By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
’Tis the season for that unmistakable tart little crimson berry that graces both Thanksgiving and Christmas tables. Bless that gorgeous color, right?
I was thinking to myself at our Thanksgiving feast this year, after everyone had plated up their food. White turkey, white mashed potatoes, brown stuffing, brown gravy, green vegetables (yay!) and orange sweet potatoes. Not the perkiest looking palette as I scanned the table. But, lo and behold, there was that shock of bright red cranberry sauce among the more mundane colors. Go ahead, take a photo of the plate to put on Instagram. This was a worthy looking platter of food after all.
Cranberries were introduced to the American diet by the Naragansett tribe in the 1600s. This hearty crop, a member of the evergreen family, is harvested from September to November, depending upon the climate. It is best picked after the first frost.
Cranberries start out white (that’s why we have white cranberry juice). As the berries stay on the vine longer, they get deeper red. They are a member of the heather family and related to blueberries. Unfortunately, cranberries are so bitter that they are rarely eaten raw. They have a high amount of fiber (the juice does not) and minerals.
Cranberries are prolific in northern states, particularly in the eastern United States. They grow in sandy, shallow bogs on long vines. When it’s time to harvest the crop, farmers flood the bogs, and the berries float to the top of the water. They are then scooped up off the surface. Back in the 1980s, my husband Bob and I went on a color change car trip through New England. We were fortunate enough to view a magnificent cranberry bog in Massachusetts just before harvest. It was truly breathtaking.
Americans have had a running national debate about the merits of canned cranberry sauce versus fresh cooked sauce. A year ago, Newsweek reported in its November 24th 2021 issue, “32 percent of respondents preferred canned cranberry sauce, 27 percent favored sauce "made from scratch" and 37 percent liked either type.” It’s always been amazing to me that the tradition has been to slide the cranberry “sauce” out of the can and onto the serving dish, ridges and all. It doesn’t even look edible to me, but I’m a from-scratch cranberry sauce snob.
When I hear cranberry or cranberry sauce mentioned, I, like many cooks, think only of this time of year. But I think it’s a shame to limit this ingredient to just appearing as sauce for turkey or other meats. Consider using it to make barbecue sauce for chicken, duck, or pork.
Fortunately, in 1990, the Ocean Spray company introduced Craisins, which are sweetened dried cranberries. Other companies followed suit and began producing the popular, versatile morsels. Bakers use them interchangeably with raisins in quick breads, muffins, scones, and cookies. Dried cranberries are used in salads, pilafs, and meat sauces.
Today’s recipe is a holiday dessert stunner: White Chocolate Cheesecake with Fresh Cranberries. Not only does this cake add color to your sweets table, it also backs up that beauty with the most delicious, creamy taste.
There are some important tips to remember when making cheesecake: Always have your cream cheese, butter, and eggs at room temperature. I leave them out overnight. Honestly, this won’t hurt you. In my professional kitchen, we did it all the time. Do not overbeat the batter after the eggs have been incorporated. It will introduce too much air and the cake is likely to collapse. Last, allow the cheesecake to cool slowly in a water bath to prevent cracking. The purpose of the water bath is to avoid a crust forming on the outside. Also, it creates a lighter texture.
After you make and eat this cheesecake, let us know at The Insider exactly how much you swooned over its delectable taste and texture. You’ll be so proud that you made it!
White Chocolate Cheesecake with Fresh Cranberries
Yield: 12 servings
6 oz. fresh cranberries
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
1 1/2 c. ground toasted pecans
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. flour
3 oz. unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 lb. cream cheese, room temperature
3 oz. unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 lb. high quality white chocolate, melted
1 Tbsp. vanilla
3 lg. eggs, room temperature
Make the Cranberry Sauce: In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Bring to a boil, swirling the pan to ensure the sugar dissolves. Boil 1 minute. Add the cranberries. Continue boiling until the berries have popped and the mixture thickens, about 7-8 minutes. Cool completely. Refrigerate until cold. Can be made a day ahead.
Make the Crust: In a small bowl, combine the ground pecans, brown sugar, and flour. Blend in the melted butter. Wrap the outside of an 8” springform pan with 2 layers of foil. Spray the bottom and sides of the pan with pan release. Press the crust onto the bottom of the pan, patting down firmly. Freeze for at least an hour. Reserve.
Make the Cheesecake: Preheat the oven to 350°. When oven reaches temperature, bake the crust for 15-20 minutes until set.
In the bowl of a stationery mixer fitted with the paddle (OR a large mixing bowl with a handheld mixer), beat together the cream cheese and butter until well mixed. Add the sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy, scraping down when needed. Blend in the melted white chocolate and vanilla.
Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the batter between additions. DO NOT OVERBEAT. Too much air in the cheesecake may cause it to collapse. Pour half of the batter into the crust. Measure about 1/2-3/4 cup of cranberry sauce and drop in dollops on the batter. With a sharp small knife, swirl the sauce into the batter. Do not overmix or the batter will turn pink. Pour on remaining cheesecake. Repeat with another 1/2-3/4 cup of cranberry sauce.
Set the cake pan in a roasting pan. Pour water into the larger pan going 1” up the sides of the springform. Bake for about 55 minutes or until fully set. Turn off oven, and open the oven door. Allow the cake to sit for 20 minutes. Remove the roasting pan but leave the cake to cool in the water. Put the cheesecake in the refrigerator overnight before removing it from the pan.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.