Some of my favorite recipes are the ones that invite what I call “playing around” or, in Baking Chez Moi and Around My French Table, a Bonne Idée – a good idea, or a way to change them a bit and make them more your own.
Few recipes are as tweakable as the formerly all-American cheesecake. I say “formerly,” because once I started making cheesecake in Paris, my second home, my French friends happily adopted it as a Gallic delight. And when I added fresh raspberries and a quickly-made raspberry-cranberry jam, the cake became a citizen of the world and my go-to dessert for the holidays.
Here's the back-story: For most of the years that I’ve lived in France, cream cheese has been a hard-to-find cult ingredient. In fact, it was so rare and so coveted that I once flew from New York to Paris with 10 pounds of it in my suitcase. I kept 4 pounds and gave the rest away to the friends who’d requested it.
I froze half of my stash and used the rest – along with the graham crackers that I’d also hauled across the ocean – to make a New York cheesecake and to make my French friends very happy.
A few months later, planning to repeat my little feat of international diplomacy, I had the frozen cream cheese, but no graham crackers and no source for them. It was then that I “Parisized” my cake, using crushed spice cookies and almond flour for the crust, then tossing more cookie crumbs into the cake.
It was a hit in Paris and just as big a hit in New York, where it became the Paris Cheesecake. Since it went back and forth so many times, I dubbed it Le Cheesecake Round-Trip.
When Driscoll’s told me that cheesecake was their berry-lovers favorite dessert and asked if I could create a raspberry cheesecake for them, I knew that Le Cheesecake was a bonne idée. Having played around with it before, I was sure it would inspire more variations.
And it did – just in time for the holidays.
The cake itself (which can be made ahead and frozen – a boon for a busy time) is similar to the one in Baking Chez Moi: It's a tall, super-creamy cream-cheese cake. As good as it is speckled with spice cookies (think speculoos), it is better by bounds with berries.
Driscoll's raspberries are wonderful all through the year, but having them in the late fall and winter is a special pleasure: When the days are short and cold and sunlight often elusive, fresh berries brighten our spirit as much as they pick-up a dish. That they're beautiful and seem to shout “holiday” is the bonus.
Since the raspberries are gorgeous and so terrific with the cream cheese and spice cookies, once I decided to add them to the recipe, I wanted to add lots and lots of them. I hold to the theory that too much of a good thing is just right.
Of course, I put them on top of the cake, but when I hit on making the jazzy raspberry-cranberry jam, I knew I was onto something special. The jam, which comes together in under 10 minutes, is a brilliant jewel tone and so good that you'll want to make it as a stand-alone treat. (Use a little less sugar and you can serve it with turkey, chicken or a pork roast.)
To crown Le Cheesecake, I spread the cooled jam over the top, squiggled on concentric circles of whipped cream and then popped fresh raspberries between the cream. It's a knockout.
Thank you, Driscoll's, for asking me to riff on one of my favorite recipes in Baking Chez Moi. With the addition of fresh raspberries and that glistening jam, it's now a favoritest.
To get the recipe, head over to Driscolls.com. And if you riff on my riff, let me know. There are tons of bonne idées to be discovered.