Picture a strawberry cheesecake: white and creamy cake on the bottom, bright red berries on top. Maybe the berries are fresh and ripe and leak a little of their tart juice onto the dense cake below. More likely, the berries are sealed in shiny, syrupy goop. Either way, you get a separation of strawberries and cream, with the two playing off each other in juicy-creamy succession.
Its a perfectly delightful tradition (or at least the fresh-berry kind is), but its not the only way to go.
And in this version, I go elsewhere. Instead of keeping distinct layers of red and white, I purée them into pink. It becomes a dessert thats less about contrast and more about integration. And it packs as much berry as possible into each luscious bite.
To keep the berry flavor as fresh and bright as possible, I opt for a cheesecake set with gelatin rather than baked with eggs. It does need several hours in the fridge, but the upside is that you can make it days ahead.
Along with the usual cream cheese, I add some mild, fresh goat cheese to the batter. Its a trick I learned from pastry chef Claudia Fleming when we worked on a cookbook together. The goat cheese tamps down the sweetness and adds an earthy bite that goes nicely with berries of all kinds. And if you dont mention the goat cheese to small children who may object, they probably wont notice. My small child didnt.
But she does take in the lovely pink hue, which I intensify by using red wine to soften the gelatin. The wine also adds another layer of flavor, although you can skip it and use water (or orange juice) if you have scarlet, intense-tasting berries.
Another facet of the usual cheesecake recipe is a graham cracker crust made from the packaged cookies mixed with melted butter. Here, I go one better by making the crust out of homemade graham cracker cookie dough baked in the pan until crisp. You can also use the same dough recipe to bake graham crackers if youve ever had the itch to make your own.
Or skip the crust entirely. Then youll have a no-bake recipe that manages to be both sophisticated and very pretty in pink.
Double Strawberry Cheesecake
For the crust:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
For the filling:
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 envelope (2 1/4 teaspoons) powdered gelatin
1 pound cream cheese, cut into small pieces, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup (8 ounces) fresh goat cheese, broken into small pieces, at room temperature
1 pound fresh strawberries, hulled and coarsely chopped, plus several pretty whole or sliced strawberries for serving
PREPARE the crust: In the bowl of an electric mixer or a food processor, cream together butter and brown sugar until smooth, about 1 minute. Beat in honey.
IN a separate bowl, whisk together flours, cocoa, salt and cinnamon. With mixer running on low speed or using the pulse button on the food processor, add dry ingredients to butter mixture in two batches. Scrape dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Flatten into a disk and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.
PLACE dough round between two sheets of parchment or wax paper. Working quickly, roll out dough to a thickness of 1/8 inch. If dough becomes sticky, chill in refrigerator until firm. Transfer dough to an 8- or 9-inch springform pan. Press into bottom of pan and 2/3 up the sides (don’t worry if the sides aren’t even). Prick bottom with a fork. Refrigerate 20 minutes.
HEAT oven to 325 degrees. Place pan on a baking sheet and transfer it to oven; bake until crust is golden and dry to touch, about 25 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.
MEANWHILE, prepare the filling: Put red wine in a small saucepan and sprinkle gelatin on top. Let rest for 5 minutes, until absorbed. Put pan over low heat and stir until gelatin dissolves. Don’t allow gelatin to boil. Let cool.
IN a food processor or electric mixer, combine cream cheese, sugar and goat cheese; blend until smooth. Add chopped berries and gelatin mixture and blend until incorporated (berries will break down to a purée). Scrape mixture into cooled crust. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.
Yield: 10 to 12 servings.