You can’t come to Maine in the summer without going to the farmers market and getting fresh blueberries. One memory I have from my childhood is also going to “pick-your-own” farms on school field trips and filling up buckets with strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries which would stain my hands (and my lips) before even paying.
Maine blueberries are smaller, sweeter, and more intense in flavor and color. They are easy to get in stores year round when they are frozen, and usually people buy a massive amount in peak season and freeze them to use all year. They’re so good in muffins, cakes, on pancakes, in sauces, and even in one of my favorite local barbecue sauces!
For the purpose of this recipe though, I wanted to go simple. Yes, me, simple. I usually don’t have a simple bone in my body, but I was craving a homemade, big, creamy cheesecake. I thought of making a cheesecake mousse with blueberries and plating a fancy-shmancy Evan-style deconstructed dessert, but at the time I just didn’t feel like it. There’s something so satisfying about cutting yourself a big slice of cheesecake and the drama of a cake covered with fresh berries.
So, my blueberry recipe heroes the tartness of the berry against the sweetness of cheesecake. It’s very simple (for me) but boy was it satisfying to eat!
Maine blueberry and lemon cheesecake with lime shortbread crust, blueberry coulis and dark chocolate/blueberry crunch
To make the blueberry-lemon cheesecake:
2 egg whites
3/4 cup white sugar
1/3 cup blueberry juice
1/3 cup creme fraiche
1 cup cream cheese
1/3 cup fresh Maine blueberries
2 egg yolks
1 tbs AP flour
2 tbs (1/8 cup) lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanila extract
Preheat oven to 350 F. First we want to whip our egg whites into a soft meringue. Most cheesecake recipes call for eggs in the batter which is because when we cook it low and slow in a hot water bath, the protein in the eggs allows the mixture to set much like a creme brûlée or a custard would. To put a twist on this cake and to enhance the fluffy texture, we’re going to separate the egg yolks and whites to maximize the airiness.
So place your two egg whites in a stand mixer and start whipping the hell out of it on medium-high speed. After a couple of minutes when they turn frothy and start to lighten, add the sugar, which will stabilize the mix and turn into meringue. After a couple more minutes the mixture will be thick, glossy and white. Take your reserved blueberry juice (usually settles in the bottom of the container, or you can just blend some extra blueberries and sieve it) and slowly drizzle it into the meringue mix while on medium speed. The mix will stay together and turn a cool baby blue color. Even though we’re not, this would be beautiful at this point to turn into meringue shards or use on top of a lemon pie to retain the color.
Next! Take your meringue and add the other ingredients for the cheesecake batter: cream cheese, creme fraiche, more blueberries, egg yolks, flour, lemon juice, salt and vanilla extract. Mix delicately with a spatula until there are no streaks, being careful not to completely deflate the egg whites.
Set the mixture in the fridge to cool while you make your crust.
To make the lime shortbread crust:
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cubed
1 cup AP flour
1/3 cup white sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tbs fresh grated lime zest
In a medium bowl combine flour, white sugar, salt and lime zest. Mix just to combine. Add the cubed butter and mix through with a fork until the dough comes together.
Chill the dough in the freezer for 10-20 minutes to make sure it’s very cold when going into the oven, or for a longer period in the fridge. We want the butter to stay cold so that when the crust is heated it doesn’t puff up too much and stays nice and flaky.
When the dough is cooled, pack it into the bottom of a 9 inch removable-bottom cake pan.
Blind bake the crust for 10-15 minutes, or until golden brown. The batter and water bath will stop it from overcooking in the oven when we cook the cheesecake, so don’t worry if you push it really far. You want to make sure it’s nice and crispy now to avoid having a soggy bottom later because of the moisture. And no one likes a soggy bottom..
First! Turn down your oven temp to 300 or even 275 if you have one of those fancy dial things.
When your crust is cooled a little and your batter is ready to go, first you need to form a barrier of tin foil around the bottom and sides of the pan to make sure that no water leaks in- then pour the batter into the pan to almost full. Next make sure you have a deep-ish roasting pan that can comfortably hold the cake pan and fill it about 1/3 to halfway with water. It would be good to boil the water first to make sure it’s hot going into the oven, but not necessary since it’ll be in the oven for so long.
Place your cheesecake into the roasting pan of water and place in the center rack of the oven to bake for 75 minutes.
After the 75 minutes is up, you want to just check quickly to make sure the cheesecake isn’t too cooked on top (in case your oven gets too hot, like mine tends to) and then TURN OFF THE OVEN- but leave the cheesecake in to keep cooking for another 30 minutes. This makes sure that the gradual decrease in temperature aids in the setting process and is helpful instead of putting a hot pan right in the fridge to cool.
When THAT is done… put your cheesecake in the fridge to set and get nice and cold for at least 1-2 hours.
To make the blueberry coulis:
1 cup fresh Maine blueberries
1 cup water
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (1 lime)
1/2 blood orange
1 tsp salt
So, probably the most blueberry-ish component of the dish is this delicious, sour/sweet coulis. A coulis is basically a sauce made from fruit and sugar, and blueberries are perfect for this.
In a medium saucepan, combine all of your ingredients and give it a little stir. Now you want to just cook it on medium/low for about 45 minutes to an hour until it gets really syrupy, reduced by half and deep in flavor. You can also experiment with adding some spices or other things besides citrus to this- I did end up adding a pinch of cinnamon at the end to tone down the sweetness.
When this is done and tastes great to you, strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and let it chill in the fridge to make sure it’s not scalding hot. The temperature decrease will also help thicken it a bit. We’re going to cover our cheesecake with this and save some to use in our chocolate/blueberry crunch.
To make the dark chocolate/blueberry crunch:
1 whole 88% chocolate bar, chopped (4 oz)
1 tbs reserved blueberry coulis
1/2- 1 cup puffed rice cereal (eyeball it)
There are many ways to do this next element, but the easiest for me was to make a sort of ganache by heating up the coulis and pouring it over the chocolate to melt. You could also just microwave the chocolate in increments and add the coulis, whatever is easiest for you! When you have a cohesive, melted delicious blueberry/chocolate substance, mix in your puffed rice. It’s tricky to guess the exact amount but trust your instinct in making sure you have enough sauce to coat all of the rice, but it should’t be A) liquidy or B) so much rice that you can’t stick it together.
Prepare a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick silicon mat and spread your rice mixture evenly. No need to make perfect edges or anything- we’re going to break it apart to decorate the cheesecake. But you are free to snack on some pieces too while you wait 🙂
Put the tray into the freezer to set for at least 15-30 minutes until it achieves a cold bark consistency and is easy to break into pieces.
To assemble the dish!!
So like I said, there weren’t that many steps in this process- it’s really all about the taste of the cheesecake and the blueberry flavors. If you want you can go all out- I thought about making a lemon whipped cream, or meringue shards, pecan praline, ice cream, etc. but I had to keep telling myself not to do too much.
My motto in life has always been more is more, but that often gets me into a lot of trouble and negatively impacts my art/food. When I tone down what I’m doing and really focus on simple things, my work is usually better. But trust your gut- this could make a really cool deconstructed, artsy gourmet dessert fit for a restaurant and a magazine cover.
Some days you feel like going for James Beard, and some days you feel like going for grandma-level deliciousness. You do you.
So anyway, after that tangent, let’s get finished with this sucker!
Take your cheesecake out, which should be nice and cooled and remove the pan. The best way to do this is, if you have removable bottom/sides, to set the pan on top of a soup can/coffee can and gently push down on the pan’s sides. It should fall right off, and then you can work on getting the bottom off. Jury is still out on the best way to do this- maybe if you used parchment paper before baking you could pull it off? Flex your noggin, I just used a knife carefully and it worked well.
Drizzle your coulis over the cheesecake in whatever way you want and break up pieces of the rice bark to scatter on top. Decorate with more blueberries and you’re good to go! I ran out of fresh Maine blueberries unfortunately, so I stole some big old regular ones (which are still delicious) to use for garnish.
Slice it up and dig in. Feel free to make some modifications, dig in, and let me know how yours turns out! Some people like more of a cream cheese cake, some people really enjoy the flavor of the creme fraiche, you could try mascarpone, ricotta, whatever you want!
And if you ever get a chance to come to Maine in the summer, go pick some blueberries, will ya?