Recipe: Yogurt Cheesecake With Dates And Rosewater
Twice a month, Berkshire native Alana Chernila, mother of two, and author of the cookbook, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making (Clarkson Potter), contributes a thoughtful and heartfelt essay/recipe created exclusively for Rural Intelligence readers. Her first cookbook has achieved top-seller status, and Chernila has a new one in the works, tentatively titled “Meals from the Homemade Pantry,” due out in 2015. This week, she offers us dessert that’s Passover friendly, but good enough for all year.
I woke up this morning in the cloud of a memory.
I was young — maybe eight or nine, and my grandparents took me to a Passover seder at the home of their friends, Zev and Miriam. I imagine it was in one of the quiet side neighborhoods of Pittsfield. It was late, almost my bedtime even as we were just arriving. But we made our way down the basement stairs into a room packed to its edges with card tables and folding chairs. I was small and tired and excited, and the candles carry the memory forward to me now, creating a picture of what felt like 60 or more people. Zev, a rabbi, sang his way through the haggadah, and the meal lasted so late into the night, I fell asleep on my grandmother’s lap in the haze of warm chatter. It felt like a wild extended family all cobbled together to honor the holiday. And of all the seders in my life, that one has set the tone for the rest. It felt like everyone in the world was invited, and no one would be turned away.
I’ve been to more traditional seders where we stuck to every rule, and I’ve been to wide, expansive vegetarian ceremonies that focused on the need for marriage equality. I love both ends of this spectrum. I love how it’s a beginner’s holiday where everyone is invited to ask questions and learn. And most of all, I love how the food tells the story.
Passover desserts tend to go in just a few directions. Usually there’s a plate of macaroons, and, if you’re lucky, a flourless chocolate cake. This cake is an entirely different option for those who don’t keep kosher. It’s light, tangy, and smells like roses. The crust is gluten-free, so it’s a good one to have in your recipe box all year round.
Yogurt Cheesecake with Dates and Rosewater
For the crust:
¾ cup blanched almonds
¾ cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
For the filling:
1 pound (2 bricks) cream cheese, softened
1 cup plain yogurt
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon rosewater
For the topping:
1 cup pitted, roughly chopped dates
¼-1/2 cup water
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon rosewater
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lay the nuts and coconut onto a baking sheet and bake for five minutes. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool for a few minutes.
2. Combine the nuts, coconut, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse a few times until the ingredients come together in a wet, buttery dough. Gently press the mixture into a greased 9-inch spring form pan. (You can also line the bottom with parchment, but be sure to grease the sides as well.) Put the pan on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until it darkens slightly, about 15 minutes. Remove from the crust from the oven and let it cool until it’s no longer hot to the touch. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.
3. While the crust cools, make the filling. Combine the cream cheese, yogurt, eggs, sugar, and rosewater in a blender or food processor. Blend until the mixture is smooth.
4. Surround the bottom and sides of the cake pan with aluminum foil. (You’re going to be baking the cake in a water bath, so you want to make sure the spring form pan is watertight.) Fill a kettle with water and bring it to a boil. Place the spring form pan in a larger baking pan, and pour the filling into the crust. Transfer the whole larger baking pan into the oven, and then, with the door open, pour boiling water into the larger pan so that it comes a few inches up the sides of the spring form. Bake until the cake is just barely solid in the center and slightly puffed, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove from the water bath, and let cool. Chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours. You can add the date dotting before or after chilling, depending on your schedule.
5. For the topping: Combine the dates with ¼ cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until the dates soften and absorb the water. Add more water as the mixture gets dry. After about 15 minutes, the dates should melt into a jammy consistency. Remove from heat, stir in the cardamom and rosewater, and cool. Pour overtop the cake.