An Edible Souvenir

13 Aug

For our honeymoon last August, we spent a week on Vieques, a tiny island just off Puerto Rico. Vieques was a US Navy testing ground (i.e., a place to practice blowing stuff up) until 2003; civilian protests finally convinced the navy to cut it out, and upon their withdrawal eighty percent of the island was designated a protected wildlife refuge. The island is thus only beginning to attract significant tourism–until a “W” hotel opened last year, the only options for lodging were small non-chain hotels and B&Bs. Vieques was a great choice for us–nearly empty beaches, a bioluminescent bay, not (yet) overrun with tourists, great for swimming–but it’s definitely not for everyone. You’ve got to be ok with flying in a eight-seat puddle jumper, the odd bug in your rum, and an occasional encounter with one of these. And horses. Lots and lots of wild horses who will remove themselves from the middle of the road whenever they please, thank you very much.

We stayed at a fantastic B&B just outside Esperanza, the smaller of Vieques’s two very small towns. Every night we’d walk into town for dinner at one of the restaurants that opened up onto the malecón, which meant we had views like this while we ate:

On the menu at one of these restaurants was a dessert we’d never encountered before: goat cheese cheesecake. I was wary of such a thing, but we agreed to share a slice. We regretted this decision. The cheesecake was light, lemony, not overly sweet–exactly what a cheesecake should be. (Not this.)

We were back in Chicago for, oh, two days, before I tried to track down a recipe for this perfect cheesecake. I found a number that included a combination of cream cheese and goat cheese, which I am pretty sure was not the case with the Viequan version. No, I wanted goat, and goat alone. I found what I was looking for at Food & Wine: just goat cheese, a little sugar, and lemon. With a few tweaks, I was able to re-create–almost–the dessert we had that night.

Honeymoon Goat Cheese Cheesecake

for the crust:

  • 2 cups almond biscotti crumbs (You can of course use the traditional graham cracker crust, but I thought the almond would be a nice complement to the goat cheese and lemon. And it’s fancier.)
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • dash of salt

for the cheesecake:

  • 11 ounces mild goat cheese
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 2 tablespoons flour

Before I get into the procedure, a few notes:

  • Make sure everything is at room temperature before you begin.
  • Don’t over beat the eggs.
  • On the subject of water baths: The jury is still out on whether water baths are important for the extra humidity, for providing even heat, or both. I didn’t use a proper water bath here simply because I don’t have a pan that is both wide and deep enough for my springform. What I did do is place a large baking dish full of water on the lowest rack of my oven, figuring that I could at least get whatever benefits humidity provides. I ended up with a cake that was plenty moist but that cracked slightly as it cooled. I don’t care too much about cracks–gives it character–but use a water bath if you can.

On we go…

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. If you’re using the method I described, place the pan on the bottom rack now. Prep your springform however you like–parchment circle on bottom, aluminum foil wrapped around the seam, etc.

Combine the crumbs, melted butter, and salt. Dump the mixture into the springform and spread evenly. With something sturdy and round–bottom of a drinking glass, bottom of a measuring cup–press the crumbs until they’re packed down and evenly distributed. Put the pan into the fridge to let the crust firm up until you’re ready to fill it.

In a large bowl, beat the goat cheese, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla until smooth. Add the eggs yolks two at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the flour at low speed.

In another bowl and using clean beaters, beat the eggs white until they’re firm but before they form peaks–they should still look “wet.” Beat one-third of the whites into the filling on low speed. Gently fold in the remaining whites.

Pour the filling into the prepared pan. Bake for 40-50 minutes; the very center should still look a bit wobbly. Cool completely before releasing the springform.


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