There’s been a lot going on the past few weeks, and I have some pretty exciting stuff that I want to share with you guys (!) but am waiting on the final word before I say anything. In the meantime, I’ve been really busy with work and have been trying my best to get things looking semi-decent for when my friend and First We Eat partner Carey comes tomorrow. Everything is a bit topsy turvy because our second floor is being remodeled, and like any old house, there have been lots of interesting surprises as walls have been opened up and areas examined, the biggest surprise being that the entire original master bathroom wasn’t plumbed up to code, so we had to have it re-piped which meant opening up walls on the main floor in several rooms to give the new pipes somewhere to go. Cooking and shooting with a lot of the furniture moved into the kitchen area has been a bit tricky, and I’m still not 100% sure where Carey is going to sleep when she visits because pretty much the entire main floor is packed with the furniture that used to be on the second floor. Regardless, though, I am SO excited to show her around Oregon for the first time and then hop on a plane to our New Mexico workshop, wheeeeee !
I did manage to scrape together the space and time to make this delicious cheesecake this weekend, though, using a mixture of strawberries from the garden and the farmer’s market. I used cream cheese, eggs, sugar, and Vermont Creamery’s creme fraîche as the base for the cake, and it came out really light and soft in texture rather than the dense, almost chalky New York-style cheesecakes most of us are used to. There’s just something truly exceptional about the texture of creme fraîche, it’s silky smooth and adds a very subtle tang and tartness to the mix, which complements the fresh strawberries perfectly. I simmered the strawberries with some balsamic and sugar, then pureed the mixture to make a strawberry concentrate, some of which I mixed into the cheesecake mixture and some I saved to smear on top of the cheesecake once it was finished baking. For the crust, I made a simple graham cracker one with butter, sugar, and graham cracker crumbs. You could fancy it up with some cinnamon or nutmeg if you want, but it’s plain old delicious as-is. I also tossed some black peppercorns into the mix for a little kick, it came out really subtle in the end so you could increase it if you want the flavor to be super punchy (I liked the little hint of it though, really let the flavor of the strawberries shine through). This little cheesecake is the perfect use for the season’s first strawberries, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did 🙂
For the cheesecake, mix the sliced strawberries, sugar, balsamic vinegar, and peppercorns together in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, until the strawberries have softened and released some of their juices. Remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool for 10 minutes before pureeing in a blender or food processor until smooth and the peppercorns are crushed. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the cream cheese, creme fraîche, and sugar at medium speed until smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium low and add the eggs, one at a time, making sure each egg is completely incorporated and scraping down the sides of the bowl before adding the next egg. Add all but 1/3 cup of the strawberry puree to the cheesecake mixture and stir to incorporate. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and grease a 9-inch wide and at least 2 and 1/2-inch deep springform cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Cut the parchment paper into strips as wide as the depth of your springform pan and line the sides with them, as well.
For the crust, mix together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter in a medium bowl until sand-like in texture. Empty the bowl into the bottom of the springform pan and press it into an even layer at the bottom. Place a sheet of tin foil on the bottom of a large casserole pan, then place the the springform pan onto the sheet and push the foil up around the bottom of it (this will help keep water from leaking into the springform pan). Pour water into the casserole pan so that it measures about 1-inch deep, taking care not to splash any into the springform pan. Pour the cheesecake mixture into the springform pan and place the whole casserole dish in the oven. Bake until the top of the cheesecake is golden brown and the cheesecake is still slightly jiggly but set, about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Turn the oven off and leave the door ajar to allow it to gradually cool to room temperature, then remove the springform pan from the casserole pan and place the springform pan in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours. Remove it from the refrigerator and remove the sides of the springform pan and the side pieces of parchment paper. Spread the reserved 1/3 cup of the strawberry puree over the cheesecake and top with the desired amount of fresh strawberries. Serve immediately.