Day 265 – National Cherry Cheesecake Day

Cheesecake dates back over four thousand years to ancient Greece where it was considered to be a good source of energy, so much so that they served it to the athletes at the first Olympiad. It’s history may go back even farther than that, but recorded history only catches up with cheesecake at that point in time. The Greeks would also serve it at weddings and celebratory events. It was a simple recipe of cheese, flour, honey and wheat and definitely a lot simpler than the recipes of today. If you fast forward to the 1800s, that’s when eggs started to be used in the recipe rather than yeast which made it look a little more like the cheesecakes we are familiar with in the 21st century. In the latter part of the 1800s, cream cheese was created by someone trying to replicate the more familiar French soft cheese Neufchatel. Cream cheese has since become the staple ingredient in any American cheesecake. (History from Cheesecake.com)  I’m not exactly sure where the cherries come in to the mix along the path, but the addition of fruit to any cheesecake would just seem natural. It’s creamy sweetness pairs well with sweet, syrupy fruit. Cherries fall perfectly into that category.

I’ve never made a cheesecake before and I was a little excited to tackle one. I like cheesecake. It was a long time before I actually tried one as I, being a sheltered youth,  usually turned my nose up at any dessert made from cheese (oh how naive we are when we are young). We served cheesecake at the first restaurant I worked at and I think that’s when and where I first tried it. Usually when you get to snack on desserts in a restaurant as an employee it’s because the piece you are going to serve gets messed up some how. Your piece of pie is cut too small, or falls apart. You happily indulge in the scraps. Cheesecake however was different because we bought ours from a supplier who gave us the cake pre-sliced and individually divided into perfect little pieces. The only way to mess a piece up was to drop it. So having a piece of cheesecake up for grabs was a bit of a rarity, but it happened on occasion. That’s how I ended up trying it and I have to say I liked it immediately. It’s a good combo of flavors: sweet, creamy, very slightly pungent and the crisp sweetness of the graham cracker crust. We served ours with strawberries on top which were strawberries in syrup so it gave the piece of cake some extra sweetness. It looked good too with the bright red of the berries shining atop the slightly yellow-hued cake. I became a fan and even ordered it out from time to time. I found it paired well with a nice cold beer, although I suppose a nice dessert wine would be more appropriate with a cheese-based dessert.

Now here is where I made my big error for the day. In my rush to find a recipe and get all the ingredients, I didn’t really read through everything. The recipe I found was titled “The Best Unbaked Cherry Cheesecake Ever.” I read “Best Ever” and I thought I couldn’t go wrong, plus it was all pretty simple. I wrote down the ingredients which were simply cream cheese, vanilla, whipped cream and powdered sugar. I didn’t really consider what I was making – I just got the ingredients and started going. I knew that a cheesecake would take time in the fridge to set, so I tried to get it done early in the day. Plus it was a beautiful Sunday and I wanted to spend most of it in our yard with Lola. So essentially I was making a no bake cheesecake and upon reflection, that’s not what I wanted to make. I wanted to make a real cheesecake. I don’t mind baking. When did the “no bake” tag become such a plus for making something? You still have to create something – throwing it in the oven takes no more effort. I don’t get it.

At this point however, I was committed. I didn’t want to go back to the store and set myself back another hour. I wanted to get it done, so I proceeded with my no bake cheesecake. I started with the graham cracker crust and they told me to not even bake that. I was starting to resent this recipe maker and their anti-oven agenda. I should have just plopped the crust in the oven for ten minutes to solidify it, but I was afraid it would offset the rest of the cake from setting properly. When the crust was firmly pressed in the bottom of the pan, I started to make the cake which was simply combining the cream cheese, the sugar and the vanilla until it was all mixed together and then folding in the whipped cream. The recipe said to use one cup of heavy cream whipped, although I went the easy route and bought some Cool Whip. I’m not sure if the portioning was right, but I folded in the whole tub and I was left with a big bowl of white, creamy “cake batter.” I emptied that into the pan over the crust and put it in the fridge to set. I didn’t feel good about it. I essentially just made cream cheese frosting with whipped cream.

The rest of the day was spent in the yard. I got to walk around with Lola and she pointed out what plants and flowers were starting to come in and subtly noting areas where I should be careful when I mow the lawn. In the few days that Lola was away, Spring really sprung around here and everything seems to budding. Our little walks around the yard are always fun. Lola gets excited when she sees something she planted last year that’s coming back again. I like to try to test my knowledge by naming plants and impressing Lola (my teacher). I identified the Astilbe, the Golden Leaf Spirea and the Chlamydia while noting that certain plants have striped or variegated leaves. It’s funny how that sticks in your head and how you start to learn it by osmosis. We’ve got a long spring and summer ahead of us in the fields, but that time is usually fun. A labor of love. I am looking forward to more afternoons like this. (By the way, I do know it’s not a Chlamydia plant – it’s Clematis).

After post-field clean up and a nice Sunday dinner, we were both chilling on our couch and it was time for some cheesecake. Like I said, I was already disappointed in myself that I took the easy way out on this one. There have been a few times when the easy way out was the only way to go because of certain circumstances, but today I could have gone the whole nine yards, I just didn’t prepare correctly. The cheesecake looked good. The cherry filling that I had spread across the top of the cake after it had been in the fridge for a few hours was a beautiful bright red and the cake portion was a brilliant white color, so it looked appealing. It was easy to cut a piece out although wasn’t as clean as you would really want it. The crust was super crumbly which made me wished I had baked it. In any case, it looked tasty.

IMG_1768

Ok, so this no bake thing isn’t all that bad. In fact, it’s pretty tasty. The graham cracker crust is the perfect crunch for this because the rest of the cake is so creamy you need the added texture (and yes it would be better with a baked crust). The cake part is really like fluffy cream cheese frosting. It is sweet and creamy with that tang you get from cream cheese wafting in the background. The cherries were probably the biggest surprise. Both Lola and I are morally opposed to maraschino cherries and that was the worry here, but that’s not what they were. First off, the syrup they come in is super sweet and clings beautifully to the creaminess of the cake, but second, the cherries are actually not bad. There is a quality to them that makes you feel they were once real cherries and not that fake maraschino quality. It worked really well with the whole cake so a great addition. Lola was a fan too, although her palate noticed that I had substituted Cool Whip for real whipped cream. She wanted to make it with the homemade whipped cream folded in to take the difference, but in general, she was a fan. A surprise success.

Today’s disappointment was only because I didn’t make the type of cheesecake that I know and love; the famous one: the New York Style. But technically, I did make a cheesecake. It was a cake made with cheese and on the plus side, it was delicious. I’ll just have to tackle baking a cheesecake on another day. I’ll have to stick with the positives from today. It was simple with only a few ingredients. It took very little time from start to finish and that allowed me to spend most of the day outside. It was delicious giving us a great sweet finish at the end of a good day. It was a surprise delight which is always a plus. So even if it wasn’t what I expected, it was ok in my book. That’s the joy of this quest which among other things has shown me that life is a bowl of cherries (which just happen to go well on top of a cake made with cheese).

Next Up: National Pigs in a Blanket Day

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