All right, I think I’m done ranting about grocery shopping. No, wait…okay, yes, I’m done. I feel so much better now. My apologies to the West Coasters who have an entirely different checkout culture. It’s just that I’m feeling very pressed for time, generally speaking, as if I have to cram 40 years of living into the next five years just in case. I don’t want to be stuck in line the whole time. Focusing my energies in the form of mentally hating unsuspecting strangers maybe isn’t the best way to seize the day, but, you know, it was worth a try.
Let’s now direct our attention towards the cheesecake. After all, that was the reason I was at the grocery store in the first place. To get cheese and figs. I was concocting a birthday dinner for my BFF, which included a homemade porchetta and various roasted fall vegetables from my winter farmshare. I thought almond cheesecake in an amaretti crust with fig preserves dribbled over the side would be the perfect seasonal ending to the meal. I was not wrong. For a change.
This cheesecake is excellent: smooth and rich with just the right amount of almond flavor. I’ve made it many times. The secret is almond paste (similar to marzipan) whipped into the filling. You can use a regular graham cracker crust instead of my amaretti/graham cracker crumb combo. Crushed almond biscotti would also be nice. Start a day ahead if you want to make the fig topping because the fruit needs to macerate overnight. If figs aren’t really your thing, you can serve the cake with whatever preserved or fresh seasonal fruit you like. Blackberries. Sour cherries. The world is your orchard.
Freeze any remaining almond paste for future baking: macaroons, pignoli cookies, croissants (or another almond cheesecake!).
1¼ cup crushed amaretti cookies (I use the food processor)
¾ cup graham crackers crumbs
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
½ cup sugar
4 oz. almond paste
2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 large eggs
½ cup heavy cream
¼ tsp. almond extract
Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine amaretti and graham cracker crumbs in a small bowl and mix in melted butter. Press over bottom and 1 inch up sides of 9-inch springform pan. Bake until crust starts to color, about 10 minutes. Cool.
In a food processor, blend sugar and almond paste until mixture resembles a fine meal, about 1 minute. Add half of cream cheese and process until smooth. Add remaining cream cheese and process until completely smooth and no graininess remains. Add eggs, cream, and almond extract, and blend until just combined. Pour filling into crust.
Bake cake until just set in the center and beginning to crack at the edges, about 40 minutes. Turn off oven and open oven door to let the cake cool slowly for about 20 minutes. A gradual cool-down helps to minimize cracking. Take cake out of oven and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until well chilled. If your cheesecake cracks, it’s no big deal. These minor imperfections give things character. Run knife carefully along edge of springform pan, unbuckle ring, and remove cake. Slice and serve with...
These preserves would also dress up a Thanksgiving cheese plate alongside Manchego or a local blue goat cheese, for example.
1 lb. figs, both ends trimmed
2 cups sugar
¼ cup honey
½ lemon, zested and juiced
1 bay leaf
¼ tsp. wild fennel pollen or fennel seed (optional)
Cut figs into quarters and add to a medium bowl. Gently mix in sugar, honey, lemon juice, bay leaf, and fennel pollen. Let sit in the fridge overnight.
In a medium pot, bring mixture to a full boil and skim off the foam. (The foam is delicious, by the way, it just clouds up the finished product.) Reduce heat slightly to keep things boiling without overflowing the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, about five minutes. You want the syrup to be somewhat loose for the purpose of cheesecake topping. If you boil it too long, you’ll end up with a thick jam more suitable for biscuits. Ladle into a pint jar and keep refrigerated until ready to use. Before serving, let the preserves warm at room temperature to loosen up a bit, if necessary.