In my books, there’s really nothing that beats a slice of classic cheesecake, especially when summer is in its full glory and the berries are fresh and plentiful!
I’ve used blackberries to make the swirl on top of this cake because the woods and field edges around here are bursting with them and it’s been such a joy to forage for them.
But if blackberries aren’t readily available in your neck of the woods, you can easily substitute raspberries or blueberries, use whatever you’ve got on hand and in season in your area.
I come from a long line of cheesecake lovers. My grandmother and my mom both loved cheesecake and as a teenager, it was one of the first desserts I learned to make. I stopped making them for many years because I don’t like to use graham crackers (see the next paragraph to know why) and I didn’t know of a good alternative for the crust. Plus it does require a little effort and advance planning (usually making it a day in advance) and a heck of a lot of cream cheese. And since dairy products are one of the things that I only eat if they’re organic, I figured it would be way too expensive to make an all-organic cheesecake. But I recently noticed that organic cream cheese is only about 30 cents more than the standard non-organic brands. When I tallied it up, the cost to make an organic cheesecake was only $1.50 more. Well worth it for one of my favorite desserts! I had to dust up my cheesecake-making skills since I was a little out of practice, but it’s not a complicated thing to make. In fact, it would be a hard recipe to mess up.
Now let’s talk about the crust. I know that some will say it’s not a true cheesecake without a graham crust. But here’s the ingredient list on a box of graham crackers: white flour, sugar, graham flour, soybean oil (likely GMO and heavily sprayed with pesticides), high fructose corn syrup (likely GMO), partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil (likely GMO and heavily sprayed with pesticides), honey, leavening, and artificial flavors. Why a humble graham cracker would need artificial flavor added in is beyond me. When you use good quality, fresh ingredients, there’s no need for artificial flavors. I’ll choose whole grains and nuts over white flour any day, and grass-fed butter over soybean and cottonseed oils, especially when they’re hydrogenated. So here’s the ingredient list on my own “no graham cracker” crust: whole grain rye flour, pecans, coconut sugar (or brown sugar), butter, cinnamon, and salt. Now don’t knock it until you try it! It’s a crust that is incredibly similar in taste to a graham cracker crust. Even better, it’s nutritious and dare I say much more flavorful and buttery than its graham cracker counterpart.
A few final words: this cake is not cheap to make since you’ll need a whopping 5 packages of cream cheese. But for an occasional treat, it’s well worth the investment and it will easily serve 12 people (and possibly more since it’s quite rich and best served in small slices). My recipe is based on a classic New York cheesecake but I use a bit less sugar than most recipes call for as I find cheesecake can be overly sweet. I use orange zest and juice because it goes nicely with blackberries, but you could use lemon instead. I highly recommend buying full-fat organic cream cheese and sour cream for this recipe if at all possible. You can use an 8-inch or a 9-inch springform or cheesecake pan. An 8-inch pan will yield a higher cake (it’s what I used in the video because I personally like a high, thick cheesecake). A 9-inch pan will yield more of a “regular-height” cheesecake. The berry swirl is optional but topping your cake with a swirl is so easy (as you’ll see in my recipe video) and so delightful that you’ll probably find it hard not to get carried away and keep adding more and more swirls. So swirl away my dear friends, eat cheesecake, be merry, and enjoy these last precious days of summer!
Blackberry Swirl Cheesecake with a Rye Pecan Crust
- For the crust:
- 1 cup whole rye flour (or whole wheat flour)
- 1/2 cup pecans
- 1/3 cup coconut sugar (or brown sugar)
- 5 tbsp butter, melted
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp salt
- For the filling:
- 5 x 8 oz. packages cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1 1/4 cup cane sugar
- 2 tsp. zest from an organic orange
- 1 tbsp. juice from that same orange
- 3/4 cup sour cream or yoghurt
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 tsp salt
- For the swirl:
- About 1 1/2 cup blackberries
- 2 Tbsp cane sugar
- For serving and garnish (optional):
- 1 cup of fresh blackberries
- Fresh mint, lemon balm, or blackberry leaves
- Preheat your oven to 375F and butter a 9-inch springform or removable bottom cheesecake pan (or you can use an 8-inch pan for a higher cheesecake, as I did in the video).
- In a food processor, pulse all the crust ingredients until incorporated. Pour the crumbly mixture into the buttered pan. Press it in tightly with your fingers or the bottom of measuring cup, so it covers the bottom of the pan. Bake in the oven for about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove and cool on a rack. Turn the oven to 325F.
- To make the blackberry syrup for the swirl, place the blackberries and sugar in the food processor and blend until liquid. Put this mixture through a mesh strainer to remove the blackberry seeds. Place this seedless liquid into a squeeze bottle or a small plastic bag. When ready to use the blackberry syrup, snip off a very tiny corner from the bottom of the bag, leaving a 1/8 inch hole to squeeze the liquid through. (Be careful, this liquid will stain your clothes!)
- To make the cheese filling, beat the room temperature cream cheese in a large bowl with the sugar and salt until smooth. Add the sour cream (or yoghurt) and the orange zest and juice. Beat until incorporated. Add the eggs, beating until smooth. If there are small lumps, don’t worry about it, these will disappear in the baking. If there are large lumps, you can put the filling through a strainer before pouring it into the pan (but if you used room temperature cream cheese, there should not be any lumps). Pour the filling into the pan once the crust has cooled.
- While you work on your blackberry swirl, set a kettle full of water to boil. Starting at the outer edge of the cake top, squeeze the blackberry syrup on top of the filling creating a large spiral all the way to the center. Using a skewer or toothpick, create loose swirling patterns all over the top of the cake. Reserve any remaining blackberry purée to serve with the finished cake.
- A cheesecake cooks best in a water bath. First, wrap some aluminum foil around the base of the pan, all the way up the walls. This is to prevent any water from seeping into the pan. Place the aluminum-wrapped pan into a large roasting pan and pour boiling water into the roasting pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cheesecake pan. Bake the cheesecake in a 325F oven until just set in the center, for about 1 hour 30 minutes. Once it’s done, turn off the oven and leave the oven door slightly ajar (about a one inch opening), using a wooden spoon to prevent the door from closing if you need to. Let your cake cool down slowly in the oven with the door open like this, for about 45 minutes before removing it from the oven. This slow cooling will prevent cracks from forming on the top of the cake. Remove the cake from the pan of water, and run a sharp knife around the inner edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Let it cool on a rack, then move it to the fridge where it should chill and set overnight or for at least 5 hours.
- To get beautiful clean cake slices, dip a sharp knife in hot water and wipe it dry on a clean towel before making a cut. Do this for each slice. Serve slices with berries and fresh green leaves on the side, with a dollop of any remaining blackberry purée.
Aube Giroux is a food writer and filmmaker who shares her love of cooking on her farm-to-table blog, Kitchen Vignettes.
Aube is a passionate organic gardener and home cook who likes to share the stories of how food gets to our dinner plates. Her work has been shown on television and at international film festivals. Her web series has been nominated for multiple James Beard Awards for Best Video Webcast (On Location). In 2012, she was the recipient of Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blog award in the video category.