This is a wonderful holiday-themed dessert, with the tartness of the cranberries and the slight zing from the orange zest giving a great contrast to the sweetness of the cheesecake.
If you’re adopting healthier eating and exercise habits, a treat like a piece of cheesecake is not going to disrupt you from reaching your goals, as long as you account for those calories in your nutritional and exercise regimen. I am including this recipe on this blog because I do think that something decadent like cheesecake can be part of your life, within moderation, of course. If you deny your cravings, you obsess about them and ultimately will slip and binge. So, treat yourself from time to time. Ultimately, it’s about finding that balance in life.
There is nothing healthy about this cheesecake. Yes there are cranberries and orange zest. But, let’s not fool ourselves; this is a holiday dessert, and a good one. This cheesecake recipe, along with a number of others I have tried and loved, comes from a fantastic cheesecake cookbook by George Geary, titled “125 Best Cheesecake Recipes”. I ordered the soft-covered edition from Amazon several years ago and I have had great success with the variety of recipes I’ve tried. Thank you, George.
This is not a difficult recipe to make, as long as you adhere to the recipe and follow the directions closely. There is a three-step process in baking this cheesecake and requires a minimum of two days as the crust must be prepared and frozen before preparing the batter and baking the cake and the cake must be refrigerated for at least eight hours before serving. You’ll need a food processor and large mixer to prepare this cheesecake. You’ll also need a nine-inch spring-form pan.
2 cups butter cookie crumbs
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and ground
7 TBS, unsalted butter, melted (This is one of those rare times I’m not recommending a healthier butter like Smart Balance; it’s cheesecake, so you might as well use regular butter)
6 packages (each 8 oz) of cream cheese, softened
2 and 1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 Tbsp orange zest
2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups, fresh cranberries, slightly crushed, or frozen cranberries (I used frozen and they worked beautifully)
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp orange zest
2 cups butter cookie crumbs (I used shortbread butter cookies)
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and ground
7 Tbs of unsalted butter (just shy of a stick of butter), melted
(The actual recipe called for 1 and 1/2 cups of cookie crumbs, 1/2 cup pecans, and 1/3 cup of butter, which is 5 Tbs plus 1 tsp. However, I have discovered with making cheesecake crusts both from this cookbook I use and from other recipes that if I follow their directions, I end up with less crust to cover the full bottom portion of the spring-form pan. So, I’ve learned to increase the crumbs as well as the amount of butter to make sure that I have enough crust. The amount of pecans I didn’t change.)
I pulsed essentially a box of shortbread butter cookies in my food processor to get the two cups I needed. Pulse carefully as you want crumbs with a some largish pieces being ok, but you don’t want cookie dust. Once the cookies have been pulsed to your desired crumbles, remove and set aside in a bowl. Clean out the processor in preparation for the pecans.
Now for the pecans. We’re going to toast them first. Pre-heat the stove to 350 degrees. Spread the 1/2 cup of pecans out on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 5-10 minutes (I did 10 and that was perfect.)
Place the toasted pecans into the food processor (be careful not to burn your hands) and pulse until the nuts are ground well.
Add the 1/2 cup of ground pecans to the cookie crumbs.
Melt 7 Tbs of butter and add it into the crumbs and pecans mixture, stirring together to produce your crust.
Before pressing the crust into the bottom of the spring-form pan, grease the pan lightly (both the bottom and the sides) with a little butter.
Press the crust into the base of the pan and spread it out, covering the entire base as well as you can. This isn’t going to be a thick layer of crust; just ensure there are no major holes in your crust.
Cover the pan with plastic wrap and place in freezer overnight. You can take a break now.
You will need to make sure that your cream cheese and eggs are at room temperature before you start making the filling. I have had issues for several years with the top of my cheesecakes cracking and everything I have tried (water baths, letting the cheesecake sit in the oven resting with the oven door open after baking) didn’t work. I have always let my cream cheese sit out to soften at room temperature before beating. However, I finally read a tip by George Geary that said that the key ingredients like the cream cheese and the eggs need to all be at room temperature (won’t bore you with the technical explanation) and I tried that with this recipe, putting the cream cheese and eggs out at the same time and there were no serious cracks with the final baked cheesecake. I am a convert.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large mixer bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar on medium-high speed for five minutes (yes, five minutes). If you feel too much of the cream cheese is sticking to the blade, stop mixing for a second and using a spatula, clear off the blade and continue mixing.
Add the six eggs, one at a time, beating after you add each one. The base of our batter is done; now we’ll just be tweaking it to get the specific flavors that we want.
Now, for the orange zest. You need 2 Tbs of orange zest for the filling and another 1/4 of a tsp of orange zest for the topping. I zested a medium orange and had more than enough to meet my requirements.
The recipe calls for ground nutmeg and it doesn’t specify fresh or from a jar. If it’s easier, by all means, go with the jar. I’ve just discovered the aromatic joys of freshly grated nutmeg so that’s what I’m using.
Remove the blade from the mixer. You’ll need a spatula for the rest of this process, preferably a rubber one, Fold in the orange zest, nutmeg and vanilla.
And, finally for the star of our show: the cranberries!
Fold the cranberries into the batter (The author of the cookbook suggests that if you’re using frozen cranberries to use them right from the freezer without thawing to prevent color bleeding during the baking process. So, that’s exactly what I did and the cheesecake turned out nicely with all of the berries cooked intact and no bleeding).
Pull the spring-form pan with your crust out of the freezer. Pour your batter over the crust to about two-thirds of the way up the pan. If you’re using a nine-inch pan like I am, you will have quite a bit of batter left over, but don’t be tempted to fill the pan to the top! You could use a ten-inch pan and get a larger cheesecake, but then you’ll need to bake the cake longer.
It is very important that you place your pan on a baking sheet before putting it in the oven to bake because there will be some small amount of liquid that will leak out from the spring-form pan during the baking process.
Bake in the preheated oven for 60 to 75 minutes or until the top begins to brown and the center has a slight jiggle to it and take the cake out, letting cool for ten minutes. Do not turn off the oven as there is another baking step. (I baked this cheesecake for 65 minutes and took it out when I noticed the browning and the slight jiggle. Try lightly touching the surface of the cake and if it is firm enough and your finger doesn’t make an imprint, that’s a good sign that it is ready to come out. Every oven is different, so just pay attention to these indications as you get to the 60 minute mark.)
While the cake is cooling for ten minutes, it’s time to prepare the simple topping. In a small bowl, combine the one cup of sour cream, 1/2 cup of granulated sugar, 1 tsp of vanilla and 1/4 tsp of orange zest and mix well.
Pour the topping into the center of the slightly cooled cheesecake and carefully spread out the icing to the edges of the cheesecake.
Put the newly topped cheesecake back in the oven (still on the baking sheet) and bake an additional five minutes. Take the cake out of the oven, turn the oven off, and let the cake cool on a wire rack for two hours.
After at least an hour of cooling, gentle unlatch the spring form pan holding the cheesecake and carefully remove the pan siding. Because the pan has been well-greased and the cake is totally baked, the pan should come off easily. Just use a gentle touch; you don’t want to have gone through all of this trouble to make this delicious cheesecake only to damage it at the end.
Lightly cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap (being mindful that the topping is still setting and you don’t want the wrap to stick to it) and place in refrigerator for at least eight hours before serving.
Trust me, this will be a hit!
You’ve got to be joking:) Even if I had it, which I don’t, I wouldn’t include it here. Just indulge carefully.