Here I am, living in France, surrounded by superb pastries, butter creams, éclairs, religieuses, ganâches to die for, tartes aux abricots... and yet, I yearn for a good old fashioned cheesecake.
Over the years, I've made attempts in this direction. At one point I purchased tubs of fromage blanc, dumped them into a (very clean and not soapy perfumed) dish cloth and squeezed as much liquid as possible out of these lovely textured dairies to render them if not as solid as Philadelphia Cream Cheese, then at least less fluid than they had been.
Then I pretty much gave up on the traditional New York style cheesecake (excepting when someone snuck me some cream cheese in from the States), and opted for ricotta (here known as brousse or broccio) cheesecakes. These have a grainier texture, which can be somewhat smoothed out in a mixer, and over the years became a standard dessert during the cooking courses. But though I was able to make them interesting (honey and spices, orange zest, grand marnier...) they lacked that certain acidic bite of a traditional cheesecake. Something was missing.
Out of the blue, I was inspired these past two weeks to make more cheesecake. It simply came upon me. Though then again, I had two dinner parties to orchestrate, so somewhere the inspiration for dessert was necessary, and rather than settle for a fruit tart, or a chocolate mousse, or a fruit salad and cookies... I felt like experimenting.
My first cheesecake was traditionally inspired, flavored only by lemon zest (of two lemons) and the juice of half a lemon. Delicate and creamy, all deemed it a success. I used the brown sugar cookies known as Gascognes crushed into crumbs by my blender, and melted butter with a pinch of salt as my crust. Graham crackers they were not, but they did have a lovely caramel flavor that well complemented the cheese and lemon.
My later creation (here photographed) was more flamboyant and considering that all my guests were French, rather on the unusual side for this side of the Atlantic. Fresh and candied ginger with dark chocolate swirl. I didn't have a packet of cookies on hand, but I did have hazelnut meal, cocoa, sugar and butter, so these made my rather haphazard, but appreciated and remarked upon crust.
And so, how did I succeed at long last where for years I'd simply stumbled or wiggled around the ingredients? Well, I picked up a faisselle. This is a fresh cheese with neither salt nor sugar, in a plastic tub in a tub. The inner tub is a sieve, keeping the curd intact and apart yet leaving it in contact with the whey.
To make this particular ingredient work for me I purchased it a day (or two, a bit more time wouldn't hurt) ahead of time. I removed it from its whey (which I put aside in a jar for future muffin or pancake making) and put it inside a strainer over a bowl and back into the fridge. In this way, I returned it to its cheese origins, and put it into a situation where it would slowly release its liquid and firm up. Thus, my kilo of faisselle became 850 gr of fresh cheese (approx 2 lbs).
To this I added 3 eggs, 1 1/2 cups of sugar (about 300g) -- note, these are the same proportions I used for the lemon cheesecake--, 2 heaping tablespoons of fresh grated ginger (which I now store in the freezer, something friends in Boston do, and how brilliant!) and 2 tablespoons chopped candied ginger. I blended this all together and tasted it to see if I wanted more ginger or not (I love ginger... can you tell? I also love tasting cheesecake batter...).
Once I was content, I poured the batter onto my rather creative crust (it was interesting, but not as yet a recipe I would share as a finished, or even preferred option...) and then prepped my chocolate.
In a heavy bottomed stainless saucepan I melted 150g (5 1/2 oz) of dark chocolate on the surface of my wood stove (t'is winter after all). I scooped up and blended some of my cheesecake batter with the chocolate in the saucepan till somewhat smooth and then poured this extended chocolate batter over the ginger batter and swirled it around with a knife till it looked relatively lovely, or at least like a meeting of the worlds of light and dark, with perhaps dark winning.
I opted for baking the cake at a low temperature (150C/300F), rather than in a water bath, for nearly an hour or till the cake looked done with barely a touch of browning on the top, and the center jiggled only slightly. It rose high as a soufflet, and them came down a good bit, but not unpleasantly so.
I made this cake two days before my party, so I simply let it cool and put it in the fridge till needed. The extra chilling time deepened and melded the flavors.