Sunday, September 2, 2007

Hidden Blackberry Cheesecake

Hidden Berry Cheesecake

Here in Seattle blackberries are everywhere, ranging from massive brambles that have invaded vacant land to itty bitty plants poking out of the ground trying to colonize new terrain. To my surprise, there were blackberry growing in the backyard. This was the first summer I had even been aware of their presence because last winter, the (small) yard, which was more like an uncharted jungle, was tamed landscaped into something more manageable. That is, you can venture outside without a loved one having to call a search party. The work also uncovered the blackberry bush and for the last few weeks I've been picking quarts of the berries as they ripen and I can hardly keep up!

Blackberry picking is a tricky business. The best looking berries are always the unattainable ones just out of my reach. I stare at them longingly, yearning to reach the plump, juicy berries glistening in the sun barely inches from my fingertips. I balance precariously on one foot, standing on my tippy toes, while stretching my arm and hand as far as they'll physically go to pluck that perfect berry. One wrong movement will result in an "Ouch!" as a nasty thorn pokes or scratches my skin. A tug too strong and that berry will fall off into the deep thicket lost forever. Even worse, just when I think the berry has landed safely in my palm, it rolls and slips between my fingers. Curses! Foiled again!! After an hour of the hot August sun hitting the back of my neck and my fingers sticky and purple, I say to myself "Okay last berry" but then "Ah Hah!" another perfect berry catches my eyes. Sometimes I am able to pick all the ripe berries before calling it a day but other times there is a limit to how many close encounters with the creepy crawly spiders, who love to take up residence amongst the berries, I can take. They send me running back inside patting myself down and repeatedly brushing off every inch of my skin. *shudder* "That's it for today I'll go back tomorrow," as I admit defeat. Now that it's September and autumn is slowly approaching, the blackberry bush has given the last of it's berries. Most have gone into quiet storage in the freezer and will serve as a reminder of the glories of summer during the gloomy Seattle winter.

A note about blackberry picking: Blackberries tend to grow everywhere and sometimes as your walking, you can't help but notice the easily accessible berries right by the sidewalk. As tempting as these berries may be (I pass berries like these everyday), do not pick them because the plants growing near the streets will often take in the fumes and pollution from the cars and that's not something you want in your berries. It's best to find an area away from roads and traffic for picking. Most parks in the Seattle area have plenty of blackberries so those are a great place to go.

From one of my recent pickings, I came inside with about 3 cups of berries and I really wanted to make some jam. But I'm didn't have pectin, and I'm too paranoid to can so I ambitiously decided to make some pectinless freezer jam. Steven warned me that when his mom and other friends tried to make blackberry jam, it ended up very watery was more like blackberry syrup but I was not to be dissuaded. After simmerring for a long time, I ended up with about a half a cup of thick jam and with only a few spoonfuls of sugar rather than cups, the jam was not cloyingly sweet and was immensely flavorful (very, very blackberry-y). So pectinless jam was possible and it was delicious!

Blackberry Jam
3 C blackberries, washed
3 Tbsp sugar (ratio of 1 tablespoon sugar to 1 cup berries)
1 tsp of lemon juice

To get rid of the seeds, puree the mixture and push it through a sieve or pass it through a food mill. I had some trouble pushing the puree through my fine mesh sieve so a food mill might work better.

Simmer in a saucepan until very thick and a spatula dragged across the bottom of the saucepan leaves a clear trail that does not fill in.

To avoid the canning trouble, just store the jam in your freezer and enjoy it quickly. But you won't need me to say that twice because it's so delicious on a buttered piece of toast in the morning or in a "Hidden Berry Cheesecake" inspired by Dorie.

Hidden Berry Cheesecake

While flipping through the baking book of the year (ahem everyone knows which one I'm talking about), the Hidden Berry Cream Cheese Torte really caught my eye. I loved Dorie's ingenuity in tucking a layer of berry jam underneath the cream cheese filling. Jams are usually good at hiding cracks and imperfections on cheesecakes but bringing it inside brings cheesecake to a whole new level of elegance. Not to mention in the gorgeous photo in the book, the top of the cream cheese torte was absolutely pristine with not a crack or flaw in sight. Since I didn't have cottage cheese on hand, rather than using Dorie's recipe for the cream cheese torte, I went with my standby cheesecake recipe of cream cheese and sour cream in a graham cracker crust. But don't get me wrong, Dorie's recipe looks excellent and I will definitely try it one day. This recipe uses only 2 bars (rather than 4) of cream cheese and as a result makes a thinner cheesecake.

Hidden Blackberry Cheesecake
Inspired by Dorie Greenspan's Hidden Berry Cream Cheese Torte

1 pack of graham crackers (5 oz, 9 whole crackers)
1 Tbsp sugar
5 Tbsp butter melted
2 8 oz. bars of cream cheese
2 eggs
1/3 C sour cream
1/2 C sugar
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/3 C any berry or cherry jam

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Process the crumbs in a food processor until ground or crush them in a zipper lock bag by rolling over the crackers with a rolling pin. Add the melted butter and sugar and pulse until evenly mixed.

Press the crumbs firmly into bottom and up the sides (about 1 in) of a 9 inch springform. I like to use the flat bottom of a measuring cup or you can use the bottom of a drinking glass to push the crumbs in tight. Bake at 350F for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the food processor add the rest of the ingredients except for the jam, and process until smooth. Alternatively you can cream the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer, add the eggs and incorporate one by one, then add the rest of the ingredients and mix until the filling is smooth.

When the crust is done, spread the jam evenly on the bottom of the crust. Then pour in the cheesecake filling. Bake at 350F for about 50 to 60 minutes, or until the center is no longer jiggly.

Run a knife (to avoid damaging the nonstick on baking pans, I either use a plastic knife or a wooden skewer) along the outside of the cheesecake and remove the pan. Let it cool to room temperature then chill before serving.

Since it's blackberry season, though nearing the end of it, here in the Pacific Northwest and with the blackberries straight from the backyard, I'm going to bring this cheesecake to the biggest patio party of the year, La Festa al Fresco, thrown by the lovely hostesses Ivonne and Lis. There's no such thing as having too many desserts right girls?

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