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Cheesecake for Grown-ups

August 8, 2008

Much of my culinary experimentation arises from one of those little differences which make marriage complex and interesting:  Joan’s favorite dishes, the treats and friandises of her childhood, are storebought.  The women of her family, following Southern tradition, don’t cook.  They just don’t.  They polish silver obsessively.  They dress up to go to the supermarket.  And when they are there, they buy Little Debbie snack cakes, Moon pies, Hostess Sno-ball cupcakes, and Goo-goo clusters, which they serve on their wedding china with sterling silver flatware.

For years, Joan asked for a store cake for her birthday.  Each time, I would say, “Oh, no, you don’t want a boughten cake.  I can make you any kind of cake you want.”  And she would sigh, and say, “Well, what about a Pepperidge Farm coconut cake?”  And I would say, “I’ll make you a real coconut cake, from Grandma Amos’s recipe.”   About 10 years into our marriage, Joan finally found a tactful way (sort of) to let me know that she really liked bakery cakes, which were the height of luxury in her childhood, and that Grandma Amos’s coconut cake was dry, tasteless, and painfully unfestive. 

Our present compromise is that I look for grown-up versions of those childhood treats.  Hence tonight’s cheesecake, which will be going with us to a dinner party at Winkin’s tomorrow night.

Cherry Cheesecake, inspired by Smitten Kitchen’s Nectarine, Mascarpone, and Gingersnap Tart

Crust:

40 gingersnaps
6 tablespoons butter, melted

Crush the cookies to a fine dust (I recommend using an eight year old boy, a rolling pin, and a sturdy zip-loc bag, but you may substitute a blender or Cuisinart, if you wish).  Mix them well with the melted butter and press the crumbs evenly into the bottom and sides of a 10 inch tart pan with removable bottom.   Bake at 350 F for about 8 minutes–just until it begins to brown and come together as crust.

Filling:

1 8-ounce container of mascarpone cheese
6 ounces of cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla (I was tempted by almond extract, but cherry-almond means Jergens lotion to me, not dessert)

Beat very well, till light and fluffy.  Mound into tart shell and smooth with the back of a spoon.

Topping:

1 pound very ripe sweet cherries, cut in half and stones removed
1/2 cup cherry jam, warmed

Arrange the cherry halves artfully (or just in circles, if you’re me) on top of the cheese mixture.  Brush the cherries with the warm jam.  Cover loosely and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

The beauties of this recipe are manifold:  hardly any baking, which is a matter of some import when the mercury is in the 90s; it looks like, and is quite similar to, the Jell-o cherry cheesecake in a box; and it tastes so very creamy, cool, and fruitly.

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