It was cheesecake– my first baking love. It’s hard to remember that time so long ago when my kitchen was not filled to the brink with couverture chocolate, cake pans, various kinds of flour, and countless jars of sprinkles! Despite my mother being a wonderful cook, I had little interest in kitchen activities (uhhh, besides eating) until my early 20’s, and it was creamy, graham-crackery cheesecake that first piqued my curiosity for some reason. From there, I began to explore cookies and cakes and pastries, and started to geek out on baking science! (I learned so much through sooo many mistakes…) Although I don’t make cheesecake all that often, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for it, so I was very happy to see Pistachio White Chocolate Cheesecake on the schedule for Baked Sunday Mornings this week. Baked Occasions celebrates National Pistachio Day with this recipe, which I did not know was a thing, but I am happy to join in. While I’ve enjoyed snacking on pistachios as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a bit turned off by pistachio-flavored things. They tend to be dyed a sickly shade of green, and frankly they often taste nothing like actual pistachios. I love that BAKED‘s pistachio recipes always use actual pistachios and nothing fake, so the true pistachio flavor shines through– a little green coloring notwithstanding. 😉
This recipe consists of a chocolate wafer-pistachio crust encasing two layers of pistachio cheesecake: one with white chocolate folded in and one with a touch of green color for fun. It is topped with an optional sour cream layer, which didn’t work out super well for me, so I made a white chocolate ganache to cover the top. I decided to use a different crust because I love graham crust so very much; also, I’m tinkering with a cheesecake for St. Patrick’s Day that will have a chocolate crust, so I thought I would mix it up. I subbed a double-batch of my very favorite and insanely delicious Graham Crust for the chocolate crust, though I did keep the chopped pistachios. (I subtracted 70 grams of graham cracker crumbs to make room for the nuts.) I like my crumb crusts nice and thick, but unfortunately I made this crust a little too thick on the sides, though I think it was more or less the same quantity that the original crust would have yielded, so I’m not sure why that happened. It slumped down in the pan a bit while baking, so I couldn’t use all the batter.
To make the cheesecake batter, you’ll beat a generous 4 bricks of cream cheese with sugar and flour, then add eggs, and then finely chopped pistachios and heavy cream. The creamy mixture will be thickly laced with pistachio bits!
You’ll then pour half of the batter into a separate bowl and fold in a few ounces of white chocolate. Pour this mixture into the cooled crust and chill it. Then add a little green food coloring gel to the remaining batter– I used a meager two drops and it was much greener than I intended. Pour the green batter over the white chocolate batter to right below the rim of the crust. I had to hold back a bit of both batters (almost ¼ actually) because of my slumpy crust.
You first bake the cheesecake at 500°F for 10 minutes, then turn it down to 350°F for the rest of the baking time. It baked in 40 minutes in my light-colored pan, quicker than the estimated 45-60 minutes. Trouble was, the crust looked like it was starting to get mighty toasty, and brown spots began to appear on the top of the cake pretty quickly, so I tented foil over the cake after 15 minutes at 350°F. By the time I pulled out the cake, the crust looked borderline burned.
Once the cake comes out of the oven, you can add a thin layer of sour cream on top to cover any cracks and add a touch of tartness to the cake. I used crème fraîche instead of regular sour cream in a nod to the very first cheesecake recipe that I ever made well (which had such a topping), but it was very thin in consistency for some reason, so it ran down from the puffed edges to the cake pan edges and pooled in the center– sadly, there was no “swirly pattern” to speak of, as is suggested in the recipe.
One more baking note: The recipe instructions say that you can make a sorta-waterbath to minimize cracking by placing a roasting pan filled with water on the rack underneath the rack holding the cake. I thought this was brilliant– you get the humid oven without the pain-in-the-ass and burn risk of a true water bath. This worked like a charm– no cracks! I was thrilled that the cheesecake didn’t overflow the crust since it didn’t rise or puff much. After cooling in the oven, the cake completely leveled out on top, so I had a smooth, flat cake to work with, even though the crème fraîche wasn’t particularly pretty. I put the cheesecake in the fridge to chill overnight and meditated upon my options– Do I serve the cake as-is? Do I make a different topping? Do I keep the whole thing for myself so no one evens sees it?? 😉
Ultimately I decided to make a white chocolate ganache to cover the ugly topping. This felt a little risky in case it separated or the consistency was wrong. But I tried it, and I’m glad I did! I chopped 5 ounces white chocolate and placed it in a bowl, then brought ⅓ cup heavy cream to a boil and poured this over the chocolate. I let it sit for a minute, then whisked the cream and melting chocolate together. Finally, I whisked in about ¾ tablespoon unsalted butter. The ganache did not separate (white chocolate is more finicky than dark, so this sometimes happens), though it was not as white as I expected– the color was an almost-translucent ivory. Nevertheless, I let it thicken and then poured it over the cheesecake.
I envisioned ganache luxuriously dripping down the sides of the cake, except that I waited just a little too long to pour it, so it had thickened too much for that. I got a few apathetic drips, but most of it stayed on the top. I sprinkled chopped pistachios on top to make it a little prettier. The ganache firmed up to a nice ganache-y thickness and lost some of its translucence. Next time I would just pour it a little sooner.
I was excited to cut into this colorful number, and I was pleased that the two cheesecake layers maintained a mostly clean distinction. I liked the plain pistachio batter better than the white chocolate batter. I think it’s essential to use really good white chocolate here– the flavor shines right through, and doubly so with the ganache on top. I used my go-to stuff, Guittard 31% “Crème Française”, which is fine for most things, but is not great for melting (and doesn’t have the best flavor on its own). A white chocolate in the neighborhood of 35% cocoa butter melts in a beautiful silky pool, whereas 31% melts with a more paste-like consistency. Next time I would use wither Guittard 35% “Soie Blanche” or Valrhona “Ivoire”. I also wouldn’t die the batter green– it’s a little unsettling. I might even make the cake without white chocolate or sour cream/crème fraîche– just a simple and elegant pistachio cheesecake. Still, despite these minor quibbles, I thought the cheesecake was delicious, and I was very happy with the light, creamy texture. The graham crust was a nice match, though I would certainly try the chocolate crust at some point.
Whether or not you’re celebrating this national day in honor of pistachios, this is a wonderful cheesecake that I highly recommend for any cheesecake-appropriate occasion. You can find the recipe for Pistachio White Chocolate Cheesecake at Baked Sunday Mornings, and take a look at my fellow cheesecakers’ masterpieces! 🙂
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2016.