A salute to red, white and blue desserts
You can pretty much count on at least one version showing up in at least one cooking periodical every July: a white dessert decorated with blueberries and red raspberries or strawberries, or both.
It’s not hard to figure out why. Blueberries are one of the few ways to have blue food that don’t involve food coloring. Add the red raspberries or strawberries and some sort of white substrate, and hey presto! “Stars and Stripes Forever” starts running through your head. Making the dessert even more appropriate, all three berries are usually in season in central Illinois as well as in many other parts of America; they are at their peak of deliciousness.
The white part comes in various forms. Probably most common is a white frosted sheet cake. Its advantage, of course, is its rectangular shape, which easily becomes a flag: a square of blueberries in the upper left corner and stripes of red berries alternating with the frosting. It is always a hit with kids – who, by the way, usually get a kick out of placing the berries, no matter what the design.
Another berry-bedecked flag dessert can easily be made by rolling or pressing pie pastry (I’ve found it works best when using enough pastry for a 2-crust pie) into a rectangle on a baking sheet, pricking it well, and then baking it in a 450-degree oven until golden brown. Let the crust cool completely, then spread softened cream cheese that’s been mixed with a little powdered sugar and vanilla (about 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla per 8 ounces of cream cheese) all over it. Decorate with berries as above, and you have a patriotic dessert pizza. It’s light and just slightly sweet (unless you use more powdered sugar).
But for the ultimate Fourth of July pursuit of happiness, nothing beats this white-chocolate cheesecake. It’s insanely delicious and decadently rich, a perfect foil for the berries. Whether you choose a flag pattern, stripes, waves or concentric circles or just let your kids go crazy, you can give it (or any berry-topped dessert, for that matter) a professional-looking finish by brushing the berries very lightly with melted apple jelly; it makes the berries glisten. A pastry brushes works fine, but I’ve found that a small natural-bristle paintbrush from the hardware store works equally well. It’s cheaper and lasts almost as long as those expensive brushes made specifically for pastry. Another tip: there are Nabisco chocolate wafers available that are essentially the same as the Oreo wafers, but they are much more expensive to use than if you scrape out the white filling between the sandwich cookies. It’s no hardship for me: even as a kid, I’d get rid of that white stuff before dipping those delectable wafers into a glass of milk.
FOURTH OF JULY WHITE-CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKE
• 1 package (14.3 - 16 oz.) chocolate sandwich cookies such as Oreos
• 10 T. melted unsalted butter
• 1 lb. good quality white chocolate
• 1/2 c. heavy cream
• 2 c. sour cream, divided
• 2 lb. cream cheese, room temperature
• 1 c. plus 1 T. sugar, divided
• 4 large eggs
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 2 T. vanilla extract
Decoration: blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, or both (red berries); apple jelly
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Wrap the outside of a 10-inch springform pan with foil. If the pan is not nonstick, spray the interior with cooking spray. Scrape the white filling from the cookies and discard it. Grind the cookies into even fine crumbs in a food processor or with the use of a rolling pin. Mix the cookie crumbs with the melted butter and press the mixture evenly over the bottom and sides of the pan. Bake for 10 minutes to set the crust, then set it aside to cool while you prepare the filling. It does not have to be completely cool before you add the filling, but it shouldn’t be hot.
If the white chocolate is in large pieces, chop it into small chunks. Heat the whipping cream in a heavy medium saucepan just until it simmers. Remove from the heat and stir in 1 cup of the sour cream and the chocolate. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and return the pan to the stove. Stir the mixture until the chocolate is melted. It is very important that the heat be low: white chocolate breaks into cocoa oil in cocoa solids much more easily than milk or dark chocolate. Once the chocolate is melted, remove from the heat, and cool to room temperature.
Beat the cream cheese in a stand mixer or with electric beaters until light and fluffy. Beat in the cup of the sugar, the eggs, salt and vanilla. Stir in the chocolate mixture and beat on low until smooth. Pour the cheese mixture into the crust.
Bake until the top is just beginning to brown and the center of the cake moves just slightly when it is (gently) shaken, about an hour and a half. Turn off the oven and crack the door open slightly. Leave the cheesecake in the oven for another 30 minutes.
Mix the remaining sour cream and sugar together in a small bowl. Spread it over the cake while it is still warm.
Cool the cheesecake to room temperature uncovered, then cover and refrigerate it at least 8 hours or overnight. Not more than 2 or 3 hours before serving, arrange the berries on top in the pattern of your choice. Warm the apple jelly over very low heat until it is barely melted, and then very lightly brush the berries with it. Serves 12 to 16 or more. You may have letftover batter; it freezes well and can be used to make a few individual cheesecakes.
For individual cheesecakes:
Place paper or foil liners in muffin tins. Scrape the filling from the wafers as above. Place one wafer, scraped side up, in the bottom of each liner. (You will not need the entire package of cookies or the butter.)
Fill the muffin tins about 2/3 full, being careful not to overfill. Bake at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes, checking for doneness as in the recipe for the full-size cake.
Top the cheesecakes with the sour cream while they’re still warm -- you’ll need half again as much of the sour cream mixture (1 1/2 cups sour cream mixed with 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar).
The individual cheesecakes can each be decorated with a single kind of berry or with a mixture. A flag arrangement of the individual cheesecakes can be made by putting them on a rectangular tray with blueberry topped cheesecakes in an upper left hand corner and red berry topped ones alternating with plain ones to form the stripes. Glaze the berries with the melted apple jelly as described above. Makes approximately 3 dozen or more.
Contact Julianne Glatz at email@example.com.