Mascarpone amps up this gluten-free delight
Looking for a dessert that’s a BFD—you know, a big fancy deal? One you can serve to your boss or your fussiest relatives?
Well, your search is over. This mascarpone-driven Lemon Cheesecake with Walnut Crust delivers “Wow!” factor.
It’s the perfect dessert for an important dinner party. That’s because you can (and should) make this dish ahead of time, preferably the day before you intend to serve it. When you’re planning a big dinner, that “make ahead” thing isn’t a bug, it’s a feature: You get dessert out of the way early, so you can obsess over the main course on the day of.
Plus, it will give you plenty of time to anticipate the standing O you’ll receive from your guests when they take their first bite of this tongue pleaser.
Recipe: Lemon Cheesecake with Walnut Crust
There are 3 major steps to this recipe, none of them difficult. First, you need to make and blind bake the crust (that is, bake it without a filling). Second, you need to mix up the cheesecake filling, add it to the cooled (but still warm) crust, and bake the whole shebang. Third—and important; see Notes—you must let the cheesecake cool, then chill in the refrigerator for several hours before you attempt to remove it from its baking pan and cut it.
Mrs. Kitchen Riffs is the dessert maven in our household, and this is her creation. She adapted it from a March 1999 recipe she found on Epicurious.
This dish is a very rich, so you’ll probably want to cut small slices—it serves 10 to 12.
Prep time for making the crust is about 10 minutes, baking time 20 minutes (then the crust needs to cool a bit). Prep time for the cheesecake filling is 10 to 15 minutes, and baking time is an hour. So allow about 2 hours total for this.
Leftovers keep for a few days if refrigerated in airtight containers.
For the crust:
- ~2½ cups walnuts
- ¾ cup sugar
- 6 tablespoons butter, melted
- 2 pounds cream cheese (four 8-ounce packages)
- 8 ounces mascarpone cheese
- 1½ cups sugar
- 2 large eggs (consider using pasteurized; see Notes)
- 4 teaspoons lemon zest (see Notes)
- 4 to 6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- garnish of fresh fruit (optional)
For the crust:
- Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan (one with a removable bottom) and line with parchment paper.
- In a food processor, grind walnuts with ¾ cup sugar until fine. Meanwhile, melt butter in the microwave (preferably in a container with a lid; about 1 minute.) Add the butter to the walnut mixture and pulse until well mixed (it will look like wet sand).
- Press the walnut mixture evenly in the bottom of the springform pan and smooth the top. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the crust is starting to brown around the edges.
- Let the crust cool until lukewarm. Then wrap the springform pan tightly in aluminum foil (so it won’t leak in the next step).
- Preheat oven to 350° F if you turned it off after making the crust.
- Using a stand mixer (or in a large bowl, using a hand mixer), beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the mascarpone cheese and beat until light and fluffy.
- Reduce speed to medium and add 1½ cups sugar, continuing to beat until well mixed. Add the eggs and beat until smooth and creamy. Add the lemon zest and juice, beating until well combined.
- Pour the cheese mixture over the cooled walnut crust, smoothing the top. Set the wrapped cheesecake pan in a larger, shallow pan (such as a large roasting pan with sides about 2 or 3 inches high), and add enough hot water to the larger pan to reach halfway up the sides of the cheesecake pan (see Notes).
- Bake for approximately one hour. At that point, the cheesecake will be mostly set (though still soft) and the top will be turning golden brown.
- Remove the cheesecake pan from the roasting pan and place it on a wire rack to cool. Discard the water from the roasting pan. That water is hot, so be careful not to burn yourself!
- After the cheesecake has cooled for an hour or so, place the cheesecake (still in the pan) in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours (up to 24 hours) to chill and set completely (see Notes).
- When ready to serve, place a large plate over the cheesecake pan and invert quickly. Release the sides of the springform pan and remove the outer part of the pan. Remove the bottom of the springform pan and peel away the parchment paper. Then place a second plate over the cheesecake and invert quickly. Remove the top plate (see Notes).
- Serve the cheesecake by itself or garnish with fresh fruit (raspberries, blueberries, or strawberries would be particularly nice.)
- The original recipe called for a shortbread cookie crust. Most cheesecake recipes call for graham cracker crust. We prefer a ground-walnut crust—which is tastier, as well as gluten free.
- We like to use a bottom-only crust (i.e., no side crust) on this cheesecake. That’s because a ground-walnut crust is quite rich and has its own distinctive flavor. We don’t want it to overwhelm the cheesecake.
- Why use a lidded container when melting the butter? Because butter can explode in the microwave, creating a mess if not contained. So not fun.
- We use full-fat cream cheese in this dish. So it’s not a diet dessert! Reduced-fat cream cheese probably works, but we haven’t tried that.
- Mascarpone is a soft Italian cheese (similar to cream cheese) with rich, sweet flavor. It plays a leading role in Tiramisu, that most beloved of Italian desserts.
- Eggs carry a slight (but real) risk of salmonella. So we suggest using pasteurized eggs when making any type of batter that you might taste raw. Although it’s unlikely the eggs you buy will be infected, why take the risk? Especially since most of us can’t make cheesecake batter without tasting it.
- You can identify pasteurized eggs because they usually have a red “P” stamped on them.
- The amount of lemon zest and juice called for in this recipe requires about 2 medium-sized lemons.
- The easiest way to zest lemons is to use a Microplane grater. A zester works too, but it takes a bit longer.
- Make sure the water you add to the roasting pan is hot (as in boiling). Otherwise, the cheesecake will take much longer to bake because the water will have to heat in the oven before if starts cooking the cheesecake.
- BTW, this cooking technique is called a “water bath” or bain-marie. Why use it? Because it allows the cheesecake to bake in slow, gentle heat (the water never gets hotter than boiling temperature, or 212 degrees F). So the cheesecake cooks evenly in a nice humid environment, which helps prevent it from cracking and drying out.
- Which brings us to the next reminder: Don’t over-bake this cheesecake. It will seem jiggly when you take it out of the oven. That’s OK—it will set up in the fridge. You want it to stay light and creamy.
- You really do need to let this cheesecake chill in the fridge in the springform pan for several hours (preferably overnight). It will be very soft when you take it out of the oven and will fall apart if you try to remove it from the pan too quickly (guess how I know this).
- This dish is wonderful all by itself, but a garnish of fresh fruit adds color and nice accent flavor. Fresh berries are particularly delicious with it.
“This cheesecake is so good, I need to yodel,” I said. “No other way to express how great this is!”
“Thanks,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “But yodeling? That’s a little dangerous, don’t you think?”
“A lot painful is more like it,” I said, forking another bite. “So I’ll just yodel virtually. No need to rile up the neighborhood dogs.”
“Relieved,” said Mrs K R.
“Anyway, you know I love lemon. And wow, this delivers terrific lemon flavor. Plus, the walnut crust is out of this world.” I slid my plate across the table. “I’m definitely going to need a second piece.”
“It’s not bad, if I say so myself,” said Mrs K R as she dished up. “Definitely a keeper.”
I’ll yodel ay ee hoo to that.
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Black Walnut Sandies
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