It has been years since I produced an old-fashioned cheesecake — a real cheesecake, the kind that people call “New York style” — and it may be that the last time I did so was to be sure I still knew how to. But a suggestion from a friend, a craving for graham cracker crust — it had been a while — and the annual search for ways to use blueberries when they’re abundant, led to this simple, no-bake dessert. I think it qualifies as a cheesecake, even if it’s not the paradigm.
I started with the traditional graham-cracker-and-butter combination, which produces a crumbly but credible crust in no time; I like it with a bit of groundnuts added for flavour, though it’s fine without. The filling, or topping, is just a combination of ricotta (drained, if it’s watery) and cream cheese, flavoured with lemon and honey; it’s deliciously creamy when first produced, but sets up well once chilled.
Add on: Citrus, cocoa and coffee lend great flavour to a cheesecake.
Mind you, it doesn’t develop the firmness of classic cheesecake, which usually contains eggs or cornstarch, or both, and whose density may approach that of lead. Instead, it’s quite a delicate thing. But it becomes sturdy enough to cut (carefully), and sit up straight on a plate. And it doesn’t require a springform pan, several bowls, an oven or a water bath, which I despise about as much as anything in all of cooking.
There are those who may not find this sweet enough, and if that’s the case, I recommend adding a quarter cup or so of sugar instead of increasing the honey, because you don’t want the honey flavour to become overpowering. Other possibilities to add with the blueberries: any citrus you like; a teaspoon or so of very finely ground coffee or cocoa; chopped raisins or, I suppose, chocolate chips. I prefer the straight honey-lemon combination, unadulterated.
Any soft fruit can be used instead of or alongside the blueberries: other berries, pitted and halved cherries, cut-up peaches or nectarines. Or, you can make a kind of berry sauce (just cook berries with a little water and sugar), and spoon it over the cheesecake, which will make it look more like the “real” thing.
No-Bake Blueberry Cheesecake Bars
Serves 8 to 12
16 graham cracker squares (8 whole crackers), crushed
1/4 cup ground pecans or walnuts, optional
3 tbsp melted butter
18-ounce (about 500g) package cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 tbsp honey, or to taste
Rind of a lemon, freshly grated
A pinch of salt
About one and half cups blueberries
Combine crushed graham crackers, nuts if using, and melted butter. Press evenly into bottom of an 8- or 9-inch square pan (glass is good) to form a crust about 1/4-inch thick. Put in refrigerator until ready to use.
Using a standing or hand mixer, or a whisk, combine cream cheese, ricotta, honey, lemon rind and salt, and blend until smooth. Spread the mixture carefully and evenly over the crust, using a spatula or a butter knife to smooth the top. Cover with fresh blueberries and chill for at least an hour, or until set. Cut into squares or bars and serve.
©2008/The New York Times
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