a couple weeks ago we had two very dear friends over for dinner. tony and pat are two of the best people on the planet. they are often taste testers for many of desserts i make for picky cook.
for dinner i made stuffed shells
but i was struggling to find a dessert worthy of them. i usually never make a dessert for the first time when company is coming - i would rather make something i am sure will be good. but since tony and pat have had many of my desserts - i thought it would be safe to try something new.
the cover of the august 2008 gourmet has been haunting me since it arrived. the cover is all white and at the bottom is the most luscious cheesecake square with these intense blackberries on top. every time i come across that issue - i swear it will be the next dessert i make. this dinner would be the perfect time to try it.
i should let you in on something - i am scared of cheesecake. i have made two in my life. the first - it is not even worth talking about - can you say cream cheese goo? the second was a pumpkin cheesecake with a gingersnap crust. the flavor was good - but i did something really wrong with the crust and the cheese cake cracked horribly. needless to say - i was nervous about attempting another cheesecake recipe.
this is the easiest cheesecake recipe i have ever made. it comes out perfect and even yours truly couldn't mess it up. the crust is amazing - think a caramel cookie crust with almonds. the cheesecake itself is smooth and decadent. i chose to use a mix of berries for the top rather than just blackberries because all the berries at the market looked lovely. i bought some peppermint sugar a little while ago and used that and lemon zest for macerating the berries. these minted berry cheesecake squares are little bits of heaven!
vanilla cheesecake squares with minted berries
adapted from dan barber via gourmet | august 2008
Serves 8 to 10
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup blanched almonds, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 (8-oz) packages cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
Preheat oven to 350ºF with rack in middle.
Line a 9-inch square baking pan with 2 crisscrossed sheets of foil, leaving an overhang on 2 sides, then lightly butter foil.
Beat together butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low and add flour, cinnamon and almonds, mixing until combined and dough begins to clump together.
Press onto bottom of baking pan with floured fingers.
Bake just until a shade darker and edges begin to pull away from pan, 20 to 30 minutes. Cool crust completely in pan.
Make filling and bake:
Reduce oven temperature to 325ºF.
Beat together cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and flour with cleaned beaters at medium speed until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add half-and-half, then eggs 1 at a time, mixing until incorporated. Pour filling into crust.
Bake in a hot water bath until set 1 1/2 inches from edge but center is still wobbly, 40 to 45 minutes. (Center will set as it cools.) Transfer pan to a rack and cool completely, about 2 hours. Chill, uncovered, at least 2 hours.
Using foil overhang, lift cheesecake from pan and peel off foil before cutting into small rectangles. (it helps to rinse off the knife in very hot water after each cut)
Cheesecake can be chilled (loosely covered once cold) up to 3 days.
3 cups blackberries (i used raspberries, strawberries and blackberries)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon - grated
Stir together all ingredients in a bowl or airtight container and let macerate at room temperature 30 minutes.
berries can be chilled (after macerating) up to 2 hours.
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