Every month, at the end of book club, we decide what food we'll bring to next month's meeting. We love to read, but, let's face it, we really love to eat. I immediately grabbed the dessert course, but said that it would have to be cake. No one objected. I wanted to make something from the Mostly Flourless Cakes and Cheesecakes section, and finally settled on the ginger cheesecake.
Of course, this being a Rose Levy Beranbaum concoction, it is a ginger cheesecake unlike any other. It's not made with powdered ginger--it's made with squeezed fresh ginger juice. How do you juice a ginger, you ask? You just grate lots and lots of it, and then squeeze it dry.
It takes a big honking piece of gingerroot to yield three tablespoons of ginger juice, but it's kind of fun to squeeze it out by hand. I put the squeezed-dry ginger in my compost pile, where I'm sure it will add an exotic touch to the compost.
I might as well admit right now that I took a shortcut in this recipe. You can either buy a little package of gingersnaps to make the crust, or you can make your own gingerbread cookies. If you opt for the homemade cookies, you can make tiny gingebread people and press them against the side of the cheesecake for decoration. The picture showing the gingerbread girls and boys looks cunning, I'll admit, but I had to make this cheesecake after work Monday night in order to have it for book club on Tuesday. I had the choice of forgoing the cookies or forgoing sleep. I bought the little package of gingersnaps.
I did not, however, take a shortcut with the cardamom. The recipe suggests cardamom as an optional flavoring that adds an "aromatic floral quality." Not ground cardamom, though. That would be too easy. For this cheesecake, you "remove the husk and fibers from about 6 cardamom pods."
I didn't even know that cardamom came in pods. After you remove the husk and fibers, you have little brown things that look sort of like mouse turds, but I tried not to think about that. And after you grind it, it smells a lot like powdered cardamom. If you were to take another shortcut in this recipe and not actually grind the cardamom, it would probably not cause the world to come to an end.
You absolutely could not substitute anything for the fresh ginger, however. When I tasted the batter, I couldn't believe how delicious it was. I really didn't want to bother to bake it, although I did, because taking a big bowl of cheesecake batter to book club does not seem comme il faut.
The batter goes into a springform pan on which the gingersnap crust has been patted out.
The pan then goes into a hot water bath.
I wish I had been more scrupulous about wrapping the spring-form pan with foil, because there was a little seepage into the cheesecake, and the crust was not quite the consistency I would have liked. But the hot water bath seems to work wonders in preventing the Grand Canyon look that cheesecakes sometimes get.
The cake came out of the oven looking beautiful, and would have remained so if I had not tried to remove the cheesecake from the pan's bottom onto a plate. As I was sliding it ever so carefully (I thought), it sort of broke in two. Undaunted, I shoved the two pieces together and covered the tell-tale crack with a design made from slices of preserved ginger. I thought this was rather clever of me, although it would not have fooled Sherlock Holmes.
Okay, so it wouldn't have fooled a two-year-old. But it just shows that you can often rescue something if you don't insist on perfection. Even if the appearance of this cheesecake wasn't perfect, the texture was nearly so. Although it seems ridiculous to say that something with a pound of cream cheese, 3 cups of sour cream, and 3 eggs can be light, this tasted light and surprisingly refreshing. And the fresh ginger taste was even better in the baked cheesecake than it was in the batter. My dear friend Mary, who is having radiation therapy for a benign tumor of the salivary gland, is at the point of therapy where everything tastes like sawdust. I was happy that she perked up at the cheesecake and said it actually tasted good. I agreed.
Sally: "The ginger taste is subtle, not overwhelming, like ginger sometimes is. Very delicious."
Fran: "Creamy texture--it's firm, but still creamy."
Laurel: "Light and fluffy"
Mary: "Very soothing for someone undergoing radiation therapy."