I have never been a fan of cheesecakes, but as I have been connecting more and more with my Jewish culture through food over the past year, I thought now would be the ideal time to try again. It is currently the holiday of Shavuot, where we eat a lot of dairy for numerous potential reasons, and with cheesecake being a very popular choice to honor dairy, I didn't want to miss out on all the fun! Yes, I can certainly enjoy cheese through a cheese plate, grilled cheese, mac and cheese, and even on its own, but I do that on a regular basis - a special day deserves a dish that is not as common in order for it to really feel like a celebration of receiving the Torah so many years ago.
Sweet cheese is not something I tend to crave though. Cannolis and cheesecake usually rub me the wrong way - there is just something about combining sugar and chocolate with this ingredient that is so delightful in a savory application that I have a lot of difficulty accepting. But I love cheese and fruit! Blintzes with preserves, a cheese plate with honey, seasonal jams, and quince, even yogurt and berries; I feel that these combinations make the eating experience so much better every time.
Because of this, initially, I considered making a savory cheesecake mixed with fruit, more like a fancy spread for crackers. But a sweeter style for dessert just kept calling my name, so I figured I would just go for it. With plans for a jalapeño honey for a garnish already in the works, I had a sweetener just waiting to be featured even more. Honey is actually recognized as a notable ingredient on Shavuot as well, for "like honey and milk [the Torah] lies under your tongue," providing spiritual nourishment for the human soul in the same way that milk can fuel a human being.
We also had just picked up some beautiful, juicy strawberries from the store, so I wanted to find a way to include them. Incorporating raspberries, fresh basil, a dash of cinnamon, and a splash of vanilla too, I knew I had the flavors to ensure this cheesecake had a wonderful flavor - I just had to hope it would be enough to convince me to love it!
I did have one more trick up my sleeve to help balance everything out. Since I did not want to bake this cheesecake, in order to make it light, I chose to use aquafaba. Though I was not going to use sugar (thanks to the infused honey) and thus not be able to achieve stiff peaks, whipping the aquafaba to soft peaks would still be very beneficial as it would help to loosen up the dense cream cheese. The savory and nutty notes in the aquafaba would also help to mellow it out, creating a more subtle base for all the other ingredients and allowing them to have a stronger presence in the final outcome.
When I tasted the cheesecake after it was complete, I was pleasantly surprised! It was more fruity, herbaceous, and spicy than cheesy, and it just melted in your mouth instantly. I did not want to stop eating until I finished my slice, and I easily could have enjoyed another - it was really that yummy!
Now, while the following recipe might look complicated at first because there are about six different components, they can all be completed simultaneously and within a short amount of time. There is also only a small amount of cooking involved to concentrate the flavors more, but the recipe requires very few ingredients and pieces of equipment that you will not be overwhelmed. And you do not have to bake the cheesecake part! Cheesecake is often intimidating because you have to bake it in a water bath and be cautious so it does not crack - this one just has to sit in a fridge for all the flavors to settle into each other, nothing scary about that!
And here is one more plus: you do not have to use strawberries, raspberries, or basil as these enhancements can totally be switched out for other fruits and herbs. As summer comes, plums and peaches would be fantastic, but mango and pineapple could add a lovely a tropical flair, or blueberries and blackberries could add a deeper berry tone; for the herb, you could use mint, thyme, lavender, or lemon verbena.
If this cheesecake sounds like it is up your alley, don't forget to make it early in the day as it does have to set up in the fridge for a few hours; if you like to be more on top of your game, then make it the day before to firm up overnight, allowing for an even speedier indulgence when you are ready to dive in! Just be sure to leave lots of room in your stomach - one slice will probably not be enough!
Red Berry, Jalapeño Honey, and Basil Cheesecake
Yield: 1 8-inch cheesecake
1 cup Almond Flour
2 T Aquafaba
1/2 tsp Coriander
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 cup Strawberries
1/2 cup Raspberries
2 T White Wine
2 T Honey
1 sprig Basil (about 10 nicely sized leaves)
4 T Aquafaba
8 ounces Cream Cheese, softened
1 1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
8 Basil Leaves
Preheat the oven to 400°F. In a food processor, combine the almond flour, 2T aquafaba, coriander, and salt. Blend until it forms a smooth dough. Line an 8-inch springform pan with parchment and press the crust into an even layer to cover the bottom. Bake for 20 minutes - it will be crisp and golden brown when done. Let cool in the pan.
In a small pot, combine the 1/2 cup strawberries, 1/2 cup raspberries, and white wine. Simmer uncovered over low heat until it resembles a loose jam - the fruit should be soft and there should still be liquid in the pot. Strain the fruit and set both aside.
Remove the rib and seeds from the jalapeño. Chop it very fine and combine in a small bowl with the honey. Cover with plastic, then microwave for 30 seconds on medium power to infuse. Let cool.
Finely chop the basil and set it aside.
In a Kitchen Aid with a whisk attachment/bowl with a hand mixer, whip the aquafaba on high until it reaches soft peaks. In stages, add the softened cream cheese on medium power and whip until smooth. Add the vanilla, cinnamon, cooked berries, half the jalapeño honey with the pieces of jalapeño, and the chopped basil. Whip until fully incorporated.
When the crust is cool and still in the springform pan, pour the cream cheese mixture on top. Marble in the berry juice with a spatula. Let set in the fridge for at least four hours, then unmold.
Garnish with the remaining strawberries, raspberries, basil leaves, and jalapeño honey.
Slice and enjoy!