A Cake of Cheese and Cherries

July 15, 2012 § 2 Comments

My brain is evidently on my brain. Last time I told you about how my mind was a jumble of mushed up this and that. Today, all I can think, as I stare at this picture of cheesecake, is that the pregnant brain is about 8% smaller than normal, a fact that I learned at childbirth class on Sunday. That, and a generic, mmmmmm… cheesecake. Neither are really the basis for a stimulating blog post, but I hope you’ll be lenient with me, since apparently being a bit brain dead and eating cheese-based snacks are the ideal building blocks for getting this bag of wriggles out of my tummy and into the world at some point.

The cake was inspired by a weekend away – the first of several planned ‘babymoons’ – in Sonoma. The sun was hot and we picnicked, did some mild hiking, took naps and read books. We also went to the girl and the fig for dinner, a gem of a restaurant on the chintzy main square in Sonoma, where we ate beets dotted with the creamiest ricotta, and garlicky mussels with shoestring fries (me), and a juicy strip of steak (him), and then cheesecake. Since these days my stomach resides somewhere high in my ribs, I rarely make it to dessert within a single meal (don’t worry, I make up for it during the day) but this time I had strategically ordered, and it paid off. The cake was creamy and light all at once, atop a base flecked with pistachios, and with roasted cherries staining the otherwise virginal white surface.

I don’t bake cheesecake that often since I tend to find it requires a really large group to do it justice but the Sonoma one played on my mind so much that when I was assigned the dessert contribution to a bbq, I hunted for something that might be comparable. Cheesecakes encompass quite a lot of varieties: dense, intense, New York style, lighter and crumblier Eastern European cakes, some tangy with goat’s cheese, others set rather than baked, and topped with jam. I got my cheesecake hand in originally with a recipe from How to be a Domestic Goddess (surely in the future that book will be studied as a piece of social and cultural history as a turning point in the return of the feminine domestic – ok, maybe I have some brain left) which is a tease of a cake, all lemon and egg, with a layer of sour cream baked on top right at the end for extra tang. But this time I wanted something lighter, more suited to an old fashioned china-plated cafe than an urban deli. And this one, from Tender Vol 2 (or the much better named Ripe in the US), was perfect – not too sweet, delicate, and the perfect match for Bing cherries roasted with a little bit of sugar and sherry.

Here’s the thing – everyone seems to bring some kind of nostalgia to cheesecake, which makes it a guaranteed crowd pleaser. I knew this one had come out well when a Polish lady at the bbq in question demanded to know what cheese I had used, as it was just like the cake her grandma used to make. High praise indeed. My own cheesecake nostalgia is pretty limited, more to the sour cream one above and learning to cook it than to youthful treats. But now that I’ve acquired a taste for it, I’ll remember this cake as something I ate when I was pregnant, over-heated and slow-witted in the summer of 2012. Who knows, maybe in the future, this is the cake my baby boy will ask for on his birthday, or after a scratched knee, or when he’s home from college. I hope so.

Cheesecake with Baked Cherries
Adapted from Tender Vol 2/Ripe by Nigel Slater

Easily serves 8-10

For the filling:
500g/1 lb ricotta
200g/7oz cream cheese or mascarpone
150ml double cream/heavy whipping cream
150g/5ooz sugar
2 lemons
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp cornflour/cornstarch

For the crust:
350g shortbread biscuits or graham crackers
90g butter

For the cherries:
450g/1 pint cherries
1 tbsp sugar
1–2 tbsp sherry or white wine

Lightly butter a 20cm/8inch square cake tin and line the base with baking parchment. Crush the biscuits to crumbs, either using a food processor, or putting them in a plastic bag and tapping (ok, banging) with a rolling pin. Melt the butter, add the crushed biscuits and mix well. Tip the buttered crumbs into the cake tin and pat down lightly (I only used about 2/3rds of my biscuits in the end as the base was starting to look too much – use your judgement here if your one looks the same). Refrigerate for about half an hour, or until the butter sets.

Towards the end of this time, preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Put the ricotta, cream cheese or mascarpone, cream and sugar in a food processor and blend briefly. Add the finely grated zest and juice of the lemons, the vanilla extract, then the eggs and egg yolk. Lastly, blend in the cornflour. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and slide it into the oven (it will be quite full). Bake for 50 minutes to an hour, covering the top with foil if it colouring even slightly. Turn the heat off and leave the cake in the oven to cool. Refrigerate completely – ideally overnight, but at least 4-6 hours.

I bake my cherries while the oven is still on for the cake and then serve them cool, but you could bake them just before serving if you prefer. Either way, halve the cherries and remove the pits. Toss the cherries with the sugar and sherry or wine in a baking dish and bake in a 180C/350F oven for about 20 minutes, until the cherries are softening and their juices have combined with the sugar and wine to caramelize. Either leave to cool and then serve cold or reheated, or spoon over the cake and serve immediately.


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