Sharon’s Cheesecake

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I spent a year in Florence, Italy, many many dreams ago.  I was 24 years old in a marketing job feeling hopelessly uninspired as my plain vanilla days rolled into the next without distinction from the other.  I had my first existential crisis.  My heart screamed for chocolate maldon sea salt!  Hazelnut chocolate!  Black sesame!  With a topping of toffee crunch or toasted almond slivers, and a generous drizzle of salted caramel.  Anything but plain vanilla please, life was too short for that.

I decided I was going to take a year off and go back to school. Spend a year in a faraway place that would inspire me, while learning something new.  I had always loved interior design and thought it would be fun to study that in my one year sabbatical.  I didn’t realise what I had thought was just a hobby would turn into my career.  If I had gone there hoping for just a few sprinkles on my vanilla ice cream, I certainly got that and a whole lot more.  Living in Florence was a dream within my dream.  The cobblestone streets, the architecture, the culture, the language, the FOOD.  I had the best time of my life that year.

For Father’s Day I made my Dad a cheesecake from Trattoria Del Garga, one of my favourite restaurants in Florence.  It was dangerously located near where I lived and I would look for any occasion to go and treat myself to their veal scallopini with truffle cream and avocado or their Il Mangifico pasta, never leaving without a slice of their famous cheesecake.  I was ecstatic when I came across their recipe online. It is named after the owner’s wife Sharon Oddson and it is luscious, delicate and velvety, made light and creamy by the mascarpone cheese.  I find that it has the perfect balance of sweetness and subtle tartness that I look for in my cheesecake, and it also brings me back to that year of reckless abandonment, where eating was a job and indulgence was encouraged.

I started following Julie’s Kitchen on instagram and she shoots these wonderful photos of vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers.  She lays them out in a seemingly random way create beautiful patterns.  I was inspired by her work to add berries to my cheesecake because I, too, wanted to play with my food.  I wanted an easy way to make the cake look pretty and I wanted to cover all the imperfections on top!  It’s one of the reason why I also love making the very pretty and forgiving pavlova which I also made for Dad for his birthday.  Berries are a delicious and easy way to pretty up your cakes, especially if you’re a beginner baker like myself.  Make this cheesecake immediately.

Sharon’s Cheesecake
Recipe from Saveur Magazine

MAKES ONE 10″ CAKE

FOR THE CRUST:
2 cups finely crushed digestives
(English whole wheat biscuits)
1 tbsp. sugar
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

FOR THE FILLING:
11/2 cups cream cheese
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. mascarpone
1 cup sugar
3 eggs

FOR THE TOPPING:
1 cup plain yogurt
1 tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

1. For the crust: Preheat oven to 325°. Mix crushed biscuits and sugar together in a medium bowl. Add butter and stir until well combined. Transfer crumb mixture to a 10″ springform pan. Using your hands, spread mixture out in an even layer, then use your fingertips to press crumb mixture into bottom and up side of pan about 1H” to form an even crust. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake until crust is set and golden in places, 15-20 minutes. Set crust aside until cool.

2. For the filling: Beat cream cheese and mascarpone together in a mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to medium-low and gradually add sugar, beating well, about 1 minute. Add eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Pour filling into crust and bake until just set, 40-45 minutes. Remove cheesecake from oven and set aside to cool for 5 minutes.

3. For the topping: Combine yogurt, sugar, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Pour onto cheesecake, spreading it out to cover top of cheesecake completely. Set aside at room temperature at least 2 hours before serving.

4. Run a knife between crust and inside ring of pan and remove ring. Serve cheesecake with sliced strawberries, if you like.

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