Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Pesto cheesecake

So here's the story.  I saw these edible flowers in the supermarket I had to get them. I was going to make a savoury cheesecake today and since you can't ice a savoury cheescake, I though it'd be cool to decorate them with flowers right? I thought they'd be so pretty. It's Spring after all ... well, not in Malaysia but ... aren't they pretty?

The cheesecakes that we know and love are mostly dessert cakes: sweet, creamy, rich and sometimes, a little tart. If there is one dessert I find impossible to resist, its the cheesecake. I remember when I was a teenager, there was a franchise called The Cheesecake Shop in Kuala Lumpur which served an array of delicious cheesecakes. Those cakes are the reason why I fell in love with cheesecakes, my favourite at the time was the strawberry cheesecake and the marble cheesecake. And the blueberry cheesecake. And, the ungarnished, non-fussy New York cheesecake. Oh I love them all.

But have you tried cheesecake as an entree? A savoury cheesecake with a side of roasted vegetables? Oh, and a garnish of flowers (he he).

Savoury cheesecakes aren't very popular ... yet. Recipes are evolving as we speak. In fact, if wedding cake specialist Jan Kish is to be believed, savoury cheesecakes are becoming an option for wedding cakes -- for those with specific allergies or dietary inhibitions. Check out her savoury wedding cheesecake creation.

This definitely isn't a dish for non-cheese fans. Oh no. But, if you're a cheese fiend like me and an after-dinner cheese platter makes you break out in a smile, well then you'll just love savoury cake. The flavour of the cheese is full-on.  I used purely cream cheese (with just a bit of Parmesan) but you can use  a blend of cheeses: cream+ricotta, ricotta+goats cheese, Stilton, mascarpone ... options abound. 

I stumbled upon this recipe for a Pesto Parmesan Cheesecake on and played around with Julia Costa Mesa's recipe just a little. I used her measurements to make two cheesecakes just to experiment with flavour. The first, I made a pesto filling/garnish just like hers. The second, I tried making a sun-dried tomato pesto filling instead. Both were sublime. I've got many more variations in my mind. Apples would, I am certain, go deliciously well with this dense cheese cake. As would zucchini. 

But that's for another time. Today, we'll try the pesto cake. 

Pesto Parmesan Cheesecake

For the crust
1 cup breadcrumbs 
80 gm butter, melted
1 tbsp roasted garlic

For the filling
600g cream cheese at room temp
1 cup Parmesan, shredded
3 eggs, room temp
2 tbsp flour
1/4 cup sour cream
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup pesto ( I made my own basil pesto)
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped fine.

Garnish (optional)
1/2 cup pesto 
A handful of shaved Parmesan 

Preheat oven to 180C.

Mix the breadcrumbs, butter and garlic in a bowl and press into a 23-cm (9-inch) pan. Bake for about 10 mins. Remove and allow to cool.

Prepare your pesto. 
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts (you can use any walnuts or even pumpkin seeds, toasted)
  • 3-4 handfuls of basil
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced 
  • I use my mortar and pestle to make my pesto, especially since the amount is very little. Bash up the garlic with a little salt. Add the basil (bit by bit to fit the mortar) and pound till it becomes a nice paste. Add the toasted nuts, oil and cheese and massage with the pestle till you yield a gooey paste. 

In the bowl of your electric mixer, cream the cream cheese, Parmesan, eggs, flour, sour cream and garlic till smooth. Gently stir in the walnuts.

Pour half the cheese mixture onto the pre-baked crust. Slather on the pesto and pour the remaining cheese mixture over the pesto.

Turn up the heat of your oven to 200C. Bake for 10 mins and then lower the heat to 180C and bake for another 40-50 mins or till the cake doesn't jiggle, esp in the centre.

You can spread some pesto over as a garnish. Or use flowers like me. Or you could eat this cake with a side of roasted vegetables. I skipped the pesto garnish as it was a tad too strong for me. My basil pesto was a little too potent -- homemade pesto often is a lot stronger than the ones you get in jars. 


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