There are certain moments when I am filled with complete happiness. This is not a common feat, and when it happens, when those waves of bliss wash over me, I’m left with a stunned grin on my face. A giddy laugh escapes my mouth and others eye me suspiciously, thinking what the hell is wrong with that chick?
It happened to me on Saturday night, with fireworks going off in the night sky. Feeling the effects of my vodka tonic, I looked around at my friends, at my house, at myself, and felt content. It might have been the work of the vodka tonic, but I think it had more to do with the friends, laughter, fireworks, and food.
Oh the food.
Since this was the first time playing hostess at my place, I studied menu plans religiously in the days prior to the 4th of July. I decided that I’d offer three salads, two desserts, and leave the meat for the others to bring. I made the potato salad and macaroni salad the night before. Saturday morning, while listening to the new Regina Spektor cd, I chopped and diced the fruit for a hearty fruit salad. And I can’t forget about the blueberry cheesecake. This cheesecake stole my heart with it’s smooth texture and hidden berries. There is something about eating a big slice of ice-cold cheesecake in the middle of a warm July evening. It just screams perfection!
Normally, I am a chocoholic: always have been, always will be. But a damn good cheesecake studded with fruit and topped with a tart sauce can make a girl cry in delight. I really plan on opening my dessert horizons, especially in the cheesecake realm. If I love ice cream, why wouldn’t I love cream cheese? I love the smooth and silky feel of both. So I think this is a fair warning for all you readers: expect great cheesecake adventures in the future.
Another thing I love about cheesecake is that it has more fans than haters. People ward of chocolate, saying it’s too rich. Others stay away from pie, saying it’s too heavy. But cheesecake. I’ve never met someone adverse to cheesecake, and hope to never meet that person in my future. Anyone who doesn’t like cheesecake isn’t someone I want to associate with (totally kidding. I love all people… well, kind of).
I could have used fresh blueberries in this cake, but I prefer the frozen form of blueberries when baking something like this. It needs to stand up to the long baking time and can’t fall apart after an hour in the oven. Also, the fresh berries get so wet and I didn’t want a soggy interior. Besides, I’d rather eat my fresh berries with my morning yogurt bow, not in this form. If you want the berries to stay suspended in the cheesecake instead of sinking to the bottom. But I like the hidden berry surprise, and couldn’t but chuckle when my guests made their own berry discoveries, forks hovering over the mysterious find.
My one complaint about cheesecake is the crust. I hate most crusts. I want one that isn’t soggy, isn’t thick, but has a crunchy bite. Graham crackers won’t do, and I haven’t tried shortbread cookies yet… Although that seems like a good idea now. Instead, I made my own crust of leftover sandwich cookies and walnuts. If you don’t like walnuts, try slivered almonds. I chopped 1 cup of roasted walnuts, tossed in my cookies, mixed in 5 tablespoons of melted butter, and spread the mixture out on my 9-inch springform pan. The end result was a bit nuttier than I expected, but I liked it that way. It had enough crunch to contrast well with the cream cheese, and didn’t break apart upon slicing. Next time, I’d chop mine a little finer and mix in slivered almonds instead of only walnuts, but I prefer this crust to the others I’ve tried.
You could serve this cheesecake plain but I thought it looked sad all naked on my serving platter. I’m not in to fussy toppings so I needed something quick and fresh. I warmed up 1 cup of strawberry preserves, 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, and 2 teaspoons of powdered sugar. It worked like a charm!
The day after the party, I sat on my deck in the backyard, savoring the last slice of cheesecake with a glass of champagne, and the feeling of happiness came again. I breathed in the sweet smell of fresh cut grass and grilled meat on grills close by, and thought finally, summer is here. Good times are to be had.
Blueberry Cheesecake with Berry Sauce
Origin: “Luscious Berry Desserts” by Lori Longbotham
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
For the crust:
● 1 cup walnuts, chopped
● 1 cup cookies, chopped
● 5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
● Three 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
● 3/4 cup granulated sugar
● 3 large eggs
● 1 large egg yolk
● 1/2 cup sour cream, (the recipe orginally called for heavy whipping cream)
● 1 tbsp freshly grated lemon zest
● 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
● 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
● 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
● 1/4 tsp salt
● 1 pint or 16 ounces frozen blueberries, (you can use fresh if you want)
For the berry sauce:
● 1 cup strawberry preserves, (I bought mine from Trader Joes)
● 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
● 2 tsp powdered sugar
To make the crust:
Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Wrap the bottom and sides of the pan with foil to prevent leakage during baking. Stir together the crumbs and walnuts in a medium bowl. Press into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Refrigerate until firm.
To make the filling:
Preheat the oven to 450℉.
Beat together the cream cheese and sugar with an electric mixer on medium high speed in a large deep bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and yolk one at a time, beating well after each addition. Don’t forget to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Beat in the cream, zest, lemon juice, flour, vanilla, and salt until blended. Gently fold in the blueberries. Transfer the filling to the crust and place the pan on a baking sheet.
Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 200℉ and bake for 1 hour longer. Turn off the oven, open the door slightly, and let the cheesecake cool in the oven for 45 minutes.
Transfer the cheesecake to a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Wrap tightly and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 8 hours overnight.
To make the sauce:
In a microwaveable dish, stir together the preserves, lemon juice, and sugar. Microwave on high for 15 seconds. Sir mixture, and put in microwave again for 30 seconds. Pour warm sauce on top of the cheesecake and let it cool for 5 minutes. If you prefer a warm topping, serve the cheesecake right after you top with the berry sauce or let it sit in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes.