Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake

IMG_0001Well, it’s official: I’m not getting any younger. My annual reminder of advancing age was a little more than two weeks ago and I was forced to face not only mortality but a Monday birthday. Sigh. Being the sweetest man on earth, however, James surprised me by having a beautiful bouquet of summery flowers delivered to my office — totally erased the whole Monday thing!

Growing up with a summertime birthday, I was often envious of my classmates who had birthdays that fell within the school year. Even though it often meant they had to drag themselves out of bed on their birthdays to come to school, it usually meant that for a whole day they got to be the birthday kid while being in the presence of tons of people their age. It also meant that sometimes their mom might bring in cupcakes for their whole class to enjoy. It was like having a birthday party that everyone was literally required to attend — all without the pressure of sending out invites or having to be responsible for entertainment.

IMG_4050

IMG_4053IMG_4052

The little “filmstrips” of my childhood birthdays — buried in a dusty filing cabinet somewhere in the seldom visited archives of my brain — were all weathered by the always muggy, always oppressively hot, Louisiana summers. Thinking back on them, now, they’re sepia colored from the intense sunlight! I remember cousins coming over for birthday cake, homemade slip ‘n slides in the front yard powered by dish detergent and freezing water from the garden hose, and maybe some homemade decorations hung in the kitchen.

In many ways, looking back, I suppose my birthdays were more exciting than the school year birthday kids’. After all, two dozen sprinkle-bedecked cupcakes shared with a captive group while surrounded by long division and spelling words isn’t exactly a party. You also never saw any of them getting grass stains by rocketing off the end of a slip ‘n slide — they had to wear their school clothes!

For this year, my 32nd birthday, I opted to forgo the homemade slip ‘n slide. I decided to have a sort of Birthday Weekend Festival — tame by childhood standards (still better than long division), but a restful and enjoyable time for the adult me. As you might suspect, the biggest event of the Birthday Weekend Festival was a Birthday Feast on the Sunday before the big day.

I chose my menu carefully, mind you, since cooking is fun for me but undeniably it’s also work. In the tradition of reveling in my summertime birthday, I wanted a menu that put a little bit of summery goodness in every bite:

Fresh Dill Potato Salad

BBQ-Spiced Chicken

Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake

IMG_4044

The potato salad recipe came from a recent issue of Cook’s Country. We gave it four stars and plan on making it again before the summer’s out! It was simple to put together and had tons of fresh dill taste without being too mayonnaise-y. It was a perfect accompaniment to the spicy yet sweet chicken (a top secret recipe of mine) which we typically only make once or twice each year. And, of course, all of this was washed down with some very choice root beer.

This year, I was having a hard time picking out what my birthday cake should be. Summer is often a busy time for us, but — as I’ve said before — birthday cakes are something of a tradition in our house and I take them very seriously (this was James’ cake, this year, and this was my birthday cake, last year). I wanted it to be a dessert worthy of the occasion without being overly complicated, though. It was actually James who stumbled upon the perfect recipe: a blueberry cheesecake from the glory days of Cooking Light.

I had only made a real cheesecake once before. It was one of those traditional cheesecake recipes that involved a lot of very careful steps before, during, and after the baking process — all in hopes of creating a perfectly smooth cheesecake surface. Being my first cheesecake ever, naturally it did not look perfect… at all! But, that was a long time ago and I thought I’d give cheesecake another shot.

IMG_4041IMG_4042

Somehow, the whole process was not nearly as complicated as I thought I’d remembered. I had a lot of fun putting the cheesecake together — especially the swirling part. Unfortunately, all of my “artwork” was eventually covered over since the recipe features a smooth, creamy topping that’s added near the end of the baking process. In a more traditional recipe, great care must be taken to very slowly cool the cheesecake so that giant faults don’t form on the top. With the topping in place, however, there’s no need to worry about cracks forming on the top.

Let’s Talk Ingredients

Vanilla Wafers — For this recipe, I used Back to Nature’s Madagascar Vanilla Wafers. Their flavor, in my opinion, added tons of flavor to the crust in ways that the subtly-flavored, more popular brand could not. Depending on your supermarket’s natural foods aisle, you may be able to find these. If not, feel free to substitute your favorite vanilla wafer.

Blueberries — I’ve said it many times and it definitely bears repeating: the best blueberries are the ones that are picked locally and in season. If you’re craving blueberries long after they’re gone in your area, you’re better off IMG_0970buying high quality frozen berries than the ones that are shipped “fresh” from great distances. Taste is the priority, here, and blueberries that are frozen at their peak flavor are just as versatile as the fresh ones. This is great news — especially if you crave them year round!

Cardamom — In my opinion, blueberries and cardamom are a quintessential duo. Though the recipe calls for a seemingly small amount, cardamom is a very potent spice that adds dimension to the blueberry flavor. If you’ve never used it, cardamom can be found in almost any grocery store’s spice aisle and is at home in many savory or sweet recipes. You’ll want to start sneaking it into some of your favorites.

Neufchatel Cheese — Neufchatel cheese can be found right next to the block-style cream cheese in your supermarket. If you can’t find it, “1/3 Less Fat Cream Cheese” is basically the same thing with a name that is decidedly less fancy.

Lemon Zest — Remember that lemon zest is the oily, yellow part of the lemon rind. Grate this as finely as you can. Don’t grate IMG_3789into the white, pithy part of the rind because it’s bitter and unpleasant (unless you’re into that sort of thing!).

Low Fat Sour Cream — You’ve probably seen this in the dairy case before, but I wanted to highlight it here for emphasis. For some reason, lately, it seems everyone’s trying to replace buttermilk, sour cream, and a few other dairy items with yogurt and/or Greek-style yogurt. I’m not sure of the reason for this fad, but I can honestly say that yogurt and sour cream are not equals and both have very different taste profiles. Sour cream adds a smooth, creamy top to the cheesecake without imparting much flavor of its own. By substituting yogurt you will add a very apparent tartness that I feel distracts from the other tastes in the cheesecake. Substitute at your own peril.

Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake

Adapted from Cooking Light
Serves 16

    Crust:
    2/3 cup graham cracker crumbs – (about 5 whole crackers)
    2/3 cup vanilla wafer crumbs – (about 20 wafers)
    3 tablespoons granulated sugar
    3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

    Blueberry Puree:
    2 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries – (thawed)
    1 tablespoon cornstarch
    1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

    Cheesecake Batter:
    1 cup granulated sugar
    2 tablespoons cornstarch
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
    28 ounces neufchatel cheese – softened
    1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
    2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
    5 large eggs

    Creamy Topping:
    1 1/2 cups low fat sour cream
    2 tablespoons granulated sugar
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

    Blueberry Sauce:
    2 tablespoons granulated sugar
    1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
    1/4 cup water
    1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries – (thawed)

    Preheat oven to 325-degrees.

    To prepare crust, coat a 9-inch spring-form pan with cooking spray. Combine graham cracker crumbs, vanilla wafer crumbs, and granulated sugar in a medium bowl. Drizzle the mixture with melted butter; toss with a fork until evenly moistened. Firmly press the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake at 325-degrees for 10 minutes; cool completely on a wire rack. (Leave the oven on.)

    Meanwhile, prepare the blueberry puree. Combine 2 1/2 cups blueberries and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch in a food processor; process until smooth. Place puree in a small saucepan, adding 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom; bring mixture to a boil. Cook 6 minutes or until slightly thick, stirring constantly. Reserve 1/2 cup of blueberry puree for the blueberry sauce; set remaining 1 cup blueberry puree aside; allow the puree to cool slightly.

    To make the cheesecake batter, in a small bowl, combine 1 cup granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, salt, and 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom. In a large bowl, beat the softened neufchatel with a mixer at medium-high speed just until smooth (don’t over mix or you’ll add too much air). Add the lemon zest and 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, mix well. Add sugar mixture to cheese mixture; beat well. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. To remove excess air, tamp the bowl on your counter several times. Excess air will make a grainy cheesecake rather than a creamy one.

    Pour batter over the cooled prepared crust. Drizzle 1 cup blueberry puree over the top of the batter; gently swirl the puree into the batter with a knife or small spatula. Bake at 325-degrees for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until the center of the cheesecake barely moves when pan is touched.

    While cheesecake is baking, prepare the creamy topping. Combine sour cream, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, and vanilla in a small bowl, stirring well. Remove cheesecake from oven after it has baked for the time required to set (do not turn the oven off); place on a wire rack. Spread sour cream mixture evenly over cheesecake immediately upon removing from the oven. Return the cheesecake to the oven; bake at 325-degrees for 10 additional minutes.

    Remove the cheesecake from oven; carefully run a knife around outside edge to release the creamy topping from the sides of the pan. Allow to cool to room temperature, then cover and chill at least 8 hours (preferably for 24 hours). Remove sides of spring-form pan.

    To prepare the blueberry sauce, combine reserved 1/2 cup blueberry puree, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, and water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat for 8 minutes or until sauce is thickened, stirring constantly. Gently fold in 1 cup blueberries. Remove from heat, and cool. Serve sauce atop individual cheesecake slices.

IMG_4047

We felt this cheesecake was packed with a surprising amount blueberry flavor (you know how sometimes a recipe is called blueberry but it doesn’t really taste so much like blueberries?). Thanks to the cobalt-colored blueberry swirls and the not-too-sweet blueberry sauce that’s dolloped on top of each slice, this dessert is definitely not blueberry in name only! For me (birthday boy), the dessert was extra special since blue has always been my most favorite color.

For neat and easy slicing, I recommend running a non-serrated knife under hot water, wiping it dry, making a slice, then repeating the process (wiping the blade clean each time). Doing this keeps the slices smooth and clean where they’d otherwise get smeared up and covered with crumb crust debris (not that this affects the taste in any way; it’s mainly for presentation purposes). Store leftover cheesecake loosely covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or share leftovers with neighbors and friends.

(In case you were curious, this cheesecake does have less fat than the average cheesecake recipe [average = 550+ calories and 35g+ fat]. Still, its calorie count and its fat content make it more of a special occasion, “naughty” dessert for us rather than a weekly occurrence. Approximate nutrition facts: (1 slice) 368 calories, 20g total fat [13g sat., 3g mono.], 114mg cholesterol, 1g fiber, 7g protein.)

Advertisements

~ by Jason on August 9, 2011.

10 Responses to “Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake”

  1. Delish! And those flowers remind me of your wedding flowers. Nice hubby you got there!

  2. as a fellow leo I can empathize with the summer b-day—and mine was in sweltering heat, too– in houston. the cheesecake sounds fab–I’m wondering if I could replicate with the raspberries out the garden…

    • Houston knows heat! For sure! At least in Louisiana the humidity kept the temperature from getting into the triple digits too frequently!

      For this recipe, my guess is you could use raspberries equally well. The taste, of course, would have much more tartness because of the different fruit, but that’d only serve to make it interesting, I think. Maybe you should increase the cornstarch by 1/2 teaspoon with raspberries and it would still produce the same consistency as blueberries (raspberries are juicier have a little less pectin in them, I believe). Do let me know if you try it! I’m planning on making this in the fall, again, but turning it into a PUMPKIN cheesecake. Mmmm.

  3. Yeah, the July days were so hot here in Louisiana. It’s hotter now! Im glad you had a great dinner for your birthday. Wish I could’ve been there, but I know your honey made it special. πŸ™‚ Thanks, James! I love you both!

    mom

    • I wish you could’ve been here, too, mom. But, from what I hear, you’ll be paying us a visit, this fall. πŸ˜€ We’re looking forward to it. Love you too!

  4. OMG, those pictures of your blueberry swirl cheesecake has me drooling! Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a nice comment about my blackberry picking story πŸ™‚ Am looking forward to keeping up with your blog x

  5. Hi, Jason! I’ve been meaning to send you a note to tell you that I made this recipe last weekend. We had a group of friends over to start planning our Bears-watching schedule for the season. Spent the afternoon on the deck, a simple cookout, yummy salads, and this unbelievable dessert. It was scrumptious – lots of raves from everyone, and leftovers for Larry and me! Love your blog, thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks, Margie! I’m excited to know that it turned out for you and everyone enjoyed it. Of the desserts we’ve had this year, it’s definitely near the top of our list! πŸ˜€ Thanks for reading.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s