Goat Cheese Cake with Cranberry Rosemary Honey
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Inspiration struck big this Holiday Season. Last week before Thanksgiving I set out to make the perfect goat cheese cheesecake. This recipe, a combination of various recipes I've had in the past and spur-of-the-moment ideas for flavor pairings, was the result. And I think it hits the mark. The blend of tangy and buttery and sweet in the cake, and then the blend of tart and savory and sweet in the cranberry topping...oh my goodness, my life will never be the same! Plus, isn't it just so pretty?
I think we can all agree that cheesecake is one of the most divine experiences the culinary world has given us, but I have a problem with cheesecakes in general. I know I'm probably in the minority here, but I hate the way cheesecakes are usually so dense and rich that I can only enjoy a bite or two before I become overwhelmed. But so determined was I to enjoy a whole piece (or three) of goaty deliciousness, that I set out to make the lightest, fluffiest cheesecake ever. So I separated the eggs and whipped the egg whites to soft peaks before folding it in with the rest of the batter, which, by the way, I had beat as much air into as possible during the whole mixing process. And guys...IT'S SO FLUFFY, I'M GONNA DIE!!!!! (Thanks, Agnes.) Of course, if you're one of those people who prefers your cheesecake as dense as a brick (and I'm not judging here), just skip the whole egg separating and whipping part.
So here's the lowdown. Let's start by getting the cheeses out of the fridge so they can soften up at room temperature. If you miss this step the mixing process will make you wish you never got out of bed this morning.
Now you can get down to business. While you get some almonds toasting up in the oven, place two pieces of foil on the counter across each other, and fold the ends to overlap the sides of the other piece. Then wrap the foil around a springform pan, crimping the corners over the edge of the pan to secure the foil in place. This will help keep water from leaking into the pan while baking. Coat the inside of the pan with butter or cooking spray. Next, grind up graham crackers with the toasted almonds, and mix with melted butter, cinnamon, and a touch of sea salt. Add a little bit of water if you need to to make the crust hold together, then press it into the bottom of the springform pan in a tight, even layer. Prebake the crust for ten minutes.
Separate the eggs and whip the egg whites and half the sugar (with a pinch of cream of tartar to stabilize) to soft peaks. Keep this in the refrigerator until you need it later. Then mix up your cream cheese, goat cheese, remaining sugar, salt, and cornstarch till it's nearly smooth (a few tiny lumps are ok, they'll be worked out with continued mixing), and looks like thick frosting. Then add the heavy cream, vanilla, and lemon juice, and mix on a slightly higher speed until combined. Remember to scrape down the bowl and paddle a few times during this process.
Add the egg yolks, one by one, and mix until totally smooth. Then, on low speed, add the egg whites and mix just until combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold by hand a few times, making sure to incorporate anything stuck on the sides of bottom of the bowl.
The batter should be very thick and smooth, but also light and airy. Pour it into the springform pan (make sure the crust is cool to the touch first) and smooth it out to meet the edges of the pan. Place the pan inside a larger pan (a roasting pan is perfect) and fill the large pan with hot water about halfway to the level of the cake. This water bath part is really, really important. It's pretty much the only way to guarantee there will be no cracks in the top of your cake. Since cheesecake is basically a custard, if it cooks too hot and fast, the eggs will set up too soon, causing cracks. Placing the cake in a water bath ensures that it will cook gently and evenly. Even though the oven is set at 350°, the water will never reach above 212°.
The other really important part to making sure your cheesecake doesn't crack is to cool it slowly. So bake the cake for 45-60 minutes, until the edges are puffy and the middle still has a very slight jiggle. Then, turn off the oven and crack the door to let the heat escape, and cool the cake in the oven for another hour.
Only then, take the cake out of the oven, water bath, and foil, run a knife around the edges, and cool on a rack at room temperature for another hour. Then chill the cake, still in the pan, for at least four hours, and preferably overnight. I know, I know, it looks so good and it smells so good, and all this resting and cooling is just such a long time to wait! But trust me, it's worth it. You don't want to rush a cheesecake at any point, or the texture just won't be right. Only remove the cake from the pan after it is completely chilled.
While the cake is chilling, you can get on to the topping. Bring 1 cup of honey to a boil with a sprig of rosemary and some orange zest. As soon as it boils, remove it from the heat and let it steep for one hour. Strain out the rosemary and orange zest and return the honey to a boil. Again, remove it from the heat immediately and stir in 2 cups of cranberries. You don't want to actually cook the cranberries, you just want them to soften slightly and soak up some of the sweetness of the honey. Cool the sauce to room temperature before serving.
Now, this part isn't strictly necessary, but I highly recommend it. With my test-run of this cake, I poured the cranberries over the cake before cutting it. Then not only were the cranberries a little in the way when I tried to cut the cake, but, because this is such a light and fluffy cake, it tended to get a little messy while cutting. So the next time around, I froze the cake for about two hours and then precut it, pouring the cranberries over it only when it was time to serve. The individual pieces of cake came out much neater this way.
So go ye forth, and make this easy and crazy delicious cheesecake. You're welcome in advance. And a very Merry Christmas to you!