Now in the Ring: Cher vs. Cheesecake Match #3 (Pear Cheesecake w/ Pistachio Brittle)

Cheesecake & I appear to be sworn enemies.  I don't know if cheesecake knows that I am not a huge fan and gives me the snub by sabotaging my every attempt (karma, baby, karma).  Or maybe it just is too evil to be tamed.  I haven't figured it out yet.  But, it is a formiddable opponent and knows how to "fight the good fight". 

But you see, it's like this.  While cheesecake may be formiddable, I am stubborn.  And obstinate.  And I hate to lose.  Repeatedly.  It sticks in my craw.  (I love that phrase, even though I am not 100% certain what a "craw" is...)

And, did I mention that The Dude has a love for cheesecake?  (We have this very backward pattern going where his favorite desserts are the opposite of anything I like...can you say chocolate cake with chocolate frosting?  Why can't he be a lemon creme kind of guy, why????)

So, being the resigned dutiful good-natured chickie that I am, I rise above my disdain and try.  And try.  And try.  And with each battle, I am able to stay standing a round or two longer before Cheesecake knocks me on my feet.  Someday, I will eke out a full win.  Do you hear me Cheesecake???  Someday.  I.  Will.  Win.

This time through, I took Round 1 - aka the Pistachio Shortbread crust.  Easy peasy. 

Round 2 - "the batter round" was a draw.  I started strong - used my best 1-2 punch.  But in the end, failure to pay attention got the best of me... 


...because SOMEHOW the directions mixed themselves up in front of me - and the step where the melted chocolate and remaining sour cream were supposed so serve as a "glaze" to the cheesecake SOMEHOW ended up in the batter...  I am not sure exactly what happened.  It's all a blur.  At some point The Dude was silly enough to point out that I have developed a recent habit of missing directions and I think it got ugly from there I responded with all the sweetness that I was feeling. 

Fortunately, the solidifying properties of the chocolate offset the extra moisture from the additional sour cream.  WHEW - because I would have been totally ticked off  REALLY GRUMPY if the goofball thing never set. 

Round 3: The Brittle.  The most inspiring thing about making this cheesecake (I had to find my joy where I could - because after my mung-up with the batter, I was so not in my happy place), was the pistachio brittle for the topping.  It is so cool what results can come from sugar + water + heat.  Throw in a few nuts and you have a masterpiece in progress.  I think I won this round hands down???

This might be the first cheesecake battle, where I think I won enough rounds to call it a victory.  I can only hope that once I conquer I will be allowed to put this to rest.  But, I have a funny feeling I won't be so lucky.  Maybe, it's kind of like football - where I will have to build myself up to a grudging tolerance. 

The Dude was pretty stoked about the end result.  Runner Girl gave it a thumbs up, but like her momma, preferred noshing on the brittle.  This one will definitely stay in the rotation for when I have to pull one of these "out of my craw" - I enjoyed the essence of the pear nectar, but it was the pistachio brittle that tipped the scales...  I will make the brittle again, with or without the cake!
Originally appearing in Bon Appetit - December 1999

5 1/2-ounces shortbread cookies, crushed  
1/2 cup natural pistachios (you don't want the dyed ones...)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled unsalted butter, diced (1/4" to 1/3" pieces)

3 8-oz packages cream cheese, room temperature (I used Philadelphia)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tsp ground cardamom
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup + 1 1/4 cups sour cream
1/2 cup pear nectar
2 Tbs all purpose flour
2 tsp vanilla extract
5 ounces good-quality white chocolate (I like Ghirardelli's Vanilla Dream with the flecks of vanilla seeds in it), coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F. Blend shortbread, nuts and sugar in processor until nuts are finely ground. Add butter; process until moist clumps form. Press onto bottom of 9" springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides (if your pan is not that tall, you can reserve some of the batter and bake it off in a ramekin or something). Wrap outside of pan with foil (if you use heavy duty, don't use 3 layers!). Bake crust until golden, about 15 minutes. Cool crust.

Beat cream cheese, sugar and cardamom in large bowl until smooth. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Add 1 cup sour cream, pear nectar, flour and vanilla and beat until blended. Pour filling over crust.

Bake cheesecake until puffed at edges and softly set in center, about 1 hour 5 minutes. Transfer cheesecake to rack; let cool 10 minutes.

ALERT: Here is where I screwed up and added the chocolate/ sour cream mixture to the cake batter - I kind of missed the preceeding instruction until the cake was in the oven.  It still came out just fine (the chocolate offset the addition of the sour cream and let it set, the baking time just took a little longer).  If you want to have a show piece, I would suggest following the directions...  :-)

Once cake comes out of the oven, melt white chocolate in 15 second increments in  microwave until smooth (stir in between heatings - when chocolate is mostly melted, stop heating). Cool chocolate to lukewarm; whisk in remaining 1 1/4 cups sour cream.

Spread topping over warm filling.  Refrigerate cake uncovered overnight. Cut around pan sides; release pan sides. Place cake on flat platter (trust me, you don't want to deal with the cracks that will show up from a "dipped" platter).

Pistachio Brittle

Nonstick vegetable oil spray (Only if using a baking sheet*)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup natural pistachios (shelled)

Lightly spray silicone mat with nonstick spray. Stir sugar and water in heavy small saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil until deep amber color, occasionally brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush and swirling pan, ~10-15 minutes. (* The recipe calls for a greased baking sheet, but I found that a silicone mat yielded very good results and allowed for easy removal of the brittle).

Stir nuts into caramel and immediately pour onto mat. Working (very) quickly and carefully (caramel is very hot and hardens fast), used back of a greased spatula to gently stretch in all directions to form very thin sheet, approximately 12 by 10 inches. Cool completely (which happens pretty quickly).

Finishing:  Break brittle into decent sized irregular pieces. Stand brittle pieces on edge in topping on cheesecake.  I served with a passionfruit/ pear syrup that I threw together with some leftover juice that I had on hand from the cheesecake & another project that I was working on. 


  1. Too funny! Lucky for that cheesecake that you didn't punch it and so glad no brittle got stuck in your craw. Looks delicious, no one could tell that the victory was ever in doubt!!

  2. Funny story! I really like the pistachio brittle!


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