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Dessert or Cheese Plate? Blue Cheese Cheesecake Does Both

I’m a big fan of cheese plates at the end of a meal. But as a pastry chef, I'm also a dessert lover.

Despite my better intentions at the beginning of a meal, it’s fairly rare that I actually have the cargo capacity for both a cheese plate and a dessert. I end up in an unhappy position of indecision. With this concern in mind, I began toying with dishes that could double as a dessert and composed cheese plate. After finding some beautiful grapes and bandying thoughts with Tyler, we struck an idea: a blue cheese cheesecake with a grape accompaniment.

To make the cheesecake, I acquired a lovely gorgonzola. Though my initial idea was to essentially swap out a portion of cream cheese for blue cheese in a standard cheesecake recipe, the reality of muddling the gorgonzola's beautiful blue stipple into gray blech was too painful to follow through. Instead, I diced the cheese and folded it into a basic cheesecake base. This way, the beauty and flavor intensity of the cheese could be preserved in exciting little bits and bursts throughout the otherwise mellow cake.

As for the type of cheesecake, I still can't rely on our tweaky ovens (which are also located up a flight of stairs, a big tripping hazard), so I decided to go the no-bake route. Usually, this type of cheesecake is lightened with whipped cream or a Swiss meringue (a cooked meringue in which the whites and sugar are heated thoroughly over a water bath before whipping) and set with gelatin. For the blue cheese cheesecake, however, I opted for an Italian meringue, created by pouring a hot sugar syrup into whipping egg whites—normally a touch more stable than its Swiss counterpart.

20081001-bluecheese-2.jpgIn lieu of the gelatin, I chose agar, a seaweed-based thickener (and therefore a vegetarian alternative to animal-based gelatin) that has a significantly higher melting point than gelatin, yielding products that are more temperature-stable with a slightly more spongy, toothsome texture. (Gelatin-based foods will weep and melt more quickly at room temperature.) Both choices helped to achieve the desired effect: a sturdy cake that cuts well, with a mouth feel approximating the paste of the gorgonzola.

For the grape component, Tyler and I were particularly excited by the prospect of carbonated Concord grape juice. My husband and I had recently made some at home with our new Soda Club carbonator, and the result was delicious: sweet, though not as sweet as soda, tart, fizzy and light. This experiment had also left us with a countertop covered in purple stickiness (Soda Club explicitly states that you are not to use the carbonator for anything but straight water), so I decided to try carbonating the juice in a pressurized, fully-contained canister. Unfortunately, there was some confusion with the purveyor. They were supposed to supply the carbon dioxide cartridges we ordered for our canister this week, but when they didn't, we weren’t able to go the route of carbonated grape juice. Instead, I used the concord grapes that I’d bought at the market, coupled with some red wine, star anise, and cloves to make a syrup in which I lightly cooked beautiful little, raisin-flavored champagne grapes.

Their tart-sweet flavor countered the richness of the cheesecake, and brought lovely little bursts of juice to the table. Paired with a crunchy oatmeal crumble, in lieu of crust, and rich walnuts, coated in a buttery honey caramel infused with rosemary, we had a dessert that seamlessly integrated elements one might ordinarily find on a cheese plate—an ideal choice for the indecisive.

About the author: Amanda Clarke is a recovering restaurant pastry chef with a background in architecture. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she writes, tests, and develops recipes and works on freelance food-styling gigs between walkings and feedings of her two dogs and husband.

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