Come springtime, there's nothing I want more than something fruity. As long as the fruit comes with cheesecake. On most occasions, I'm a New York cheesecake kinda gal. But cheesecake needn't be dense, as damn good as dense can be. Sometimes it can and should be light. Feather light, in fact.
Today, a weightless cheesecake, one that melts in your mouth called to me. By whisking the egg whites into a meringue and gently folding the meringue into the base, you'll create as much of a soufflé as a cheesecake...and you'll be happier for it. Adding a small amount of strawberry purée to about 1/4 of the batter leaves you in no doubt that spring is almost here.
LIGHT AS A FEATHER STRAWBERRY-ORANGE CHEESECAKE
for the strawberry purée
1/2 cup strawberries, hulled and cut in quarters
2 tablespoons sugar
for the cheesecake
4.5 ounces Philadelphia cream cheese, room temperature and cut into cubes
2 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
4.5 ounces whole milk
2.5 ounces cake flour
1.5 ounces cornstarch
5 eggs, room temperature and separated
4.5 ounces sugar
1 teaspoon orange extract
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
for the purée
Combine the strawberries and 2 tablespoons sugar in a small saucepan. Stir over low heat until the strawberries are completely broken down and the sugar has melted. Transfer to a food processor, process until smooth and then run through a fine sieve. Set aside.
for the cheesecake
Preheat your oven to 350ºF. Spray a 7" wide x 4" tall soufflé dish with non-stick baking spray (baking spray contains flour in the mix). Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper. Set aside. Grab a 9" or 10" cake pan and keep it handy.
In a heatproof bowl, combine the cream cheese, butter and milk. Place over a saucepan with simmering water and stir until the butter and cream cheese have melted. Don't worry if there are still small lumps of cream cheese left.
Take the mixture from the stovetop and whisk to combine. Continue whisking and slowly add the egg yolks. Sift the flour and cornstarch over the mixture and whisk to combine.
Transfer a little more than 1/4 of the batter to a small bowl and add 2 tablespoons of the strawberry purée to the small bowl. Stir to combine.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar. Whisk until foamy and slowly add the sugar. Whisk until medium peaks form but be careful not to whisk to stiff peaks.
Transfer a little less than 1/4 of the meringue to the small "strawberry" bowl and gently fold until combined.
In the bowl with the larger amount of base mixture, stir in the extract and zest and then gently fold in the remaining meringue in three batches.
Spoon 1/4 cup of the orange batter into the prepared soufflé dish, as close to the middle as you can, and then add a heaping tablespoon of the strawberry batter right in the middle. Don't tamp or squash it down. Let gravity do the work. Continue adding a quarter cup of orange batter and the tablespoons of strawberry, one on top of the other, until all the batter is added.
Place the empty cake pan in the oven and pour enough hot water into it so that it reaches about 1/4 - 1/3 of the way up the pan. Place the soufflé dish in the water bath. Close the oven and reduce the temperature to 325ºF. Bake for one hour. As the top gets golden, keep an eye on it and tent the top with aluminum foil if you feel it's getting too dark.
Take the cheesecake from the bath and, using a paring knife, run it along the edge of the dish and the cheesecake to release the sides from the dish and return to the oven without the water bath for 10 - 15 more minutes. The cheesecake may sink a bit. That's fine.
Turn the oven off and open the door a bit an allow the cheesecake to cool for about 20 - 30 minutes. Turn the cheesecake over onto a serving dish, remove the parchment, and refrigerate until completely cool. Two hours to overnight.
Serve with berries.