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Light and Creamy Cheesecake for Shavuot

An excerpt from The Community Table: Recipes & Stories from the Jewish Community Center

Katja Goldman, Judy Bernstein Bunzl, and Lisa Rotmil
May 20, 2015

New Yorkers have lots of opinions about cheesecake—not surprisingly, as it’s a hometown favorite. This version made it into the book because it combines low-fat farmer cheese and goat cheese to lighten up the classic recipe, which relies heavily on rich cream cheese and sour cream or whipping cream. The result is a light and tangy cake that we surround with a crunchy, nutty, caramel brittle.

Cheesecake is the main dessert made for Shavuot (the Jewish holiday that celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Israelites at Mount Sinai), when it is customary to eat dairy foods. While there are many reasons for this tradition, one of the most compelling is the reference to the description of the Land of Israel as a “land flowing in milk and honey.”

The cake and brittle can be prepared a few days ahead. The cake will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week (do not freeze it) and the brittle should be kept tightly covered at room temperature. Remember to bring the cake to room temperature, which takes at least 1 hour, before serving. For a version with a more traditional crust, see the variation at the end of the recipe.

Light and Creamy Cheesecake with Nut Brittle and Blueberries
Serves 10

1 pound low-fat farmer cheese
3/4 cup (5 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 log (11 ounces) Montrachet goat cheese, at room temperature
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure extract
Pinch of kosher salt
6 extra-large egg whites (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup low-fat plain yogurt or mascarpone
Nut Brittle (recipe follows)
1/2 pint fresh blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries

Position a rack in the bottom third of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch springform pan and wrap the exterior with foil up the sides to make it water tight.

In a food processor, purée the farmer cheese, scrapping down the sides of the bowl 2 or 3 times. Add the cream cheese and goat cheese and purée until smooth. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, vanilla, and salt and combine. Add the egg whites and continue to process the mixture until smooth. Pour the cheese mixture into the pan and tap it a few times on the counter to knock out any bubbles.

Set the springform pan in a roasting pan or other ovenproof pan with 2-inch sides. Add 1 inch of boiling water to the roasting pan. Carefully transfer the roasting pan to the lower third of the oven and bake until the cake is set and its edges are beginning to color, about 1 hour. Remove the cake from the water bath and allow to cool in the pan to room temperature. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving. Run a thin knife around the sides of the pan then open the hinge and release the sides. Remove the pan ring, leaving the cake on the pan bottom.

Spread the yogurt or mascarpone over the top and sides of the cake. Gently pat the brittle up the sides and gently press to help crumbs adhere to the cake. Serve with the berries.

Crust Variation:
4 ounces graham crackers or gluten-free oat biscuits
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
4 tablespoon (1/2 stick) chilled unsalted organic butter

Combine the crackers, sugar, and butter in a food processor and process into fine crumbs. Press into the bottom of the pan. Pour batter on top and follow baking directions above.

Nut Brittle

Our brittle was inspired by the New York City restaurant Chanterelle’s astounding peanut brittle. It’s great sprinkled on almost anything—ice cream, sorbets, chocolate cake. You can’t go wrong.
Makes about 1 cup

1/2 cup sugar
Pinch cream of tartar
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons water
1/4 cup finely ground blanched hazelnuts
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger (optional)
1/8 teaspoon finely ground sea salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. If using organic sugar, pulse-chop the sugar in a food processor fitted with a metal blade for 8 to 10 seconds to get the finer texture you will need for this recipe.

In a small heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, cream of tartar, and water and bring to a rapid boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook (do not stir) until the caramel turns a golden brown color and smells like burnt sugar, 5 to 7 minutes. Pour the mixture onto the baking sheet and cool.

Break the brittle into pieces. Transfer to a food processor and pulse to grind to the consistency of sugar. Transfer to a medium mixing bowl, add the hazelnuts and ginger if using, and mix to combine.

Re-line the baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the caramel-nut mixture over it in an even layer. Bake until the caramel has melted again and begins to bubble, about 5 minutes.

Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the salt. Allow to cool. Break into oat-size crumbs.

Excerpted from The Community Table: Recipes & Stories from the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan and Beyond, by Katja Goldman, Judy Bernstein Bunzl, and Lisa Rotmil.

The Recipe

Light and Creamy Cheesecake with Nut Brittle and Blueberries

Light and Creamy Cheesecake with Nut Brittle and Blueberries