The non-conformist in me doesn’t want to admit that I sort of like Valentine’s Day. For most of my life, I was happy to participate in the holiday if candy and chocolate was involved, and the rest of the time, I was pretty indifferent to the whole thing. Despite the commercialism of the day and the expectations that it often brings forth, I don’t hate on Valentine’s Day because it’s a day to celebrate love. I like that idea.
I never thought I’d be in love. I was sure that my cynicism and desire to assert my independence were too prominent in my personality for me to ever find someone I’d want to be with. I realize now that this is silly, but at one time, I really felt like love wasn’t in my future. I went on a few dates in college but I didn’t like any of the people enough to see them more than a few times. After college I developed crushes so ridiculous that a friend had to sit with me in the bathroom of a restaurant on her birthday one year and ask, “Nicole, are you serious?” She was so right.
Then, in an instant, it all changed. I’m not sure why or how, but it did. I met him, a cute blond baritone with glasses, on stage at an opera rehearsal. He appeared in front of me with a frantic look on his face and his head buried in his score reviewing his music. Later that day we introduced ourselves. Scott was his name. We talked. We laughed. We spent free time at every rehearsal walking around the block and learning more about each other. We became Facebook friends. A few weeks later I asked him out for coffee. (You want it? Go get it!) A week after that we went out for tapas and wine. The next it was Central Park and Indian food. Each date led to another and another (and another) and now we’re here, happy, together, almost three years later, journeying along, dealing with all of the great stuff, the not-so-great stuff, and everything else that life brings. And we’ve never looked back.
When Valentine’s Day rolls around, we won’t be out at a restaurant or exchanging presents because that really isn’t our style. Since one of our favorite ways to spend time together is to cook a nice, simple meal, hang on the couch with some wine, and play cards or, lately, Monopoly, that’s what we’re going to do. Because we rarely do that on a Tuesday due to obligations, rehearsals, practicing, working out, blogging, whatever, I think Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to forget about the to-do list for an evening and enjoy each other’s company. It’s going to be an awesome change of pace. And there will probably be cake.
I’d never personally made a cheesecake before I made this one. I was very, very hesitant to bake it because I’d heard horror stories about cheesecakes splitting and not cooking properly or being overcooked, and I thought the whole thing was way too complicated. But, despite my reservations, it wound up turning out very well. I chose to make a strawberry cheesecake with chocolate ganache because it seemed so, impossibly decadent and I was in the mood for a dessert that was over the top in sweetness and richness, which this one most definitely is.
The combination of cream cheese and mascarpone here creates a smooth, creamy cake base that’s sweetened with sugar and swirled, just before baking, with strawberry preserves that have been slightly diluted with water to thin them out. The cake lays atop a crust that’s simply a mixture of chocolate cookies (or you could use ginger snaps or almond biscotti) and melted butter. The crust is sturdy and thick, holds up to the cake well, but doesn’t take any glory away from the cheesecake filling itself. The ganache, poured over the top before serving, adds a sweet, deepness to the top of the cake; each bite into the ganache, which hardens a bit over time, mixed with a bite of the strawberry cheesecake, is defined by a creamy fullness that’s made light and sweet by the cheesecake and dark and rich by the ganache.
This cake is so decadent that after one piece I was so satisfied, I didn’t even want another. It’s perfect, filling, and the balance of flavor is just right. The cake took up an entire shelf in our small refrigerator for a week, greeting us every time we opened the door, and begging to be eaten all day. If, like us, you’re not serving this cake to a group and would like to keep it for more than a few days, you can refrigerate the cake for 3-5 days or freeze it, wrapped in foil, for up to a month. (Freeze the cake uncovered (you can leave it on the bottom of the spring form pan) for an hour before wrapping it very well in foil and then freezing it until you need it, at which point you can thaw it overnight in the refrigerator.)
Whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day or not, have a great Tuesday. And if there’s cake and wine involved, even better!
One Year Ago: Butternut Squash Gratin
Strawberry Swirl Cheesecake with Chocolate Ganache
Yield: 1 9-inch cake
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
This cheesecake will do best if made the day before. Giving it time to rest in the refrigerator overnight will help give the cake the dense texture that makes it so great. You can top it with the ganache and strawberries the day you plan to serve the cake. If you can't wait til the next day, no worries! Just make sure the cake is completely cool before you top it with the ganache and serve it.
For the cake:
1 1/2 cups ground crumbs from store bought chocolate wafer cookies (about 6 ounces)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 large eggs
For the strawberry swirl:
1/2 cup strawberry preserves
1/4 cup water
For the topping:
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup chocolate chips (milk chocolate or semi sweet)
1 pint strawberries, washed, stems removed, and cut it half
1. Wrap the outside of a 9-inch springform pan with two layers of aluminum foil (I did about 4 layers to be safe.) and spray the inside of the pan with non-stick cooking spray.
2. Mix the cookie crumbs and melted butter in a bowl until combined. Press the mixture onto the bottom of the springform pan. Place the springform pan with the crust into the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.
3. In a small bowl, mix the strawberry preserves with the water and heat in the microwave for 1 minute until warm. Set aside.
4. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl with a wooden spoon) beat the cream cheese, mascarpone, and 1 ¼ cups sugar until very smooth. Add the eggs one at a time and blend until completely incorporated. Pour the batter into your prepared springform pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.
5. Drizzle the strawberry preserve and water mixture over the cake and swirl it through the cake with a knife.
6. Place the cake-filled springform pan into a large roasting pan and pour enough hot water into the roasting pan (not into the cake pan, obviously) to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.
7. Put the roasting pan with the cheesecake inside into the oven and bake for 1 hour, 10 minutes. The cake will be done when you jiggle the pan and the cake moves only slightly.
8. Cool the cake in the oven with the heat off and the door completely ajar for 45 minutes before removing the cake from the oven and the water bath and allowing the cake (still in the springform pan) to cool completely on a cooling rack. Place the cake into the refrigerator once it’s cool enough to touch and let it rest there for 8 hours or overnight. (If you can’t wait overnight just make sure the cake has cooled completely before you top it with ganache and serve it.)
9. To make the ganache, heat the chocolate and cream in a double boiler or in a pyrex bowl put on top of a pot of shallow boiling water. Stir frequently with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until the chocolate is completely melted, the cream has incorporated with the chocolate, and the mixture is silky and smooth.
10. Allow the ganache to cool for 15 minutes before pouring it onto the cheesecake and smoothing with a knife or rubber spatula. Top with strawberries and serve.