Mascarpone Cheesecake with Cranberry Balsamic Glaze
Every now and then you get an offer you can’t refuse. When an email from Bon Appetite showed up in my inbox asking if I was interested in participating in a holiday dessert contest I almost fell off my chair. Once upright I quickly replied “absolutely!”. My mind went in a million different directions contemplating just what holiday dessert would be prize worthy. I spent at least 24 hours thinking about nothing but cookies, cakes, pies, puddings, and every incarnation in between. It was distracting to say the least! Eventually a clear choice broke free from the chaos and a recipe for mascarpone cheesecake with a cranberry balsamic glaze and white chocolate snowflakes was born.
Now if this sounds like a lot of work, believe me- it was. Yet the results, oh the results! Lets start at the bottom and work our way up. The cheesecake begins with a classic graham cracker crust spiked with grated orange peel for a nuanced citrus flavor. The soft creamy filling is lightened by mascarpone cheese- giving each mouthful a tangy clean taste rather than that leaden cheesecake feeling (which I dread). On top of the fluffy filling is a thin layer of creme fraiche adding another note of silky brightness. Next a cheery red dollop of cranberry balsamic glaze caps off the cake. And finally a white chocolate snowflake perches on top the dessert giving it a whimsical holiday appearance.
I realize that balsamic vinegar may seem to be an odd duck in this dessert. However the secret is to use just a small bit of a high quality aged balsamic vinegar. I tasted the sauce before and after adding the vinegar and the difference was amazing! Aged balsamic adds an intense undertone to the cranberries, softening their tart acidity and enhancing the berry flavor in a wonderful way. This is truly a holiday dessert, worthy of the time it takes to create and so delicious that you will be tempted to hide the leftovers!
Now if I may, I would like to ask a small favor. Would you please visit Bon Appetite’s website and vote for this dessert? The site is filled with gorgeous submissions and I guarantee you’ll have a fun time checking them all out. A registration is requried, but it is free and easy. Thank you for voting and passing the word along!
Makes 4 dozen mini cheesecakes or 1 large 9″-cheesecake
If you are making the large cheesecake reduce the crust recipe by half.
Non stick oil spray
2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (finely crushed)
4 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 teaspoons grated orange peel
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 8-ounce containers mascarpone cheese, room temperature
2 Tablespoons all purpose flour
6 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon fresh orange juice
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
Pinch of salt
1 7-ounce container of creme fraiche
6 cups cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/4 cup Cointreau orange liqueur
1 1/2 teaspoons quality aged balsamic vinegar
8 ounces Almond Bark
4 mini cheesecake pans (12 cheesecakes per pan capacity) or 1 9″-cheesecake pan
1 sheet pan
1 Silpat or Parchment paper cut to fit sheet pan
3 clear page protectors
2-3 cookie sheets
3 pages of at least 50 printed snowflake patterns (Find an image you like online and paste it into a Word document several times)
Pastry bag with a small circle tip
Directions: (Please Note these directions are for MINI cheesecakes. If you are baking a 9″ cake follow the cake baking instructions here.)
Make the Crust:
Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees with a rack in the middle of the oven. Spray the insides of the mini cheesecake pans with the spray oil. Using a medium bowl, mix together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon. Once the dry ingredients are well combined, add the grated orange peel and pour in the melted butter. Stir the mixture with a fork until all ingredients are moistened. Evenly distribute the crust mixture between the mini cheesecake molds, placing about 1 Tablespoon of the mixture in each mold. Press the mixture into the bottom of the molds, forming a single layer of crust (not up the sides). Place the pans in the oven and bake for 10 minutes or until the crust has set up. Remove the pans from the oven and set them on a rack to cool completely. Leave the oven on so the cheesecakes have a steady temperature environment, and make the filling while the crust cools.
Make the Filling:
Place the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat them together until they are smooth. Next add in the mascarpone and beat until smooth. Add the flour, beating until it is combined and then with the beater still going, add in the eggs one at a time, beating until each egg is well incorporated before adding the next egg. Beat in the vanilla, orange juice, orange peel, and salt. Be cautious not to beat the batter more than necessary. Once everything is well mixed, spoon the batter into the cooled cheesecake molds, filling them each about 3/4 full. Use the spoon or your finger to smooth out the batter in each mold and eliminate any large air pockets.
Place the pans in the oven (baking two at a time on the middle rack if necessary). Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake for 20 minutes. The cheesecakes should only jiggle slightly if the pan is very gently shaken, and will be beginning to turn a light golden color on top when they are finished. Remove the pans from the oven and place them on a rack to cool completely. Once cool, place the cheesecakes in the fridge for at least 2 hours before unmolding.
Make the Glaze:
Place a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the cranberries, sugar, water, and Cointreau to the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently, and then reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a steady simmer. Cook the mixture for 10-15 minutes until most of the cranberries have ‘popped’ and the mixture has a thick jam-like consistency. Turn off the heat and let the glaze cool slightly. Next press the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a medium bowl, pushing with the back of a spatula to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard any solids remaining in the sieve. Finally add the aged balsamic vinegar to the glaze, and stir until it is well combined. Cover the bowl and place it in the fridge to chill overnight.
Make the Snowflakes: Make more snowflakes than you think you will need, as they are very fragile and some may break when you try to remove them from the sheets.
Place the printed pages of snowflake patterns inside the page protectors. Tape a page protector on top of each cookie sheet, so it will not move while you are working. Fit the pastry bag with the small circle tip. Place the almond bark in a small microwave safe bowl. Microwave the bark for 60 seconds and then stir it well. Microwave it for another 30 seconds and stir. Repeat a third time if necessary, until the bark is uniformly melted and has a smooth consistency. Working very quickly, fill the pastry bag with the bark, and carefully pipe it onto the page protectors, using the snowflake patterns as guides. If the mixture hardens in the bag while you are working, remove the metal tip and place the bag back in the microwave for 30 seconds to re-liquefy the bark. (Warning this is very messy.) Once the snowflakes are piped onto the sheets, place the cookie sheets into the fridge so the bark can harden.
Unmold the Cheesecakes:
To unmold the cheesecakes use a small dowel, and press up through the small hole in the bottom of each cup. If the cheesecake sticks, run a thin knife around the edge of the mold to release it. Use a butter knife to remove the metal bottoms from each cake. Set the cheesecakes on a sheet pan lined with a silpat or parchment paper. Whisk the creme fraiche and use a small spoon to spread a thin layer on top of each cheesecake. If the cheesecakes sunk at all in the middle you can use the creme fraiche to fill in the indentation and create a flat top level. Place the cheesecakes in the fridge and chill overnight.
Assemble the Cheesecakes:
Using a flat spatula, gently transfer the cheesecakes to a serving platter. Use a small spoon to evenly spread about 1 Tablespoon of glaze on top of each cheesecake (you may have glaze leftover). Very carefully, remove the tape holding the page protectors to the cookie sheets. Lift up an edge of a page protector, working to carefully remove the snowflakes. The snowflakes are very fragile and should be handled with care. Insert a snowflake into the top of each cheesecake, pressing down very gently to embed the snowflake in the glaze vertically. Serve and enjoy!