My friend Angie’s birthday is on the Fourth of July, which is the summer equivalent of having your birthday on Christmas, at least in the sense that everyone is out of town or at a picnic instead of at your birthday party! This year, she celebrated a week late and combined it with a house-warming for her new house!
Last year, we threw her a surprise party, and I had stealthily asked what kind of cake she would want, to which she replied, “Cheesecake.” So I made my first cheesecake last year! It turned out decent for a first attempt, but needed work. So I adjusted and made my second annual birthday cheesecake!
A regular run-of-the-mill graham cracker crust would not do for a birthday, so I decided that a gingersnap crust would be lovely. Conveniently, I had half a batch of gingersnap dough already in the freezer, so I preheated the oven, sliced the dough up, and had gingersnaps about 10 minutes later.
Since I had an open package of graham crackers, I used the last three of those in with about ten cookies. After breaking them into smaller pieces, I pulsed them in the food processor with a tablespoon or so of sugar and the rest of the pecans I had in the cupboard. Then I melted 4 tablespoons of butter, mixed it all together, and pressed the evenly-coated cookie crumbs into the bottom of a springform pan.
Usually I think you bake the crust for a few minutes, but I use less butter than most recipes call for and I was making a thinner cheesecake layer, so I figured it would work out. You can go either way: if you want the crust crispier, bake for 5-7 minutes at 350F, for a softer crust, don’t par-bake.
Instead of four 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, I just used two, along with 1/3 cup of sour cream (thick plain yogurt would work too), two eggs, 1/2 cup of sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and lemon zest. I think the lemon just brightens up the flavor a bit. The most important part is to have the cream cheese and eggs (and preferably sour cream/yogurt) at room temperature. This helps everything combine for a smooth, creamy cake.
Add the cream cheese to the bowl of your stand mixer and use the paddle attachment at medium-high speed to whip until fluffy. Then add the eggs one at a time until combined. Next add the sour cream, then the sugar, whipping until smooth. Add the spices and pour it on top of the crust.
At other sites, you can read the pros and cons of a water bath. My list is short.
Pro: Martha Stewart recommends it.
Cons: It’s a pain, and when I used one last year, my cake cracked worse than this year when I skipped it.
This year, I just tossed that puppy in the oven for 55 minutes. When it was done, I cracked open the oven door and let the temperature drop gradually. It was already cracked slightly, but the crack didn’t get any worse that way. See?
Not too bad. Carefully run a butter knife (or plastic if you’re worried about a non-stick pan) around the edge of the pan and remove the outer ring.
Let cool to room temperature, then chill before serving.
But what about the unsightly crack in the top?
Let’s cover it up with a berry sauce! A delicious disguise. I had trouble finding a recipe, so I made one up. It was well-received, so I will say it turned out fine. I didn’t eat either one, and since it was a new recipe, I can only go by what they told me!
Start with some fruit. I used strawberries, raspberries, and a generous dash of frozen blueberries that we picked last summer. Wash, hull and slice (if needed), and toss with up to 1/4 cup of sugar. Let macerate for at least 30 minutes.
In a small saucepan, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar with 1 tablespoon corn starch, making sure there are no lumps. Add the juice of half a lemon (the whole lemon if you like things tart) and stir until sugar starts to dissolve. Heat over medium heat until mixture starts to bubble. Add fruit, stirring well to coat, and cook until fruit is as broken-down as you’d like and desired consistency is reached. You may prefer a chunkier sauce, so may not want to cook it as long. I simmered mine for about 5-10 minutes.
That’s all the pictures I took. Word got out that there was cheesecake, so I sliced and served as fast as I could. I hope the birthday girl enjoyed it!
Berry Birthday Cheesecake
For the crust:
3 graham crackers
2 tablespoons pecans
2 Tbsp sugar
4 Tbsp butter melted
For the filling:
2 8 oz. bars of cream cheese, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
1/3 C sour cream
1/2 C sugar
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
zest of 1/2 lemon
For the topping:
2 cups berries, any combination (I used blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries)
3/4 cup sugar, divided
juice of 1 lemon (less for sweeter sauce)
zest of 1/2 lemon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Break graham crackers, cookies, and pecans into small pieces, then pulse with a tablespoon of sugar in a food processor until finely ground. Mix with 4 tablespoons melted butter and use the bottom of a measuring cup to press mixture into the bottom of a 9″ springform pan. For chewy crust, leave be, for crispy crust, bake for 5-7 minutes at 350F.
Put cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer and use the paddle attachment to whip until fluffy. Add one egg at a time, scraping down sides of bowl, beating until smooth. Add sour cream, then sugar, making sure to fully incorporate each ingredient. Beat until smooth. Add lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. Pour into prepared crust. Bake at 350F for 50-60 minutes. Center of cake should be barely jiggly. Open oven to let temperature equalize before removing cake. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and remove outer ring. Let cool to room temperature, then chill before serving.
Combine 2 cups washed, sliced berries with 1/4 cup sugar. Let macerate at room temperature 30-45 minutes.
In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon corn starch. Whisk together evenly, then add lemon juice. Mix carefully to make sure there are no lumps. Heat over medium until mixture boils. Add nutmeg, lemon zest, and vanilla, then add fruit. Stir to combine. Let simmer until desired consistency is reached (the longer you cook it, the smoother the sauce will be), 3-15 minutes. Let cool slightly, then while warm or room temperature, spoon over sliced cheesecake immediately before serving.