Every year for my birthday, my favorite dessert tradition is a slice of rich and decadent cheesecake and a glass of champagne, rather than layer cake and milk. This started with my best friend in college and I have enjoyed the tradition so much, I make every effort to have it. Sometimes, however, that means restaurant-hopping (I usually take the night off from cooking on my birthday) and often I am too full to indulge in my favorite tradition. This year, I made my own birthday "Cheesecake with Blackberry Syrup" and it turned out fabulous, thick, creamy and light. I don't like cheesecakes that are wet or gooey, but I also don't like it when they are dense and dry. So if light but thick and creamy is your preference, then this one is all for you!
I'm pretty traditional in that I love cheesecake's flavor so much, I stick with classic recipes. Not much variation here that's my own, it's just a straightforward gorgeously beautiful recipe. By the way, the difference between New York and non-New York, according to Wikipedia is the use of heavy cream. I didn't know that, can anyone confirm? Regardless, I stuck with sour cream instead for a little smoother and tangier flavor. I'll have to make NY-style next time around.
In the kitchen where I teach my cooking classes, I have access to a stunning Combination Steam-Convection Oven which is the perfect way to bake a cheesecake, so I did. Rather than using a water bath, I just dialed in a humidity level of 30%, set the oven to 280˚and baked about an hour. It was gorgeous, smooth and not a single crack in the surface.
Since it's a hefty investment, most of us will never have one of those ovens in our homes, but it sure is fun to play with it! My recipe below is for a traditional oven and water bath, since that's what we all normally use.
The champagne we had this year was absolutely phenomenal with this cheesecake. It has just enough hint of citrus to complement the lemon zest in the cheesecake and its heady bubbles and rich golden color bring the sense of celebration to the party. Enjoy!
2 c. finely ground graham crackers (about 30 squares)
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 pound cream cheese, 2 (8-oz.) blocks, softened
1 c. sugar
1 c. sour cream
1 lemon, zested
1 dash vanilla extract
1 c. blackberries
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 T. sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 325˚F.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine the crust ingredients with a fork until evenly moistened. Lightly coat the bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray. Pour the crumbs into the pan and, using the bottom of a measuring cup or the smooth bottom of a glass, press the crumbs down into the base and 1-inch up the sides. Refrigerate for 5 minutes.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese on low speed for 1 minute until smooth and creamy. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and continue to beat slowly until combined. Gradually add sugar and beat until light and creamy, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add sour cream, lemon zest, and vanilla and mix again briefly. Periodically scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beaters. The batter should be well mixed but not whipped or too much air added. Pour the filling into the crust-lined pan and smooth the top with a spatula.
4. Set the cheesecake pan on a large piece of aluminum foil and fold up the sides around it. Place the cake pan in a large baking pan. Pour boiling water into the roasting pan until the water is about halfway up the sides of the cheesecake pan; the foil will keep the water from seeping into the cheesecake. Bake for 45 minutes until the cake is firm on top but still jiggles (it will firm up after chilling). Let cool in pan for 30 minutes. Chill in the refrigerator, loosely covered, for at least 4 hours. Loosen the cheesecake from the sides of the pan by running a thin knife around the inside rim. Unmold and transfer to a cake plate.
5. While cheesecake is baking, in a small saucepan add all the ingredients for the blackberry syrup and simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes until the fruit begins to break down slightly. Break up the large pieces of blackberry with a wooden spoon. Strain with a sieve, leaving the seeds and pulp behind. Let cool completely and pour into a squeeze bottle.
6. Serve the cheesecake by slicing with a long, thin knife dipped in hot water between each cut. Garnish with blackberry syrup, a few curls of lemon zest and serve immediately.