When I was in 7th grade, a teacher for some class that’s lost to obscurity decided we should each pick something we were good at and demonstrate it for the class. Our grade would be based on how well we explained each step and completed our chosen task. In 7th grade I was really good at reading, drawing, mumbling excuses for why I couldn’t do a cartwheel in gym, and pestering my mother in the kitchen while she baked. So it was decided that I would demonstrate cake decoration using decorator tips and tubes of McCormick frosting- evil, horrid tasting stuff in bright colors not found in nature.
After a rather eventful class- during which a boy I had a giant crush on (Todd Sisitsky, I think his name was) demonstrated how to hit a tennis forehand by whacking a ball from the back to the front of the room with his Prince Pro- I was pulled aside by my teacher.
“That was nicely done,” she said, pointing to the faux cake I’d covered with frosting roses, stars, and streamers. “But you got a little intense there and forgot to include the class in what you were doing. Everything okay?”
Good thing there was no such thing as Food Network Star back in 198- or my dreams would have been crushed right then and there. All it did at the time, though, was kill my enthusiasm for schmancy cake decoration. I still love to peruse wacky cake sites, but the craziest I get on my home turf is whipping out my offset spatula and spreading cream over a layer of jam filling in a lemon layer cake (whooooo!); topping an almond torte with carefully placed almond slices; maybe adding a few sprinkles or a red hot to a cookie on Valentine’s Day.
Any more than that and I have ‘Nam flashbacks to standing in front of my 7th grade class in a sweater vest (ugh.) over a white polo shirt and pale blue pants, stubbing one Keds-clad toe against the institutional tile and trying not to die of embarrassment while I squeeze frosting petals onto a piece of cling-film covered cardboard.
This cheesecake takes a little work, but it makes me think of Mom’s pile of Southern Living magazines on the glass coffee table at home. I can hear Martha Stewart in my head suggesting that one more blueberry on top would be “a good thing”. And suddenly taking a little extra time to make something pretty seems a whole lot more fun.
BLUEBERRY RICOTTA CHEESECAKE
[Original recipe by Sargento, adapted by My Baking Addiction (who added the star), and further adapted by me (who made it a shorter process). Enjoy!]
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 (one) 32 oz. container part skim ricotta cheese
1 cup sugar
Zest of one medium lemon
1/2 cup half-and-half
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup blueberry jam, heated slightly and stirred
1-1/2 cups fresh strawberry slices
2 cups fresh blueberries
1/4 cup apricot preserves, warmed slightly
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with foil and clamp on the ring. Coat bottom and sides with cooking spray.
2. Combine crust ingredients; mix well. Press evenly into the bottom and up the sides of the prepared pan. Bake crust for 7 minutes in preheated oven. Remove and cool on a wire rack.
3. In the large bowl of a stand mixer, combine the cheese, sugar, lemon zest, half-and-half, flour, vanilla and salt. Add eggs, one at a time; blend until smooth.
4. Dribble half of the blueberry jam on the cooled crust. Pour in half of batter then drizzle the other half of the blueberry jam over top and swirl with a knife for a marbled effect. Top with remaining batter.
5. Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour or until center is just set. Turn off oven; cool in oven with door propped open 30 minutes. Remove to cooling rack; put in freezer for 30 minutes to one hour to chill completely.
6. Brush the top of the cheesecake with the warmed preserves and arrange strawberries and blueberries on top. Chill at least 30 minutes to set.
-The original recipe suggests chilling the cake for 6 to 24 hours. If you don’t have that much time, letting it cool on a rack while you do the dishes and then popping it in the freezer for an hour works just as well (I got no complaints).
-I don’t have a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, I have beaters (again, no complaints).
-Top the cheesecake with the fresh fruit on the day you are serving, not before.
-For a variation, swirl the cheesecake batter with strawberry or raspberry preserves and top with corresponding fruit.
-The apricot jam is not necessary for the fruit topping. MBA uses it to add a sheen to the fruit, I used it to get the fruit to stick to the top of the cake.