Cheesecake with Stawberries

I’m pleased to announce that, due to popular request and number of registrations, I’ll be hosting a second session of my Cakes & Sweets Lesson with La Scuola de La Cucina Italiana on May 13th from 7 – 10 pm.

Speaking of which, I dreamt about cheesecake last night. It wasn’t a delicious or decadent dream, I didn’t roll nude down a mountain of cakes. Instead, it was an obsessive-compulsive cook’s nightmare, a warning. Tomorrow is one of my lessons and I dreamt that (gasp!), while teaching the class, I (gasp!) burnt the cheesecake!!!

This isn’t all-together out of the realm of reality, cheesecakes can be tricky, you have to keep a close eye on them and variations in oven temperature can greatly effect the outcome. I have made hundreds of cheesecakes, however, and although I’ve burned a few in my time, it hasn’t happened in a while. More importantly though, I ask myself: in a subconscious world where I could be flying, battling wizards, or rolling nude down a mountain of cakes, must I seriously waste my time burning cheesecakes? Really?

Instead of dwelling on my unimaginative subconscious, I took the dream as a sign to freshen up on my cheesecake skills and let you all in on some secrets of the craft.

Three important cheescake tips:

1. It’s very important that all the cream cheese is at room temperature to avoid lumps.

2. Don’t over-whip the filling, it should be smooth and well mixed, but not overworked.

3. Be careful not to over-bake the cheesecake or it ends up with a chalky texture. The cheesecake should come out of the oven before it is completely set, the center should still wiggle slightly. It will continue to cook with residual heat.

That’s it! The assembly is actually really simple, and as long as you pay attention to the three points listed above, you’ll be rewarded with a delightful and irresistible dessert. In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed that my dream will not prove prophetic but will instead remain, simply, a very boring nightmare.

For the crust:

  • 4 tablespoons (60 g) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 1 1/4 cups (100g) graham cracker crumbs, pulverized
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch (23 cm) springform pan. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) and position the rack in the upper third of the oven. Mix together all the crust ingredients with a fork until all the crumbs are moist. Press the crumbs into a flat layer in the bottom and slightly up the sides of the pan. Use the bottom of a glass to help compact and even out the crust. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until golden brown. Set aside to cool while you prepare the batter. Turn up the oven to 500°F (260°C).

For the cheesecake:
(adapted from The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz) I recently tried this recipe for the first time and like it because, besides being very tasty, it uses a bit yogurt instead of the more common sour cream, which is difficult to find in Italy.

  • 2 pounds (900 g) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups (250 g) sugar
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cup (120 g) plain, whole-milk yogurt

Preheat the oven to 500°F (260°C). Cream the cream cheese and sugar together for about 1 minute on low speed with a handheld beater or standing mixer, or by hand. Beat only until the batter shows no signs of lumps. Add the lemon zest and vanilla.

Stir in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides and bottom of bowl after each addition. Add the flour. Mis in the yogurt until completely blended but to not over-beat. Pour the batter over the cooled crust and bake for 10 minutes at 500°F (260°C), then, without opening the oven door, lower the temperature to 200°F (90°C) and continue to bake for 40 minutes, or until it jiggles slightly in a 3-4 inch circle when you gently shake the pan. The cheesecake will continue to set while cooling. Do not over-bake. Transfer pan to a wire rack and run a small, sharp knife around the edge of cake to detach it from the pan. Let cool until room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving.

For the strawberry topping:

  • 1 pound (500 g) fresh strawberries, washed and sliced in quarters vertically
  • 5 ounces (150 g) strawberry jam
  • the juice and grated rind of 1 lemon

Arrange strawberries decoratively over cheesecake. Heat jam and lemon juice and rind in a small pan over low heat until bubbly and thin, and continue to cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Let cool slightly then brush or pour over strawberries on cake, or serve separately.

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