We're at that portion of our holiday program where we let go of any pretense that we're holding steady on the scale and all dietary hell breaks loose.
That's where cheesecake comes in. Up until now it's been a stray cookie or a nibble of candy but there's a weak plank in your wobbly bridge of restraint. Some small part of your discipline is ready to dislodge. Any and all food stuffs are welcome to take a trip down your gullet and as long as you're in this sublime state of culinary dishabille, cheesecake is an option. Perhaps it's the only option.
For there will be regrets and resolutions come January 1st but today let's have cheesecake.
CRANBERRY-ORANGE POLKA DOT CHEESECAKE
(Makes one 9" cheesecake)
*NOTE: In order to make this recipe you need special equipment not special skills. You'll need a 9" springform, cake pan or cake ring that's at least 3" tall. You'll also need a 6" cake ring that's also at least 3" tall. I find it best to also have large pastry bags, a large open plain tip and a large open star tip.
For the crust
1 1/2 packs (12 whole cookies) graham crackers
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon sugar
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Spray a 9" springform, cake pan or cake ring with non-stick cooking spray. Place on a foil lined half sheet pan. Set aside.
Pulverize the graham crackers in a food processor along with the sugar until very fine. Transfer to a large bowl and pour the butter over the crumbs. Stir until the butter is evenly distributed, using your fingers if you need to. Dump the crumbs into the 9"' cake pan and pat down with your fingers into an even layer and then use a small measuring cup with a flat bottom to truly flatten out the crust. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the edges just barely begin to brown.
Take out of the oven and reduce the heat to 300ºF.
For the cheesecake
5 packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup heavy cream
juice of one orange (about 1/3 cup)
zest of one orange
1 teaspoon orange extract
1/2 can (from a 14oz can) cranberry sauce (you'll use the other half for the glaze)
1/4 teaspoon salt
red gel dye
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the cream cheese and the sugar. Whisk on high until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, and whisk to combine. Add the heavy cream, zest and extract and whisk to combine. Add the flour and salt and mix until the flour is completely distributed.
In a saucepan, combine the cranberry sauce and the orange juice. Stir over low heat, using a fork to mash down the cranberry sauce. Continue stirring and mashing until the mixture is smooth and slightly thickened. Add a drop or 2 of red dye and stir.
Divide the cheesecake batter in half. Run the cranberry mixture through a fine sieve into one of the bowls of cheesecake batter, leaving the other plain. Remove 1 1/2 cups batter from each of the bowls of batter and place in 2 separate smaller bowls. Refrigerate the larger bowls of batter and place the smaller bowls of batter in the freezer, for about 30 minutes.
Spray the inside andn outside of the 6" cake ring with non-stick cooking spray and place on top of the crust, making sure it sits right in the center. Press very lightly and turn just slightly. ***Before you start with the next process, make sure that the 2 smaller batches of batter in the freezer are VERY stiff but not frozen, especially the cranberry batter*** Transfer the large bowl of plain batter into a large pastry bag and pipe the batter into the outside ring. Pour the large batch of cranberry batter into the center ring.
Transfer the small amount of plain batter to a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip. Insert the tip half way down into the cranberry batter and press gently. Keep lifting and inserting the bag and adding small dollops to the cranberry batter, evenly distributing the dots all throughout the cranberry batter. Transfer the small batch of cranberry batter to a clean pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip and pipe small dollops all along the outside ring of plain batter.
Bake for 25 minutes at 300ºF in the center of the oven (if you can , remove any racks that sit above the center rack). After 25 minutes have passed, carefully pull out the center rack enough for you to take a pair of tongs or an oven mitted hand to carefully lift out the center ring. Lift straight up, if you can, otherwise the line delineating the two batters won't be even. Reduce the heat to 275º and bake for 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours or until the cheesecake slightly shimmies in the center. Turn the oven off and open the oven doors and allow the cheesecake to come to room temperature slowly. Once cool, place the cheesecake in the refrigerator.
For the glaze
1/2 can (from a 14 oz can) cranberry sauce
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons orange juice
1/2 teaspoon plain gelatin
red gel dye
In a small saucepan, combine the cranberry sauce and 1/2 cup orange juice. Stir over low heat, using a fork to mash down the cranberry sauce and continue stirring and mashing until the mixture is smooth.
Pour the 2 tablespoons orange juice into a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the juice and allow to sit until it looks soggy. Once the cranberry mixture is smooth, take from the heat and stir in the gelatin mixture and the dye. Stir until the gelatin has completely melted and the dye is evenly distributed. Pour the glaze through a fine sieve directly on the top of the cheesecake. Transfer to the freezer to set, about 20 minutes.
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
small cranberries or red currants, about 13
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Whisk together the heavy cream, confectioner's sugar and extract until medium stiff peaks form. Transfer the cream to a pastry bag fitted with a large open star tip and pipe decorative swirls onto the top edge of the cake. Dip one half of a cranberry or currant into the granulated sugar and place onto the cream.