In the past week we crammed in that Dark Cherry Bundt Cake, Grilled Tilapia with Cherry Salsa, Chicken Salad with Cherries and Goat-Cheese Dressing, Ricotta Pancakes with Brown Sugar-Cherry Sauce, Cherry-Vanilla Ricotta Muffins and we're rounding it out with this Black Forest Cherry Cheesecake I made a few days ago.
Fair warning - this cheesecake has quite a few steps to it and if you would like to make this, I would start a day or two ahead of when you plan to serve it. A thick cherry sauce is the first order of business for the cheesecake - this dark red sauce is a simple mixture of pureed fresh cherries, sugar to sweeten, lemon juice and a few shakes of cornstarch. It is briefly boiled to activate the cornstarch, then placed in the refrigerator to chill down and continue to thicken.
Up next? A chocolate graham cracker crust - this recipe uses a lighter twist to make the crumbs sticky and hold together, but if you're not concerned about that, remove the egg white and use enough melted butter to moisten (you'll probably need 4 to 5 more tablespoons worth). As with most, this dark crust is baked slightly so it retains a crispness to stand up to the moisture in the cheesecake. If you have a Trader Joe's close by, their chocolate cat cookies (a favorite snack around here... they also have a ginger version that is nice too and would work well with, say, a pumpkin cheesecake) would make for a nice stand-in for the graham crackers.
The mocha-colored filling is a luscious combination of softened cream cheese, sour cream and viscous sweetened condensed milk. You could certainly keep with the light theme and use reduced-fat ingredients, but I'd stay away from fat-free as they can alter the texture a bit too much (at least for us). The mocha color is achieved by a shower of Dutch-process cocoa powder (feel free to switch it with natural cocoa) to infuse a mild chocolate flavor. To add another chocolate layer, chopped bittersweet chocolate is the last addition to the smooth filling - chop it to the size of mini chunks/chips so they don't interfere too much with the creaminess of the filling. Normally I'm a fan of water baths when baking cheesecakes, but this one is baked at a gentle 300 degrees and I skipped it this time. As you can see, nary a crack can be found on the sleek surface on top - though check out that lone chocolate chunk that made an appearance!
If your cheesecake does happen to crack (typically a sign of being over-baked), it's no matter as that cherry sauce is sloshed over the top. To add a fancy flare, halved fresh cherries are arranged on top of the thick sauce. All ready to take your fork in for a big bite? Well, hold it! I warned you of multiple steps! The assembled piece needs to chill out in the refrigerator overnight so the cheesecake has a chance to completely set. Usually when I put cheesecakes in the ice box, I tend to get some condensation on top - to off-set that, I like to create a barrier by putting a large piece of paper towel on the rim of the springform pan, then cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and secure everything with a large rubber band so the paper towel won't touch the top. Any water drips are absorbed by the paper tower and won't mar your hard work! While this cheesecake wasn't as tall as I'm used to, it didn't disappoint at all - a little dense (in a good way), moist and very creamy with a pleasant contrast of chocolate to cherry... it brings a silly little grin to my face just thinking about taking a bite.
One note - while those neatly arranged cherries on top brings that showy finish, it also makes it a pain to slice neatly. However, rather than try to slice through them, just push them off to one side or another to make it work.
Oh, and by the way, I did stash a few of the cherries into the freezer so we could make that Fresh Cherry Smoothie again to chill us down during those upcoming warm summer days!
Black Forest Cherry Cheesecake