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 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???
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)
FILLING AND TOPPING
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.
FOR FILLING AND TOPPING
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).
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.