions from nosy relatives. The day just doesn’t exactly mirror peace and contentment.

And yet I feel this day’s important. Even if we don’t think about these things very often, buried under tons of day to day responsibilities, I found that when you just start thinking about what you’re thankful for, the things just keep flowing. And it’s not just the big, obvious stuff, like good health, family, friends, and roof over our head. It’s also countless small, silly things that make life enjoyable. Such as… Driving. If you’d tell me fifteen years ago I’d love zipping through town in my small (red!) electric car one day, I’d think you’ve lost your mind. But I love everything about it: the road, me time, the music, all of it. GPS. Admittedly, the driving would be much less enjoyable without it. I have absolutely no sense of direction and quite possibly wouldn’t find my way back home. Sleeping in. There is nothing better than to be able to burrow under covers on Saturday morning for some extra zzzz-s. Big kids. Yeah, there would be no sleeping in if the boys would still be little, I’m afraid. Life with teenagers is no picnic, that’s for sure, but on the upside, I don’t have to potty-train anyone anymore, they’re able to cut their own food, and on good days they even put their dirty plate into the dishwasher. Speaking of which… Dishwasher! There would be much less cooking/baking going on in this house without that magical box in which one puts dirty dishes and from which they emerge clean. Wine and Chocolate. An absolute must when trying to survive the teenage years of your kids. If you have teens of your own, you know what I mean. If your kids are still little, you’ll find out what I’m talking about soon enough. Boots. A wonderful pick-me-up during those cold and dreary winter days. I’m still searching for that perfect pair of leather boots in burgundy red. Fireplace. A substitute sun between November and March in the Pacific Northwest! Facebook. I know everybody says social media eat up way too much of our time, yadda, yadda… but to me Facebook is an absolute godsend. It makes me feel connected to my family and friends I’d otherwise get to see only rarely, and be a part of their lives. I could go on and on, but since this is a food blog, I’ll finish with Good Food and the big warm kitchen to make it in.

And this is what I made in my kitchen for our Thanksgiving dessert this year. I admit we’re not big fans of pumpkin pie, and would pick cheesecake over it any day. So that’s exactly what we did. The cheesecake tasted great, and the cinnamon-scented apples made it look very Fall-appropriate. It was also gluten-free, very easy to make, and since it needed to chill overnight, I made it the day before and had the oven free for the bird on the Thanksgiving day.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family and are enjoying your time together. The turmoil and sadness going on around the world is putting all things into perspective for me. I’m blessed with all the cooking, dirty dishes, know-it-all teenagers, and a freezer that broke week before Thanksgiving. Let’s make the best of this day, this weekend, next week, and the next. Because we can.

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Apple Cheesecake Tart

(adapted from Southern Living 9/2014)

Crust:
  • 200 g (7 oz.) gingersnap cookies
  • 1/2 cup walnuts/pecans
  • 55 g (4 tablespoons, ¼ cup) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
Cheesecake Filling:
  • 450 g (16 oz., 2 packages) full-fat cream cheese, room temperature
  • ¾ cup light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • ¼ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
Apple Topping:
  • 1 kg (2 lbs.) Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons apricot jelly mixed with 2 tablespoons water
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Method:
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 °F ( 190 °C).
  2. Make the crust: In a food processor, finely grind the gingersnap cookies and the walnuts. Add in the sugar and butter and combine. Lightly butter 9 inch (22 cm) tart pan with removable bottom. Evenly press the mixture on the bottom and up the sides of the tart pan.
  3. Make the Cheesecake Filling: Mix all the ingredients until well combined.
  4. Pour the filling into the crust and smooth out the top with a spatula. Put the tart on the baking sheet. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes until almost firm, but still a little jiggly in the center. (If the filling browns too quickly, cover it with a sheet of aluminum foil.) Cool the tart on the rack and then refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
  5. When the tart is chilled, prepare the apple topping: In a large skillet, melt the butter. Combine apples with sugar and cinnamon, and cook on medium heat for about 4 minutes, until softened. Don’t overcook, you don’t want the apples to turn mushy. Drain the excess liquid from the apples and let them cool.
  6. Assemble the tart: Arrange the cooled apple slices in a concentric pattern on the top of the chilled cheesecake. Heat the apricot jelly and water mixture in the microwave, strain it, and brush the apple slices with the glaze. Put the cheesecake tart under the broiler for couple of minutes until the apples brown up a little (watch them closely so they won’t burn.) Alternatively, use the torch to brown the apples. Chill the tart until serving.

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Blackberry Cheesecake

Local is the new black: It seems that everybody is talking about shopping where you live, and the need to build the local economy by supporting local merchants today. These days thanks to the Internet we shoppers don’t  need to get off our butt at all –  we can shop anytime day and night, and everything we can think of arrives right to our doorstep. It sure can’t be any easier than that, but I still prefer to shop for groceries at farmers markets and tiny local stores.  I like knowing my grocer by name, and enjoy chatting with him about his plans for the weekend. He knows I’m there every Friday and remembers we have special dietary requirements in the family. Many times he’s able to recommend me new products I wouldn’t notice otherwise, and from time to time slips an extra peach or bag of chips   in my bag just because.  It’s a win-win: I like knowing I’m getting a good deal on a fresh, quality food, and he likes having me as his regular weekly customer.

But for blackberries for this cheesecake I didn’t even need to go to the farmers’ market. I’m blessed to have tons of blackberry bushes in the woods behind my backyard, and take advantage of the abundance they offer me every Summer. It doesn’t get any more local and price – efficient than that! And if I can bribe my teenagers with the promise of a cheesecake and get them to do the prickly picking for me, all the better.

This post is a part of my “Is there a fruit that doesn’t work in a cheesecake?” quest.  I try hard to do my research and find an honest answer to said question, but  so far it looks like I’m going to have to say no, meaning no, there simply isn’t: I haven’t tasted any fruit cheesecake I wouldn’t like, and most cheesecakes with fruit are downright delectable. As I found, blackberries are no exception. I love all the contrasts going on in this dessert: the visual contrast of dark blackberry swirl on a white filling, the contrast of sweet cream cheese and somewhat tart berries, and even contrast in texture, when I find a tiny blackberry seed forgotten in otherwise perfectly smooth filling.

You can’t buy happiness, but you can make this cheesecake, and that’s kind of the same thing: Happiness on a plate, made right in your kitchen, with just the freshest fruit, picked almost out of your window. How easy is that?

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Blackberry Cheesecake

Chocolate Crust:
  •  3 cups chocolate wafers, finely ground (for gluten-free cheesecake, find wafers/cookies that are gluten-free)
  • 4 oz. (114 g, 8 tablespoons, 1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • small egg, beaten
Cheese crème:
  •  3 packages (8 oz., 226 g each) cream cheese
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup sour cream (or vanilla yogurt)
Blackberry swirl:
  •  1 cup blackberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1 tablespoon raspberry balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

+ fresh berries and mint leaves for decoration

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Method:
  1. For the chocolate base, butter a 9-inch (22 cm) round springform pan. Combine ground chocolate wafers, melted butter, and an egg.
  2. Press the chocolate mixture on the bottom and up the sides of the springform pan. Preheat the oven to 350 °F (175°C). Prebake the crust for 15 minutes until firm. Let cool completely.
  3. While the crust is cooling, make the blackberry swirl: Puree the blackberries in a blender. Transfer the blackberry mixture into a pan, add sugar and raspberry balsamic vinegar, and cook until slightly thickened, about 3 – 4 minutes. Let cool.
  4. Preheat the oven to 325 °F (160 °C).
  5. For the cheese filling, mix cream cheese with sugar. Gradually add eggs, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla extract and sour cream and combine.
  6. Pour half of the cream cheese filling into the cooled crust in the pan. With a teaspoon, drop blackberry puree onto batter, using about half of the blackberry mixture. With a toothpick, swirl the two fillings together.
  7. Repeat with the other half of the cream cheese and blackberry mixture.
  8. Place a pan with hot water on the lower rack in the oven. Tap the pan with the cheesecake on the counter lightly to release air bubbles in the filling, put the cheesecake in the oven and bake for about 45 – 50 minutes, until the edges are just firm and the center is still jiggly. Turn the oven off, and let the cheesecake cool in the oven for 1 hour, with the oven door slightly ajar.
  9. After an hour, remove the cheesecake from the oven and let cool completely. Chill for at least 4 – 6 hours before running a knife along the edges and carefully removing the cheesecake from the springform pan.
  10. Decorate with fresh berries and mint leaves and serve.

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Apricot Cheesecake Tart

I have yet to taste a cheesecake I wouldn’t like. The creamy sweet cheese filling simply works no matter what you pair it with. White cheesecake with hint of vanilla is a classic. Chocolate? Everything is better with chocolate, and cheesecake is no exception. How about fruit? Pretty much any fruit is delicious on a bed of fluffy cheese – you can go for strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, apples in the fall or cranberries in winter, and your cheesecake will be a winner every time.

The dessert I’m offering to you today is not your typical cheesecake though. It’s more like its distant relative – first of all, there is only a small amount of cream cheese in the filling compared to cheesecake as we know it, and second, I’ve decided to forgo the graham cracker/cookie crumb base and poured the filling into a flaky tart shell. The additional cream cheese you’d normally see in the filling is actually hiding in the crust, and makes it very rich and tender. (Bonus: this crust is also very easy to roll out, as long as you give it time to properly chill in the fridge.) This cheesecake tart is my last tribute to my beloved apricots this year. Apricots are always the first fruit to announce the coming of the summer season, and also the first one to go. I’ve been wanting to try this recipe for weeks, and when I finally decided  to give it a go this weekend, I had a really hard time finding them. It seemed last week they were everywhere, and now, only couple of days later, they just disappeared from the face of the Earth. It took a lot of driving around and many smiles at guys in produce departments – but as you can see, in the end I brought home what seemed to be the last two pounds of apricots in the Pacific Northwest, and put them to a good use 🙂

This tart is not a high-end dessert by any means; it’s simple and somewhat homey looking, but that doesn’t take away from its appeal at all. I think it’s very cheerful and the orange apricots waggishly poking out of white cheese filling kind of look like eggs sunny side up 🙂 And the taste is superb:  the subtle tartness of the apricots balances out the sweetness of the filling, and the jelly glaze gives it shine and accentuates the fruity apricot flavor. A perfect way to say farewell to apricots in my book. Put your best smile on and run to your nearest greengrocer or farmers market – if you’re lucky, you might still be able to find some apricots, and if you won’t eat them all on your way home as I usually do, I promise this tart is the second best way to use them!

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Apricot Cheesecake Tart

(adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Pie and Pastry Bible)

Cream Cheese Tart Shell:
  • ½ cup (113 g, 4 oz.) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
  • a little over 1 1/3 cups (185 g, 6.5 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour (for gluten-free tart see Note)
  • pinch salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 85 g (3 oz.) cream cheese, chilled and cubed
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream, cold
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
Cream Cheese Filling:
  • 1 egg, separated, + 1 egg white
  • 57 g (2 oz.) cream cheese, softened
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons white sugar (to taste)
  • pinch cinnamon
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup (175 g,  6 oz.) heavy cream

+ 1 egg white, for brushing the tart shell
approx. 1 kg (2 lbs.) fresh apricots, stoned and halved
1 cup apricot preserves, divided
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon Grand Marnier (or other orange liqueur), divided

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Method:
  1. To make the pastry shell, place the flour mixed with salt and baking powder into the bowl of your food processor. Add the cubed cream cheese and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add butter and pulse again until the butter is the size of peas. Lastly, add vinegar and cold cream, and mix just until the dough comes together in a ball. Wrap the dough and chill for at least 30 minutes before proceeding.
  2. Roll the dough between two sheets of parchment paper until it’s a little bigger than your 10 inch (25 cm) tart pan with removable bottom. Chill the rolled out dough for about 15 minutes, so it’s easier to transfer to the pan. Lightly butter the pan and ease the dough into it, pressing it firmly against the sides. Dock the dough with a fork and put the tart pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven to 425 °F (218 °C).
  3. When the oven is preheated, place the tart pan onto a baking sheet, and place a sheet of parchment paper on the surface of the dough. Fill the parchment with dry beans/rice, and prebake the tart shell for about 15 – 20 minutes. Remove the parchment paper with the beans/rice/pie weights, prick the dough again, and bake for 5 – 10 minutes longer, until pale golden brown. (If the edges brown too quickly, cover them with aluminum foil). While still hot, brush the tart shell with an egg white. Let the tart shell cool slightly while you prep the filling and fruit.
  4. To make the cheesecake filling, process the cream cheese, sugar, and spices in the food processor until smooth. Add egg yolks, egg white, cream, and 1 teaspoon of Grand Marnier and pulse to combine. (There still might be pieces of cream cheese in the mixture.) Set the filling aside.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375 °F (190 °C).
  6. In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup of apricot preserves with 1 tablespoon of Grand Marnier until hot. Strain the preserves into a small bowl.
  7. To assemble the tart: Brush about 2 tablespoons of apricot preserves on the bottom of partially cooled tart shell. Pour about half of the filling into the tart. Arrange apricot halves on top of the filling, and carefully pour the rest of the filling around them, taking care not to pour the filling on top of the fruit.
  8. Bake the tart for 30 – 35 minutes, or until the filling is puffy and slightly browned. (Cover the edges with aluminum foil to prevent burning.)
  9. Let the tart cool slightly. Reheat the rest of the apricot jelly and spoon it evenly on the top of the tart, both apricots and filling. Chill the tart for at least 1 hour before unmolding and serving.
Note:

I subbed Bob’s Red Mill Pie Crust flour mix with good results, but I imagine you could use any gluten-free flour mix and the tart will turn out well.

White Chocolate Cranberry Cheesecake

Do you tend to see things in black and white? Are you all-or-nothing kind of a person? I know I am. I come from a family of high achievers, where anything but perfection was frowned upon. It taught me to focus and work hard, but also made it hard for me to just let go and relax. Having high expectations of yourself is fine. However, if those same expectations keep you from trying new things, and essentially keep you from having fun in life, that’s another story. There are so many things I wouldn’t even touch in the past, because, well, if I couldn’t be the best, then what’s the point in trying? So many perfectly good cakes ended up in the trash, just because they weren’t pretty enough! For years now, I’ve been trying to overcome these patterns, and intentionally look for all the (fifty) shades between black and white. I like to refer to myself as a recovering perfectionist/aspiring good-enoughist these days. Good-enoughist is most likely not even a word, and as a linguist it pains me to see it typed, but I’m going to leave it, because it expresses so well the struggle we recovering perfectionists go through 🙂

Cheesecake has always been my stumbling block in baking. I love everything about cheesecake – it’s quick to whip up, can be (even has to be!) made ahead, and most of all, it tastes wonderful – so rich, creamy, and decadent. The thing is, I’ve rarely been able to make it without cracking. I’ve tried countless recipes and many different baking methods, I even consulted pastry chefs, but more often than not, the little stinker still cracks up on me. If not during baking, then while it cools.

I know cranberries in a cheesecake are a little strange this time of year. It’s something to be served around Thanksgiving! But when I stumbled upon this recipe, it was a love at first sight, and there was no way I’d be able to wait seven more months to make it. I was just thankful I still had a bag of cranberries from the last Fall in the freezer 🙂 I really like how the tartness of cranberries balances out the sweet taste of chocolate, but if you want to make the cheesecake a little more season-appropriate, I’m sure raspberries or cherries in place of cranberries would be just as delicious!

So today I proudly present to you my beautifully cracked masterpiece. I had fun with the swirl pattern, and can’t wait to play with it more in the future. The consistency is excellent, and the taste is just right and not too sweet. And the crack? I like to think it adds a little character and says the cake is definitely homemade. Maybe I’ll learn to bake perfect cheesecakes when I grow up. And maybe not. Perfection is overrated anyway. Let’s just play with flavors and textures, create wonderful smells in the kitchen, lick our fingers and have fun doing so!

White chocolate Cranberry Cheesecake

White Chocolate Cranberry Cheesecake

adapted from http://bethcakes.com

Crust:
  • 1½ cups graham cracker crumbs (I used gluten-free version)
  • ½  cups pecans, chopped
  • ½ unsalted butter, melted
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
Filling:
  • 2 packages (8 oz., 226 g each) full-fat cream cheese, room temperature
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • 6 oz. (226 g) vanilla yogurt (or sour cream)
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 2 eggs + 2 extra egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (I used gluten-free flour, and since GF flours tend to be lighter, I used a little more)
Cranberry swirl:
  • 2 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • ½ cup water (+ more for pureeing)

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Method:
  1. To make the crust: Mix all the ingredients in your food processor, and press the mixture into a standard springform pan with removable bottom.
  2. Prebake at 350 °F (175 °C) for about 10 minutes and let cool completely.
  3. For the cranberry swirl layer, cook all the ingredients over a medium heat for about 10 – 15 minutes, until the cranberries burst open and the mixture thickens. Let cool slightly, and then process the mixture in a blender/food processor until smooth (I needed to add a little water). The cranberry puree should be somewhat thick, but still pourable. Set aside.
  4. For the chocolate – cheese layer: Preheat the oven to 350 °F (175 °C). Put small pan with water on the lower rack in the oven. Mix cream cheese with sugar until smooth. Add the yogurt and melted chocolate, combine. One by one add the eggs and the egg yolks. Lastly, add the flour and mix until combined.
  5. Pour the chocolate – cream cheese filling into a cooled crust. Tap the springform pan couple of times on the counter to release the air bubbles. Place the springform pan on a big baking sheet. Swirl the cranberry mixture into the chocolate – cream cheese layer. Bake for about 45 minutes until still a little wobbly. Turn the oven off, open the door slightly, and let the cheesecake sit in the oven for an hour. Remove the cheesecake from the oven, let cool, and refrigerate.

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