Sep 7, 2009

No-Bake Whipped Cream Cheesecake

The first thing I should tell you about this cheesecake is that I vociferously rejected it the first time I thought about making it. When I got my copy of Heavenly Cakes, I told Jim he could choose the maiden recipe. He took this assignment seriously, and carefully paged through the book, coming up with this recipe. I looked at it and asked him if he was out of his mind. "Jim, did you look at the instructions? First I have to make a crust, which isn't so bad, but then I have to make a custard, which entails splitting a vanilla bean and straining the custard with a fine-mesh strainer and being very careful that the gelatin doesn't set. And then I have to make an Italian meringue, whatever that is, and then I have to make a cherry coulis." I believe that he asked me something like why I bothered to ask him if I wasn't going to listen to him, and the conversation deteriorated from there.
But my point is that when I looked at the recipe this time, it didn't seem so crazy-complicated. And then I decided that the benefit of going through a cookbook like this one is that it's a lot like taking a personal cooking class from a great baker, only the great baker isn't evaluating your knife skills so you don't get all nervous while you're cooking.
Case in point: graham cracker crust.

When I originally read the recipe, I wasn't cowed by the thought of the graham cracker crust--I've made hundreds of them. They're kind of boring, but not at all hard. When I served this cake, though, several of the tasters remarked about how good the crust was. And I realized that even in this simple step, Rose takes great painsto make it perfect, including explicit directions about how to press the crumb mixture into the bottom of the springform pan.

Like pressing the crumbs through a piece of plastic wrap, for example.
Cutting a vanilla bean? A breeze.

Custard? Well, custard always presents the possibility of going awry, but it helps when the instructions are explicit about how to tell when to remove it from the heat.

This custard is made with creme fraiche, by the way, which is scalded before it's added to the sugar-gelatin-egg yolk mixture.
Then comes the straining that so unnerved me when I looked at this recipe way back in May. I can't remember why it seemed so traumatic.

And once I had the custard finished, and covered with plastic wrap so it wouldn't develop a skin, I felt like I was almost home free.

While I was waiting for the custard to cool, I tackled the Italian meringue. If you know what Italian meringue is and why it's different than American meringue, you're a lot smarter than I was. But I know now that it's made with a sugar syrup rather than with plain sugar, and that it's not just a fancy-pants, foreign-sounding creation--there's a reason for revving up the complication level. The sugar syrup makes the meringue much more stable, and it won't deflate like non-Italian meringue.
Again, this is not really hard, although it is a good idea to have a candy thermometer around, especially if you don't intuitively know when you hit the "firm-ball stage."

This method makes a lovely meringue--not all weepy and unreliable, like our native meringue.

Almost done now--just have to add sour cream, whipped cream cheese, and fresh lemon juice to the custard, fold in the meringue, and then pour it in the graham cracker crust.

Smooth it out, cover it with plastic and refrigerate it for at least four hours.
You would be done--except for the cherry coulis that you still have to make.
This cherry coulis almost sent me round the bend. Or at least, looking for cherries did. I spent most of Saturday looking for fresh tart cherries. If anyone would have them, it would be the Minneapolis Farmer's Market, the largest open-air market in the Midwest, so we headed there, making a single-minded foray up and down the aisles, and ignoring the heirloom tomatoes, bok choy, cantaloupe, and patty pan squash. Finally, after a dispirited pass through the last building, I bought some nice-looking sweet cherries. (After I got home, I Googled sour cherries and discovered that they have a very short season, which is about two weeks in June or July). I could have used frozen cherries, but it seemed sinful to even think about it in the season of bounteous produce.

I used half the sugar and a bit of lemon juice left over from the cheesecake make up for the difference in tartness.

I don't know what the sour cherry coulis would taste like, but this one was quite delicious. In fact, people liked it so much that I ran out after eight slices.

Now I really was done, so it was time to round up a tasting panel. I called our neighbors to the south, and summoned them for dessert. Good sports all, they ambled over.

Perfect--except that the plastic wrap that had been on top of the cheesecake marred the top. And my photographer, busy pouring glasses of wine and making a pot of coffee, forgot to take a picture of the sliced cheesecake served with the coulis alongside. This is a fabulous dessert--both rich and light. The flavors and textures vie for your mouth's attention, as you taste creaminess, tartness, smoothness, and lush sweetness at the same time. I would definitely make this one again. Although it does take a while to put together--it's not something you can whip up just before the guests arrive--but it's all perfectly doable. And your guests will love it. In fact, your guests will have seconds. And will leave your house feeling generally pleased with life.

Betty: "It's very light for a cheesecake. The cherries are wonderful, and the graham cracker crust is perfect. Why do my graham cracker crusts never taste this good?"
Fred: "You can eat two pieces without guilt."
Laurel: "I wouldn't have known it was cheesecake--it's un-cream cheesy. It's very, very good!"
Jan: "Damn good!"
Mary: "I've never had a cheesecake this light."
Doug: "It's worth a second helping."


Rose Levy Beranbaum said...

What an unexpected middle of the week reward after having spent an entire dAy of vacation restoring my iPhone only to discover that it was a big time AT&T problem and a class action is in the works. Marie this was a delight to read. I love your very quotable description of the flavors vying for the mouths attention and you have all the right intuition about lowering the sugar for the sweeter cherries. You cant begin to imagine the pleasure it gives me to read your take on my cake! Next week this time in Michigan and still wish you were coming!

Patricia @ ButterYum said...

Oh my.. I cannot wait to try it!

Great write-up!!

hector said...

Marie, we have been hitting the refresh button on the web browser at least 10 times today to see a new post. Marvelous! This no bake cheesecake should leave all others in the dust! Rose has her ways of adding Italian meringue as a fine refinement to an otherwise all jello dessert! This reinds me of the pear bavarian cream from cake bible, you should run and make it right away, cake part totally optional. I have a STRONG feeling this new book will redefine modern cakes, and indeed it is a very good 20 year continuation after Cake Bible. Needless to say, THANK YOU, I know this no bake cheesecake takes longer to make than the bake one!

Anonymous said...

What a treat to see this, this morning! Like you, I would be scared stiff to try this cake just by looking at the components of the recipe, but now that you have broken the stages down, you are giving hope and inspiration to us all that we can do it too!!!

And as for your neighbours ambling over, I bet they'll RUN over next time you invite them, I know I would!

Minneapolis Farmers Market said...

You do have lucky neighbors. Glad you are one of ours!

Anonymous said...

Oooh Marie!

This looks so yummy to me right now, light and cool. And cool too! Did I mention cool? Sorry, I'm really hot right now...

Thanks to Jim for not photographing the plating...that would have been just cruel.

Chris in RI (standing in front of the A/C set on "arctic")

doughadear said...

I wish I was on your tasting panel! It may have a few steps to put together but boy o boy the end result looks fabulous.

Marie said...

While you're enjoying yourself at the food festival in Michigan, I'll be sweating the preparation for an oral argument at the MN Supreme Court. I wish we could trade places.

Thanks. I can't wait for other people to be able to try it too!

You're right--the regular cheesecake is a snap compared to the preparation for this, but they're such totally different desserts they can hardly be compared.

I hope my neighbors don't ever get to the point where they say, "Oh, no, here comes Marie with another one of her desserts." So far, so good.

Minneapolis Farmers Market,
I love you!

This would have been a perfect dessert for you--and another one your OB could approve--all that calcium!

I know some of the things you've baked--this recipe would not cause you to blink an eye!

Melinda said...

I am still laughing at you being scared about straining the custard. What exactly was so terribly frightening?
I think Rose should add some weird instructions like, "The custard must be strained while wearing a pink tutu or the WHOLE dessert will be ruined!", just for the fun of it. But she is way too nice for such devilish fun.
The cheese cake sounds quite wonderful and the cherries on top, a crowning glory. Such lucky friends to be your guinea pig testers.

Marie said...

I'm surprised you don't know that a strainer is a sure sign of an overly fussy sauce. Or you may not object to overly fussy sauces.
No, no--the cherries can't be on top. The cheesecake is so quiveringly delicate that the cherries must be served on the side or they might plunge right into the cake.

Anonymous said...

Great job Marie! I also want to be your neighbor, cakes, breads.......oh my!
This cake looks as light and delicious as you described.

Marie said...

Thank you!
The Sept. Mpls-St. Paul magazine has an article about our block. Everyone wants to live here, it seems, but not because of my cakes and breads--just because it's a great place to live.

Bunny said...

Oh my, I've made cheesecakes before but this is outstanding, and you don't even have to bake it!

Marie said...

It's a very different animal from your typical cheesecake--and such a wonderful summer dessert!

hector said...

Just ate my Rose cake preview #3 and spent the day napping and housekeeping that was put aside... Baking always does. Wanted to say that each time I eat cheesecake, I remember having one at a Japanese bakery and it was so light and airy, loved it. Maybe this recipe is Japanese style vs the New York style of cheesecakes?

Marie said...

It's very definitely not a NY style--but I have no idea whether it's like the Japanese cheesecake you remember. It's funny that you have a vivid memory of a light and airy cheesecake because this recipe comes from the memory of a piece of cheesecake Rose once bought from a store in a Princeton, N.J. mall.

Robyn said...

Wonderfully wry commentary, but after the tease of Jim's request at the beginning I was sorry not to see his comments amongst those of the taste panel this time. Do tell. Trust he loved it so much he was able to leave out the "I told you so" comments!

Marie said...

Jim always has an opinion, but he rarely says "I told you so," because it just leads to trouble. He loved this cheesecake--he had seconds and cleaned up the crumbs and bits on the platter after everyone left. He advises that you leave it in the refrigerator until just ready to serve because if it's out too long, the pieces will not remain in a firm shape in the plate.

evil cake lady said...

This definitely blows the pants off of the boxed no-bake cheesecake mixes you can find at the store. A light and airy cheesecake sounds perfect for hot weather--especially since you don't have to turn on the oven!!

Marie said...

OK,this is why my daughters call me a food snob. I had no idea there was such a thing as a boxed no-bake cheesecake mix. And also because, without ever trying it, I could guarantee that Rose's version would blow the pants off of it.
You don't even have to bake the graham cracker crust!

Anonymous said...

Time for another update! You have a demanding audience and we need our weekly Marie fix!

Marie said...

It's that day job that's been keeping me too busy to bake--but I haven't forgotten!