Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Strawberry Cheesecake

Once upon a time, there was a graduate student. While working on her master's, she became friends with a postdoc who introduced her to a world of food she'd never heard of and some great traditions. One tradition was making monthly birthday cakes for coworkers in the lab. ...You may be thinking, what you've never heard of a birthday cake. Of course, I had had birthday cakes with family and friends but these were different. Sometimes the cakes were sorts quite different from what I'd grown up eating.

This experience started the ball rolling such that when I started working on my Ph.D, I brought the tradition with me. Each month, I've tried to make a cake that is different...unless of course, one I've already made is requested to be repeated. So far in blogging, I haven't been sharing any of the random desserts I've been preparing. Today, I'm going to start by sharing with the cake I made for the February birthdays this year.

Before getting to cake, there's a little tidbit about the birthday cake selection that might be helpful to know. The only ones who have a choice in the cake (other than the baker) are those with a birthday that month. If someone has a food allergy, I try to accomodate. We had 4 February birthdays but none of the people had a specific request for what they wanted. One particularly requested "no chocolate." We have a faction that loves dense chocolatey desserts so I try to alternate between the chocolatey and the fruity or caramelly to satisfy as best as possible. Last month I made something fruity (the entremet) so I was at a loss. What to do? It hit me that strawberries start coming in season in Florida in February and they usually find their way to North Carolina groceries.

Option 1: I have a well recieved cake that I made up last year that can be made with strawberries or peaches and taste great. I had already gotten a request from the March bday for a repeat of this cake since its her  favorite so I couldn't prepare it.

Option 2: What about a strawberry cheesecake? I'd never made one before but figured, why not?

Strawberry Cheesecake with Strawberry Sauce

Strawberry Swirl Cheesecake (modified from Luverene Dove's post on allrecipes.com)

Equipment list:

(Before you start, I would encourage you to make sure you have or borrow the following. If you live in the South in the U.S., I highly encourage borrowing from a neighbor before running to the store to buy equipment you may not use often. This may sound strange but its a great way to get to know your neighbor and most people are willing to help you.)

1 small food processor or a rubber mallet
1 springform pan (per cheesecake)
1 small sauce pot
1 baking pan (should be just a little larger than your cheesecake pan's base)
1 electric mixer (a hand mixer works just fine)
2 large bowls
1 small bowl


Ingredients:

Crust

1 1/4 c. graham cracker crumbs (one sleeve from a box of graham crackers)
1/4 c. sugar (can reduce to 1/8 c. if you want a less sweet crust but this was tasty as written)
1/3 c. unsalted butter, melted

Strawberry Sauce (goes inside and on top, this is my version)

1 16 oz package of frozen strawberries, thawed (with no added sugar)
1/2 c. of sugar
3 Tbsp of cornstarch
1 Tbsp cold water

Cheesecake Batter

3 (8 oz) packages of cream cheese, softened (You want it just soft enough to be beaten with a mixer.)
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 c. lemon juice
3 large eggs


How To:

1. Break the graham crackers coarse with your hands and toss them in the food processor. Grind to the texture of a loose flour. (Somewhat like cornmeal.)
(If you have no access to a food processor, a rubber mallet will do the job of breaking them up but it will be tough to them as fine. The mallet is more therapeudic than the food processor though and cats don't run from someone using a mallet but they do run from the food processor.)

2. Combine the ground graham crackers, sugar, and butter and stir until all three are evenly distributed. Press the mixture into the springform pan on the bottom and at least halfway up the sides of the pan. Chill the mixture in your refridgerator until ready for use. (Tip: Use a measuring cup with relatively straight sides to help you press in the crust.)

Helpful crust hint: Use a measuring cup to press the graham crust.



3. In a food processor, process the thawed strawberries until they are pureed. Pour the pureed strawberries into a small sauce pan and add 1/2 c. sugar. Bring to a simmer.

4. Dissolve the cornstarch in water and add to the berries and boil about 2 minutes or until the mixture starts to thicken. Then remove from heat.

5. Set aside 1/2 c. of the strawberry mixture and allow to cool. Refrigerate remaining sauce for serving.

6. Preheat oven to 300 F.

7. Beat the cream cheese in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy.

8. Gradually beat in milk. Then add lemon juice and mix well.

9. Add eggs and beat on low speed until just incorporated.

10. Pour half of the cheesecake mixture into the springform pan.

11. Drop half of the reserved 1/2 c. strawberry mixture by 1/2 teaspoonfuls onto the cheesecake mixture in the springform pan. Take a butter knife and slide it around through the strawberry blobs to interconnect them. (No one will see this level but it will help you have a feel for what you want to do to the top.)



12. Carefully spoon the remaining cheesecake mixture on top of the sauce and first cheesecake mixture.

13. Drop the remaining reserved 1/4 c. strawberry mixture by 1/2 teaspoonfuls onto the cheesecake mixture. Take a butter knife and slide it around through the upper layer of the strawberry blobs and cheesecake mixture to interconnect the strawberry blobs.



14. Fill your cake pan 1/2 to 3/4 full with water and place on the lower rack of your oven. (If you pan is big enough you can sit your cheesecake pan into it BUT if you do, wrap the pan with aluminum foil to keep water from coming into the cheesecake. I tend to just use the steam from the pan beneath but the slower heating and cooling of the water bath is said to help prevent cracking. You can cool the cheesecake slowly without cooking it in a pan of water though.)

15. Place your springform in the oven on a rack about halfway up the oven. Bake at 300 F for 45-50 minutes (until the center is almost set).

16. Cool slowly in a turned off oven for an hour or on a wire cooling rack for an hour. I think cracking is less by cooling slowly in the oven but this time I did the wire cooling rack and for this recipe, I didn't have cracking. You can let it cool up to overnight.

17. Place the cheesecake in the fridge to chill at least 4 hours.

18. When ready to serve, slide a knife around the side of the pan to separate the crust from the pan.

19. Remove the sides of the springform.


20. Serve cheesecake with reserved sauce. This yields 12-16 slices.






Reaction:

Everyone really liked it. I made 2 since one can't very reasonably serve 22-24 people. One person said they planned to request this one be made again at a later date. We have a couple "I-don't-like-cooked-fruit" people in the lab. They skipped the sauce and were pleased saying it was a very good cheesecake. Those who tried the sauce (everyone but the no-cooked-fruit people), loved it. One faculty member like the sauce so much that when she finished her cake, she refilled her plate with sauce and ate the sauce plain. Then she offered to finish any leftover uneaten sauce. :) A couple days later I went home for my grandparents' anniversary. My sister loved the sauce and we even ate some on biscuits with a little whipped cream. Mmm.

Aside from taste, I was pleased with the general appearance of the final dessert. My mom (and a few others) said "oh I love the hearts. They're Valentinesy for February." I thought they looked like leaves. I'm sure there's a psychological implication there but I'm not the person to analyze that right now.

DELICIOUS + PRETTY = WINNER in my book. That's all the analysis I really need.

2 comments:

  1. Yay for a wonderful, no-crack cheesecake! This post may have actually given me the motivation to make one. Thanks!

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  2. This was such a wonderful cheesecake! I'm so glad you brought me some! :) The cheesecake was perfect and creamy, as a cheesecake should be. Also, the strawberry sauce was lip-smacking good!

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