The last few months have been a little crazy. In addition to the routine insanity (yes, my insanity is routine) I’ve been spending every weekend for last month or so doing yard work. It was—the yard and garden—a major source of stress for me as of late. There’s a tremendous amount of hedges to trim and keep tidy, and trees to prune back. I’ve got a herb garden that was overrun with weeds for a time and now that it’s cleared and herbs and veg have their own space it desperately needs mulching (and to have nutrients worked back into the soil). A butterfly/pollinator garden that’s been “in the works” for three summers needs doing.
But I had to take some time here to drop everything and get this recipe posted.
July 30th is national cheesecake day. I say only partially jokingly that I’m the patron saint of cheesecake. Really though it’s more of a colorful way of saying that I make far more cheesecakes than I should. There’s some evidence here but one day I’ll really dig into the vault and go on a posting spree. I expect canonization to follow shortly after that.
In the meantime though, this is among the summeriest of cheesecakes that I’ve made. Sure, there’s my strawberry cheesecake—in which a thickened strawberry puree is worked into the cheesecake base itself rather than just being globbed on top—and while a strawberry is the ultimate symbol of the season there’s something that screams summer a bit more to me. Lemon. Sure, they’re available year round but there’s something about the flavor of lemon this time of year that just tastes like a mouthful of sunshine.
It’s no secret that I love a good lemon drop martini—one with vodka, limoncello, and lemon juice, that’s all (unless we’re talking about a prickly pear lemon drop). Back in the day there was a bartender at the Blue Tractor restaurant in Ann Arbor that made a mean lemon drop, and I do mean M.E.A.N. In fact, I think it was Tim’s lemon drops that made me a fan of the drink—the few I had had before were too acridly acidic with bad or bottled lemon juice, tasting of nothing more than that and triple sec. No. Sorry. I suppose it was these lemon drops that Tim would make in a BBQ restaurant in the middle of southeastern Michigan that inspired this cheesecake way back when. Funny how the works, right?
You need a lot of lemon zest to give it that forcefully fresh lemon flavor and just enough juice to enhance the already slightly sour note from the cream cheese. This recipe also includes limoncello. I always have a bottle of it on hand for an impromptu lemon drop and I cannot recommend it enough. This Italian lemon liqueur starts out life as lemon rinds—real, fresh lemon rinds—infusing some grain alcohol to which sugar syrup is added, making a thick, syrup-like electric yellow final product that emulates the very essence of lemon. It’s everything you want in and from lemon; tart and sharp but sweet enough to smooth it out. If you haven’t got any limoncello around and don’t want to buy any—why? What’s wrong with you?—you can always substitute with more lemon juice for this recipe, and maybe add a pinch more sugar and zest to make up for it.
There are a few hard and fast rules of making a cheesecake. This one is no different.
- Cream cheese must be full fat and, as well as the eggs, must be room temperature. I typically plan on leaving them out for about 4 – 6 hours, though with it being summer if your house is particularly warm it will take less. You want the cream cheese at room temperature and soft, not verging on melted.
- Don’t beat or cream the cheesecake base too much. Beating too much air into the cheesecake can cause the cake to crack on the top when baked, bake unevenly, and affect the texture. Air is the enemy of the cake.
- The springform should be wrapped tightly in heavy duty aluminum foil—a single sheet and layer. Rip off a piece that measures about 18” x 22” so that it covers the bottom completely and comes up the sides without having to use more than one piece. This helps prevent water from seeping in.
- Speaking of water, the cheesecake bakes in a water bath. Set the springform in a roasting pan and the pan in oven. Pour recently boiled water, still hot, into the pan carefully as not to splash any into the cheesecake. This helps the cheesecake to bake evenly.
- When the cheesecake is finished baking—the center wobbles only just and the edges are set but NOT pulling away from the sides of the pan—shut the oven off and crack the door open about 45°. After about an hour, open the door all the way. After another 30 pull the wrack the cheesecake is on out. Another 30 minutes later move it to the counter and let it sit until it’s completely cooled to room temperature. It sounds a little crazy, I know, but this helps it set up properly and keep it from sinking.
(Complete coverage with one sheet… essential)
I love this cheesecake on its own, as is, but a jug of blueberry sauce alongside is very welcome in my book. Put half a pint of fresh blueberries in a small pan with about 2 tablespoons of water, cover and bring to a rolling boil. Keep it covered and boiling for 2 – 3 minutes, or until the blueberries just begin to burst. Uncover and simmer on medium-low for about 5 minutes until they’re completely liquidated. Sprinkle in about 2 – 3 tablespoons of sugar, depending on how sweet the berries are, and ¼ t-spoon arrow root (for thickening purposes) and simmer just a minute more. Splash in a dash of limoncello if you want and remove from the heat to cool completely before folding in another half pint of fresh berries. It’s a delicious combination.
Alright. I’ve got to get back to yard work. After I shovel some more lemon cheesecake in my mouth, of course.
And hey… check out some of my other CHEESECAKES!
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