You can't go wrong with lemon cheesecake. It's simple and classic - can be eaten on its own, savored bite by bite, or piled high with delicious toppings, fresh fruit, compote, caramel, lemon curd. I used a vanilla bean, to add flavor, and provide those cute little black specs. I wanted something less traditional, and more exotic. I added cashews and coconut to the crust. The juice and zest from one lemon provided the appropriate amount of zing. This is a light and refreshing dessert, and I imagine it would pair beautifully with a glass of chardonnay.
When describing the process of making cheesecake, I like to use the analogy of going on a blind date. At first, you imagine what your end product should look like, creamy, fluffy, - tall, dark, and handsome. You put a whole lot of effort into preparing, creaming, mixing, stirring, - straightening your hair, waxing your legs. You show up to your blind date, nice restaurant and a good location. At first everything is going swimmingly, and then, just when you thought things were going to well, it starts to unfold. Your date tells you that he lives with his mother, is unemployed, in a band, and trying to figure things out, - your cake puffs up in the center, falls back down into a giant pit. You pull it out of the oven, and then it cracks down the center. You try and lift it out of the pan and realize that the crust is stuck to the bottom. The cake is hard and dense and you realized that you over baked it, because when the recipe stated jiggly, they meant jiggly.
There are a few measures that you can take to prevent these unfortunate mishaps. Ensure that the bottom of the pan is well greased. Do not over mix your ingredients. If too much air is incorporated, the center will puff up and sink. Use enough crumb to make a thick enough crust so that it wont fall off the bottom of the cake. Start with a higher temp when baking, and then reduce. Baking at a lower temp will prevent cracking. Once baked, turn off the heat and keep the cake in the oven to let cool. It is the drastic change in temp that will cause it to crack. And, once you remove it from the oven, immediately run a thin knife along the edges, pressing the knife against the wall of the pan to loosen the top. This will also prevent cracking as the cheesecake cools and contracts. And use all social media outlets and stalk your bind date beforehand. This is 2013, and we have options.
LEMON VANILLA BEAN CHEESECAKE WITH A CASHEW COCONUT CRUST RECIPE (print)
makes one 9 inch cake, cut into 16 small or 8 medium slices
1/2 cup raw cashews, chopped
1/4 cup angle flake sweetened coconut
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
6 tbsp butter, melted
3 - 8 oz packs of cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup of white sugar
1 vanilla bean, cut lengthwise and seeds removed
1 lemon, juice and zest
2 egg yolks
2 egg whites, whipped to soft peaks
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
In a food processor, add the chopped raw cashews and coconut flakes. Pulse until a medium fine crumb. In a medium size bowl, add the cashews, coconut, and graham cracker crumbs. Stir until combined. Slowly drizzle in the melted butter. Stir until all of the crumb is moistened.
Grease a 9 inch springform pan. Pour the crust ingredients into the springform pan and flatten evenly with your hand or a spatula. Place the pan into the oven and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven.
Increase the oven temperature to 400ºF.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla seeds. Mix on low-medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the lemon juice and zest and combine.
Scrape down the sides of the stand mixer bowl. Add the egg yolks one at a time and mix until incorporated. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and scrape down the sides. Fold in the egg whites.
Pour the filling onto the crust and smooth it out with a spatula. Place the pan into the oven on a flat baking sheet, on the middle rack. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 225ºF, and continue baking for 60 - 75 minutes, or when the cheesecake appears firm and slightly jiggly on top.
Once done, turn the oven off, and leave the cheesecake in there to cool for 1 hour. This will prevent the cheesecake from cracking. When you remove your cheesecake from the oven, immediately run a thin knife along the edges, pressing the knife against the wall of the pan to loosen the top. This will also prevent cracking as the cheesecake cools and contracts. Let the cake sit at room temperature until cool, a couple of hours. Cover with Saran wrap and place into the fridge overnight to cool completely. This will allow it time to set.
Can be stored in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for 1 month.