I’ve never had a white Christmas, but I feel like this dessert is the perfect Southern hemisphere 25th of December post-lunch-I-don’t-have-room-but-will-eat-until-painfully-full thing to serve in that it really celebrates how excellent stone fruit is in summer. I’m a fan of pavlova, but this cheesecake is a level up in richness and aesthetics – the crown of fresh cherries atop the compote screams celebration. A little goes a long way, but I had two pieces. It’s just that good.
The waterbath method of cooking cheesecakes is new to me as of this year, but as long as your cake tin is fully sealed with tinfoil, there is nothing to be scared of, and plenty of leeway re: ensuring it doesn’t over or under-cook. I find using the waterbath imparts an even, smooth texture to the cheesecake without any dryness or browning on the top. The whole dessert process is a little tedious, but the method is simple, the result is worth it and you can make it a day in advance for theoretically reducing stress levels.
I picked up my cherries from the Hawkes Bay farmers’ market – for the compote I snagged a bag of “seconds” – ones that had been ruined/split by rainfall but still marvellous in taste. If they’re not in season, the best substitute for fresh is frozen, followed by jarred morello cherries. I’ve made this cheesecake using the original Smitten Kitchen recipe, however I’m not afraid to say I vastly prefer this version.
Biscuit crumb base
- 350g finely ground chocolate cookie crumbs (I used a gluten free variety)
- 120g salted butter, melted
- 60g sugar
- 1/4 cup cream
- 200g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
- 900g cream cheese, soft at room temp
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 4 eggs
- 700g pitted fresh cherries
- 100g caster sugar
- Juice of one lemon
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350F/180C bake setting. Wrap the exterior of a 9inch springform baking tin tightly with tinfoil – I used 4 layers.
- Make the crust by stirring together the cookie crumbs, melted butter, sugar. Press into the baking tin firmly, using a glass or measuring cup to set the crust up around the sides of the tin by ~1 inch. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes to crisp up. Let cool. Reduce oven temp to 325F/160C
- Make the ganache by bringing the cream to simmer in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in the dark chocolate until melted. Pour over top of the base and spread evenly. Cool to room temperature and then store in the fridge while making the filling.
- To make the filling, in a large bowl beat the soft cream cheese with an electric mixer until fluffing up – around 2-3 minutes. Add the sugar gradually, in a slow steady stream if using a free-standing mixer or in spoonfuls if using a hand-operated one. Beat in the vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, mixing until just combined.
- Prep the compote by bringing the cherries, sugar, vanilla and lemon juice to simmering over medium heat. Stir frequently and cook for around 10-12 minutes to reduce the liquid and help it go syrupy.
- For the cherry ripple, use the remaining liquid that has come off the cherry compote and a few (10 or so) of the cherries). Blitz in a blender to achieve a syrup consistency. Store the rest of the compote in the fridge until needed.
- Pour the filling on top of the cooled crust/fudge layer. Drop small spoonfuls of the cherry ripple syrup into the filling in a vaguely artistic manner. Use a chopstick or skewer to ripple it through the filling.
- Place the cheesecake in a large roasting dish that fits the tin easily. Carefully pour just-boiled water around the tin so it reaches around halfway up.
- Bake the cheesecake in its waterbath for around 80-90 minutes (depending on your oven). Check on it frequently from around 1 hour – it should have the consistency of nearly-ready jelly in the middle when ready, and a skewer should come out reasonably clean, without liquid filling covering it.
- Cool to room temperature before covering with the reserved cherry compote, decorating with a few fresh cherries as a ~crown~ if desired. Store in the fridge for at least 6 hours before serving (overnight!).