When I want strawberry cheesecake, I want cheesecake that’s strawberry-flavored, not plain cheesecake topped with strawberries. And not a plain cheesecake with a swirl of strawberries. Although I’m certainly not against adding a strawberry topping and strawberry swirl to strawberry-flavored cheesecake.
I confess that the strawberry swirl wasn’t intentional. But when I had leftover strawberry puree, I didn’t know what else to do with it. I didn’t want to risk marring the cheesecake’s creamy texture by doubling the puree. So on my first try, I poured half of the cheesecake batter over the crust, then spooned on the puree, then finished with the rest of the cheesecake batter. I liked the hit of fresh strawberry flavor in each bite, but the leftover cheesecake’s crust got soft, almost soggy, after a day in the fridge, which I blamed on the watery strawberry puree.
So I thought I’d try putting the extra puree on top of the cheesecake instead of in the middle. Generally when you plan to swirl things together, you want them to be about the same viscosity, but that would require cornstarch and cooking to thicken the strawberry puree, and I didn’t want to mess with all that.
The swirl on top worked wonderfully, even without thickening the puree. Of course I still topped the cheesecake with sliced strawberries, but with the bright flavor from the swirl, it was hardly necessary. Now this, with even pink strawberry flavor throughout, beautiful fresh puree, and if you can’t get enough strawberries, sliced fresh strawberries on top – this is worthy of being called strawberry cheesecake.
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Strawberry Cheesecake (adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Tall and Creamy Cheesecake from Baking: From my Home to Yours)
Makes 16 servings
For the crust:
1¾ cups graham crackers
3 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
For the cheesecake:
4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1⅓ cups (9.67 ounces) sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons cream
1 cup (8 ounces – both in weight and liquid measurements) strawberry puree, divided
1. For the crust: Spray the bottom of a springform pan with nonstick spray. Either grind the graham crackers with a food processor or place them in a ziptop bag and crush with a rolling pin. Add the sugar, salt, and butter to the crumbs and stir until evenly mixed. Press the crumbs into an even layer covering the bottom of the prepared pan. Put the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the crust for 10 minutes, or until fragrant. Let cool on a wire rack, then wrap the bottom of the pan in foil. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bring a pot of water to a boil.
3. For the cheesecake: With a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer), beat the cream cheese at medium-low speed until smooth. Add the sugar and salt; continue mixing for about 2 minutes, until the mixture is light and creamy. Add the vanilla, then the eggs one a time, mixing just until each one is incorporated. Mix in the cream and ½ cup of the strawberry puree.
4. Pour the batter onto the cooled crust. Spoon the remaining strawberry puree over the batter and use a butter knife to gently swirl it. Place the wrapped springform pan into roasting pan; pour the hot water into the roasting pan.
5. Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Turn off the oven’s heat and prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon; let the cheesecake set in the water bath for another hour. Remove the cheesecake from the hot water and let it come to room temperature on a cooling rack. When the cake is cool, cover the top lightly and chill the cake for at least 4 hours.
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