Our Honey Girl’s Mr. Right’s parents (Are you still with me?) visited us this past weekend from Alabama. It was Mr. Right’s dad’s birthday, and I had it on good authority that a cheesecake would be something that would make the birthday boy happy. Since they were visiting from the South, I thought it would be nice to put a Minnesota Scandinavian twist on my favorite cheesecake recipe. So I bought some fresh lingonberries to scatter on top, a bracingly tart pop of flavor when they burst in your mouth against the creamy vanilla cheesecake, and added a flourish of whipped cream laced with freshly ground cardamom seeds. I served the cake with the lingonberries in a sugar syrup the first day, and with plain lingonberries after that. It is delicious both ways. The berries’ assertive tartness is softened by a little time in the company of some sugar, and the sugar makes a nice sauce mingled with the juice, but they are also a bright contrast and quite nice plain. This is a crustless cheesecake and gluten free, but you won’t miss the crust. In fact, after making it for the first time 19 years ago when my Honey Girl was baptized, I found the crust on other cheesecakes a distraction from its creamy perfectness. Instead, the top of the cake browns as it bakes, and when you invert it, it becomes a base with a hint of caramel under all that creamy vanilla yummy-ness. This cake can be made up to four days ahead. It’s light and creamy on the first day, and it gets a little more dense each day. My favorite day to eat it is day four, but it’s pretty tough to wait.
If you cannot find fresh lingonberries, pomegranate seeds would make a fine substitute. If prying them out seems like too much labor, sometimes you can even find them already harvested from their ruby orbs. Check the pre-cut produce section. Or serve it plain. It’s delicious without anything extra, too.
To measure the cornstarch, fill a half cup measure with cornstarch. Then remove one tablespoon.
Scrape down your mixing bowl frequently as you work. If there is cheese and butter at the bottom and on the sides that doesn’t get incorporated thoroughly, you will have an extra-cheesy bite or two in each piece rather than an evenly creamy cake.
When I went to bake this cake deep into the night and long after groceries stores had shut off their lights, I found all of the lemons had disappeared from my kitchen. I substituted some key lime juice I found leftover from summer drink-making and it was just fine. Any acidic citrus juice will serve the purpose the lemon juice, so feel free to substitute.
A bain marie is a pan of hot water. To make one, find a pan one size larger than the 9×13 pan you’re using for the cake. Fill the pan that will serve as your bain marie about 1/3 of the way. It is important that the water be boiling. When your cake is ready to go into the oven, lower it ever so slowly and evenly into the pan of boiling water. The water should come up the sides of the cheesecake pan about half way. Add a bit more water or scoop out a little as needed. The bain marie provides moisture in the oven as the cheesecake bakes and makes for a very creamy cake.
I don’t have a serving tray large enough for this cake, so I made a cake board by cutting a piece of plywood, wrapping it in tin foil, and covering it with clear contact paper. It sounds tacky, but it looks quite professional.
Center the cake before you turn it out onto a tray or board. To do this, use your hands as a guide. The cake should be equidistant from all sides.
Once you have transferred the cake to a tray or board, do not try to shift the cake. It will not move well. If it’s a little off center, pipe a little whipped cream on and around it in a decorative pattern and make it even by creating a false border. It it’s really off center, serve it from the kitchen rather than presenting the whole cake.
It the cake looks a bit wonky, smooth the edges and the top with a knife. It’s very malleable and agreeable to work with.
Cardamom seeds must be removed from their pale green pods. Simply pry them open. The seeds may be ground with a mortar and pestle or in a dedicated coffee grinder.
Pay attention while your cream is whipping and stop when it is still soft.
Vanilla Cheesecake with Fresh Lingonberries and Cardamom Whipped Cream
Yield: one 9×13 cheesecake
2 pounds cream cheese at room temperature
½ c. unsalted butter at room temperature
1 T. vanilla extract or the seeds and pulp scraped out of one vanilla bean
1 ½ c. sugar
½ c. less 1 T. cornstarch
7 large eggs
2 c. heavy cream
¼ c. lemon juice
1 c. fresh lingonberries
1/4 c. sugar
2 c. heavy cream
¼ c. sugar
1 T. vanilla extract
1 T. freshly ground cardamom seeds
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and place the rack to the upper 1/3 position.
- Butter a 9×13 pan.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the cream cheese and butter until they are smooth and creamy.
- Add the vanilla, sugar, and cornstarch and beat well.
- Add the eggs one at a time and beat well between additions. Scrape down the mixture frequently with a spatula.
- On low speed, gradually add the cream and then the lemon juice.
- Pour into your pan, place it into a ban marie (see tips above), and bake it for 30 minutes.
- Increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees and rotate the cheesecake 180 degrees in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.
- Allow the cheesecake to cool to room temperature.
- Run a knife carefully around the edge of the pan, place a serving tray or serving board on top of the cake pan, line it up so that it is in the center of the tray or board, and invert both simultaneously. The cake will thud out of its pan and onto the tray or board.
- Wrap it in cellophane and store it in the refrigerator until you wish you serve it. It will keep for about five days.
- To prepare the lingonberries, simply sprinkle them with the sugar, give them a gentle stir until the sugar is dissolved, and allow them to rest for about 30 minutes. Or serve them plain.
- Whip the cream with the sugar, vanilla, and cardamom seeds in the bowl of an electric mixer with a wire whisk attachment.
- Spoon some berries onto each piece of cake and pipe or spoon some whipped cream on top.