Baked Lemon, Honey, and Rosemary Cheesecake

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cheesecake rosemary picAt this quiet time of year, when the earth is still sleeping and only a few green shoots remind us that we are about to tumble headlong into the madcap cacophony of spring, the pickings are slim when it comes to seasonal produce.

Instead, this luscious baked cheesecake is a celebration of those cupboard ingredients that are so easy to take for granted here in the Pacific Northwest: fresh ricotta cheese from the farmers market, our astonishing local honeys, and new farm eggs — all imbued with intriguing hints of the rosemary that grows like a weed in our backyards.

If you can get Meyer lemons, they would work wonderfully, but ordinary lemons, such as I used here, are more than fine. In either case, the subtle pale yellows and greens of this decadent dessert are a reminder that spring is finally just around the corner.

Serves: 8–10 | start to finish: 1 hour and 40 minutes (active time: 30 minutes) If you wish to decorate with the sugared lemon slices (see below), that process should be started at least 2 hours before serving the cheesecake and will add another 5–10 minutes active time

For the pistachio shortbread crust

Butter for greasing the pan
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated or baker’s sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and chopped into small pieces

Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Pulse the pistachios in a food processor for about 10 seconds until finely chopped. Add the flour, sugar, salt, and vanilla and pulse for another 10 seconds to mix. Add the butter and pulse again for 10 seconds or so until you have fine crumbs.

Gently pat the crumbs into the pan until you have an even layer at the bottom and no loose crumbs. Don’t press down too firmly, as you don’t want the shortbread to be too dense. Bake for 12–15 minutes until golden. Set aside to cool and then put in the fridge to firm up.

For the ricotta cheese filling

1 small sprig rosemary leaves (approximately 1 tablespoon)
1/3 cup honey
1 1/2 cups whole-milk ricotta
1 cup (8-ounce package) cream cheese
1/2 cup granulated or baker’s sugar
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Juice of one large lemon (approximately 2 1/2 tablespoons)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Put the rosemary sprig into a small saucepan, cutting it as necessary to fit, but keeping it as intact as possible. Cover with the honey. Heat gently until the honey is bubbling around the edges, and then turn off the heat, leaving the rosemary to infuse.

Using a stand mixer or handheld mixer, beat the cheeses together at a medium speed for about 30 seconds until smoothly combined, and then beat in the sugar. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolks together, and then beat the eggs into the cheese mixture. Remove the rosemary from the honey and discard the rosemary. Beat the vanilla, lemon juice, and rosemary-infused honey into the cheese mixture.

Put a kettle or large saucepan of water on to boil.

Take the pan with the chilled shortbread base and wrap the outside in at least a double layer of foil to make sure it is watertight. You will be baking the cheesecake in a water bath, and you don’t want water to seep into the pan. A wide-format foil would be good here or a large turkey brining bag would also work.

Pour the now liquid cheese mixture onto the shortbread base, place the pan in a roasting pan, and pour the boiling kettle water into the roasting pan. The water should come up about halfway around the cheesecake pan.

Place in the middle of the oven and bake for about 50 minutes until the top is set and the filling is wobbling delightfully.

For the sour cream topping

1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons granulated or baker’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk the sour cream, sugar, and vanilla extract together and spread evenly over the top of the cooked cheesecake. Return the cheesecake to the oven and bake for another 10 minutes until the topping is also set.

Remove the springform pan from the water bath, unwrap it, stand it on a rack to cool, and then put it in the fridge.

For the sugared lemon slices (optional)

2 small lemons
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar for sugaring (optional)

These are a delightful way to decorate the cheesecake, but you could serve the cheesecake alone with a fruit compote or topped with a jar of your favorite preserves (in which case, don’t add the sour cream topping). If you make the sugared lemon slices, you should start at least two hours before serving.

Thinly slice the lemons and remove the seeds. Place the sugar and water in a small pan and heat gently, stirring from time to time until the sugar has dissolved. Add the lemons and simmer for about 15 minutes until the skins soften. Remove the lemon slices from the syrup with tongs and place in a single layer on a sheet of parchment paper. Set aside to cool completely. When cooled, I like to dip the sticky lemon slices in sugar for an extra-frosty sparkle, but you don’t have to. These lemon slices are fully edible.

To serve To remove the cheesecake, use a knife plunged in hot water to loosen the sides. Carefully remove the springform pan and decorate with sugared lemon slices and fresh rosemary.

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