Before making this cheesecake for Christmas Eve (although it would do perfectly well for New Years Eve), I realized that I hadn’t eaten a slice of cheesecake in well over a year. Even more shocking – I hadn’t actually baked a cheesecake since I was back in college.
It’s not that I’m anti-cheesecake per se, but I’m very particular about what I do and don’t like. I dislike overly rich, dense cheesecakes – those cheesecakes that are so packed with fat and flavor that they leave me feeling ill. And I don’t think that cheesecake is the perfect medium for all flavors. I think cream cheese goes well with sour, fruity, or sweet flavors – like lemon, raspberries, or white chocolate. But I don’t like that tang when it’s paired with something earthy or bitter, like pumpkin, dark chocolate, or coffee.
But I do like the cheesecake that I make (or, well, I liked it the two times that I’ve made it). It’s the cheesecake recipe from The Cake Bible – a cheesecake recipe that, if you do a little online research, you find is rather controversial. For some, it’s too watery, for others too light, for others too soft. But I love it. It’s a very light, very moist, very creamy cheesecake – more like a custard than a cake. It gets its tang and texture from cream cheese and sour cream, sweetness from sugar, and a refreshing bite from a little lemon juice.
I served this with a winey, gingery, peppery cherry sauce (I originally wanted to do cranberries but $4 a pint was just too much for me). I didn’t want to sweeten the cherries too much, nor did I want to use a starchy thickener to gel it up, so the sauce is very thin – in the future I might add a little more sugar to help it thicken as it reduces (or make the sauce with sour cherries, which need more sugar anyway). But I still loved it. The bite from the ginger and the pepper is tamed by the creamy and tangy cheesecake – and dark red sauce and bright white cake is a festive color for the holiday table. Serve with a glass of champagne and you have a great way to ring in the new year.
What kind of cheesecake do you like – are you a fan of the dense stuff, or do you like a lighter cake?
Black Pepper Ginger Cherry Cheesecake
Makes 1 8 ½ inch cheesecake.
For the crust
5 oz graham crackers
3 tbs (1.25 oz) dark brown sugar
1 pinch salt
2 oz butter, melted
For the cheesecake
16 oz cream cheese, soft
1 cup (7 oz) sugar
1 tbs cornstarch, sifted
3 large eggs
3 tbs lemon juice
1 ½ tsp vanilla
¼ tsp salt
3 cups sour cream
Black pepper ginger cherry sauce (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter the sides and bottom a 8 ½ inch springform pan. Line bottom with a piece of parchment paper and butter as well. Wrap the bottom of the pan in foil.
Place the graham crackers in a food processor and pulse until they are ground into fine crumbs. Add the brown sugar, salt, and melted butter and pulse until combined and all the crumbs are moistened. Pat the crumb mixture evenly and firmly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the crumbs are golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool completely.
Beat cream cheese and sugar together until very soft and smooth. Beat in cornstarch. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until each egg is incorporated – scrape down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Beat in lemon juice, vanilla, and salt until combined. Beat in sour cream until evenly combined.
Pour cheesecake batter into the pan – smooth top with a small offset spatula. Place pan into a larger baking dish. Place into oven and fill baking dish with ½ inch hot water. Carefully slide the rack into the oven and close oven door. Bake for 45 minutes. Let cool to room temperature for at least one hour before covering lightly with plastic wrap and placing in the refrigerator. Chill cheesecake at least 6 hours before unmolding.
To unmold, gently run a small offset around the sides of the pan before removing the outer ring. To remove bottom piece, carefully turn cake onto a plate wrapped in plastic wrap. Remove bottom and parchment paper before carefully re-inverting onto a serving platter. Serve chilled, with black pepper ginger cherry sauce.
Black Pepper Ginger Cherry Sauce
1 ¼ cup red wine
¼ cup sugar
1 lb bing cherries, pitted and halved
½ tsp grated ginger
black ground pepper (to taste)
Heat wine and sugar in a medium saucepan until sugar dissolves. Add cherries and ginger and bring to a boil – boil for one minute. Remove cherries to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Reduce remaining sauce until thickened and slightly syrupy (sauce will be thin). Add pepper to taste. Let cool to room temperature. Strain sauce and pour over cherries.