Cherries and Cheesecake

When my sister and I were little girls our Mother would take us shopping at one of the big department stores downtown. The T. Eaton Company, or “Eaton’s”, as it was commonly known, was an old-fashioned store. There was elevator service with an attendant who actually opened and closed the door and cheerfully took you up or down to your destination. Sales people were attentive and helpful and there were two restaurants when you had had enough of shopping and needed a rest and refreshment.
Our favorite part of a shopping trip to Eaton’s was a stop at the Valley Room. Thinking back now I am sure it was Mom’s way of ensuring our good behavior and cooperation while she made her way through the store with us in tow. The Valley Room was the cafeteria-style restaurant on the fifth floor. It was casual and inexpensive with the added bonus that our aunt, my Mother’s sister Mabel, was employed there. We would go in, pick up our trays, and push them along past the hot food, the salads and sandwiches and the big coffee urns to the dessert station. There were small parfait glasses full of multicolored jello cubes topped with a rosette of whipped cream. Dishes of pudding; chocolate, vanilla, butterscotch and rice were displayed beside simple fruit cups. There was pie: lemon meringue, cherry, apple and pumpkin. Red velvet cake was featured along with Boston cream pie. And then there was the object of my childish desire: cheesecake! Creamy, dense cheesecake with bright red cherry topping. It was my favorite Valley Room treat. Once we had made our way through the cashier’s line with our trays and settled down at a table, Auntie Mabel would appear with smiles and hugs and sit with us for a bit. Then Mom and two contented little girls would make the twenty minute bus trip back to our North end home.
I still love cheesecake. So does my sister. In fact, for a number of years Carol’s birthday cake of choice was a cheesecake that Mom would make in a deep dish pie plate and adorn with a thick fruit topping. As I recall it was usually frozen strawberries as Carol’s birthday is in December.
This past week I found myself with a pound and a half of cherries that were rapidly approaching their expiration date. So I decided to make cherry sauce. My thinking was that they could be used over ice cream or yogurt, maybe even in a savory dish with the appropriate adjustment in seasoning. But then it struck me. Cheesecake! It’s not something I eat very often these days and there was the matter of the weather. The Midwest has been sweltering in a heatwave of epic proportion, so there was no way I would turn on the oven to bake a cheesecake. I did recall a recipe for a no-bake cheesecake in Rose Beranbaum’s new cake book. Not a fan of no-bake cheesecake, I approached it with a little skepticism, but what a pleasant surprise! It is a multi-step cake with several components, but the results are a rich but light as air cake with a delicate texture and pure dairy flavor. Needless to say my cake and cherry sauce bear little resemblance to the Valley Room cake of my childhood, but the memories are still as sweet.

Cherry Sauce
1 1/2 pounds of cherries, pitted and coarsely chopped
1 cup of sugar
1/3 cup of cherry preserves
1/4 cup of brandy or 2 tablespoons of kirsch
1 or 2 tablespoons of lemon juice

Mix the cherries and the sugar in a large bowl and let them rest for 30 minutes. Transfer to a heavy bottomed, nonreactive saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the cherries are softened and the liquid is slightly thickened, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the preserves, cool slightly and add the brandy or kirsch. Taste and adjust the flavor to your liking with a little lemon juice, if desired. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
(adapted from Epicurious)

No-Bake Whipped Cream Cheesecake
( from Rose’s heavenly cakes)
Graham Cracker Crust
graham crackers, 11 double crackers
2 tablespoons of sugar
2 pinches of salt
5 tablespoons of melted, unsalted butter

Spray a 9 inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray, set aside. In a food processor pulse the crackers, sugar and salt to fine crumbs. Add the melted butter and pulse to mix. Press the crumbs into the bottom and partway up the sides of the pan. Smooth them carefully and evenly using a flat bottomed measuring cup and a piece of plastic wrap to prevent them sticking to your fingers. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Custard Filling
2 tablespoons of sugar
3 large egg yolks ( reserves the whites for the Italian meringue)
1 tablespoon of powdered gelatin
pinch of salt
3/4 cup of creme fraiche
1 1/2 tsp. of pure vanilla extract
1 pound of whipped cream cheese (Philadelphia brand comes in 8 ounce tubs) at room temp.
2 cups sour cream , at room temp.

Mix the sugar, yolks, gelatin and salt in a small heavy saucepan until well blended. In another small saucepan, scald the creme fraiche, stirring it constantly. (Bring it to the boiling point). Stir a few spoonfuls into the yolk mixture to temper it, then gradually add the rest. Then, stirring constantly, cook the mixture over medium heat to 170 to 180F. Immediately remove from the heat and pour through a strainer. Scrape up any thickened cream from the bottom of the pot and push it through the strainer with a spoon. Cover directly with a piece of plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming, and cool to room temp. When cool, gently whisk in the vanilla. Do not chill or the gelatin will set.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the cream cheese and sour cream on medium speed for about 3 minutes until well incorporated. It is important that this mixture be at room temperature to prevent the gelatin in the custard from lumping. Gradually beat in the custard, scrape down the sides of bowl, and set aside while you make the Italian meringue.

Italian Meringue
3 egg whites, at room temp
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of sugar
3 tablespoons of water
3/8 tsp. cream of tartar
3 tablespoons of lemon juice

Have ready a 2 cup heatproof glass measure
Put the egg whites in the bowl of a mixer.
Stir 3/4 cup of sugar an water together in a small, heavy saucepan until the sugar is moistened. Heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is bubbling. Set the pan off the heat. Beat the whites on medium speed until foamy. With the mixer off add the cream of tartar. Raise the speed to medium high and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, until stiff peaks form when the beater is raised slowly.
Raise the heat under the sugar syrup and boil until the mixture reaches 248 o 250F (firm ball stage). Immediately transfer to the glass measure. Turn the mixer on high speed and stream the hot syrup into the egg whites carefully. Try not to pour it onto the beater as it will spin onto the sides of the bowl. If the syrup hardens before you have added it all, soften it quickly for a few seconds in the microwave. Lower the speed to medium and continue beating while adding the lemon juice. Beat for an additional 2 minutes to cool the mixture. You can refrigerate it for 5 to 10 minutes until no longer warm to touch. Whisk to equalize the temperature. Then fold a quarter of the meringue into the custard filling to lighten it. Fold in the remaining meringue in two additions. Scrape the filling into the prepared crust and smooth the surface with a small offset spatula. Cover the top with a rigid cover such as a pot lid so as not to mar the surface and chill for at least 4 hours. To serve, run a spatula around the edge of the cake, pressing against the pan, or apply a towel run under hot water and wrung out to the sides of the pan. Release the springform side of the pan. Cut the cake carefully with a sharp knife that has been dipped in hot water and dried before each slice is removed. Because this cake is so delicate, place your sauce alongside each slice on the plate.

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