Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Strawberry Cheesecake with Cookie Crumb Crust . . . Thinkin' Pink!

"I found I could say things with color . . . that I couldn't say any other way--things I had no words for." 
-- Georgia O'Keefe

My three favorite colors are pink, red, and pale green. I would go so far as to say that I crave them. I suspect I may even feel cheerier when wearing one of them. My mood is calmer in a tranquil room that's been painted a cool shade of celery. It's no surprise my kitchen is that very shade, as it has been for several years and I haven't tired of it yet. Place a stem or two of pink flowers in a little jar of water on the kitchen table, and I'll delight in them until they fade away.

Just as we're influenced by the hues we see around us everyday--in our houses, in our cities, and in nature--I assume that the colors we're faced with when we sit down to a meal must impact us in similar ways. I know that I'm a pushover for pretty food. And color accounts for a huge part of the "pretty factor," don't you think?

I do appreciate the sight of  pink food--frosted cupcakes, strawberry ice cream, raspberry yogurt. Heck, I can even muster up a yen for cotton candy or Bazooka bubble gum now and again, though it's questionable whether those items qualify as real food. And vibrant red food gets my seal of approval, too; perfect garnet cherries, the blazing sunset stripes of a ripe mango's skin, even ketchup-red tomatoes, still warm from the vine.

Culinarians assert that we "eat with our eyes," and there is plenty of proof to back up that statement. In cake decorating classes, they make a point of teaching the principles of the color wheel since this kind of visual harmony is integral to a well-designed cake. A poorly executed use of color on a cake is immediately apparent, have you noticed? It does its utmost to turn you off. Think of those garish frosted cakes that you stroll past in the grocery store each week. They virtually scream out, "Hey, you! Look at me! Yeah, you! I'm bright and hideous and I clash!"

Color is important when you're baking. Don't think it's not . . .

I had pink on my mind when I decided to make this particular cheesecake. I expected, when I began preparing it, that it was going to be nicely pink throughout. The cheesecake photo in the cookbook was distinctly pinkish, positively blushing, in fact. And my finished batter was charmingly girlish.

But, alas, the oven changed all that. Ultimately, I ended up with kind of an ivory filling overlaid with just the slightest hint of pink, and dotted throughout with bits of rosy strawberry here and there. Not the glorious pink cheesecake of my dreams, but still good. I guess even a smidgen of pink is better than none.

About this recipe . . . 

Hailing from the book, Diner: The Best of Casual American Cooking, by Diane Rossen Worthington, this recipe includes both a small amount of fresh, ripe strawberries, along with strawberry jam, to give it its signature flavor. I stuck pretty closely to the original formula for the filling, but instead of using the called-for graham crackers in the crust, I used vanilla wafers. I also omitted lemon zest, because the recipe already includes a significant amount of lemon juice, and I just didn't want to overdo it.

I baked the cake on Saturday afternoon, put it in the fridge as soon as it was completely cool, and served it on Sunday evening. The cake turned out well, but I thought it actually tasted considerably better the day after it was first sliced. Some cheesecakes are just like that; I know this always seems to be true with pound cakes, and I assume it has to do with the incredibly rich ingredients taking a while to sort of mingle, get comfortable, and settle down. The texture seemed much nicer to me after a couple of days in the fridge.

The recipe didn't indicate that you should use a water bath for baking, so I threw caution to the wind and didn't bother with that. Consequently, my cheesecake did crack on top, about an hour after it was out of the oven. I wasn't terribly concerned about this, however, because I'd planned from the get-go to cover the top with a modest layer of whipped cream.

Were I to make this cake again, I probably would choose to employ a few more of the typical cheesecake precautions to help prevent the cracking (for eg., tips like being super careful not to over-beat the batter and incorporate too much air;  baking the cake in a foil-wrapped pan that's placed in a water bath; running a knife around the cake sides right before it goes into the oven and shortly after it's out of the oven). Anyway, I'll be more careful next time.

I'd never made a strawberry flavored cheesecake before, but it's a nice variation on plain vanilla or chocolate. Next time, though, I'm makin' it more pink. I think.

(Please note that in the photos below it looks like quite a lot of batter. That's because, when I made it, I doubled the recipe and made two cakes. But the recipe as printed for you below makes just one cake.) 

Strawberry Cheesecake with Cookie Crumb Crust

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of one 9.5" springform pan. Place a circle of parchment over the buttered bottom, and butter the parchment.

For the crust:
2 cups crushed vanilla wafer (or plain shortbread) cookie crumbs
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

For the filling: 
24 oz. cream cheese, softened and at room temperature
1 and 1/4 cups granulated sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups sour cream, at room temperature
1/3 cup All Purpose flour
2 tsp. vanilla extract
fresh juice of one whole lemon, strained
1/2 cup strawberry jam (with any large fruit chunks broken up)
1/2 cup of finely chopped, hulled, ripe strawberries

To make the crust:
In a small bowl, mix together the cookie crumbs and sugar. Add in the melted butter and stir to combine until all the crumbs appear moistened. Press the mixture firmly into the bottom of the prepared pan, and up the sides of the pan about two inches. Set aside.

To make the filling:

Break the softened cream cheese into chunks and place in a large mixer bowl. With the mixer on medium speed, beat the cream cheese for about 3 minutes, until very soft and creamy.

Add in the sugar and continue to mix on medium speed, for 1 to 2 minutes, until the batter is smooth.

Add in the eggs, preferably one at a time, and beat well after each addition. (Do as I say, not as I did, in the photo below, with too many eggs going in at once!)

Reduce the speed to low, and add in the sour cream, flour, vanilla extract, and lemon juice. Beat just until thoroughly blended. Remove the large bowl from the mixer.

Remove one cup of the batter and place it in a small bowl.

To this small bowl of batter, add the strawberry jam. Stir it in completely.

Add in the 1/2 cup of chopped strawberry pieces, stirring very gently, just until combined.

Pour this mixture back into the large bowl of batter and, stirring by hand, just blend it in.

Pour all of the batter in the pan that's already been lined with the crust. Jiggle the pan gingerly until the top of the batter appears settled and smooth.

Place the cake pan on top of a baking sheet on the middle rack in the oven.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for one hour. Turn off the heat and let the cheesecake rest undisturbed in the oven, with the door closed, for 30 minutes. Place the pan on a cooling rack and let the cake cool completely. (Hopefully, yours won't look like it's been in an earthquake, like mind did below!)

Once the cake is cooled, cover it lightly and refrigerate it, still in the pan, for at least eight hours before slicing. The cake's texture improves after one full day, or even two days, in the fridge. Before attempting to remove the sides of the pan, run a thin knife carefully around the cake's sides. It's easier to slice, and best tasting, if served quite cold. Try it topped with real whipped cream and fresh strawberries.

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