Show of hands: How many people yawn when they see New York style cheesecake on a menu? I’ll munch it down as much as the next person, but I wouldn't order it in a restaurant if I had the choice of something more interesting.
Thankfully, there are more and more interesting cheesecake recipes available with unusual ingredients like ricotta, yogurt, crème fraiche, pistachios, and cardamom. These cheesecakes surprise, tease, and delight.
This cheesecake, adapted from Diana Henry’s “Crazy Water Pickled Lemons,” brings the unexpected tartness of the yogurt and the silkiness of crème fraiche into one glorious bite. Paired with oranges soaked in cardamom syrup and topped with crushed pistachio, it packs together citrus flavor with a creaminess and crunchiness that is attention-grabbing and delicious.
The secret to holding together more than two pounds of yogurt and crème fraiche into one, perfectly molded cheesecake is gelatine. But it has to sit undisturbed in the fridge for more than six hours.
When I made it the other night for a dinner party, I made the mistake of transporting it by car at Hour 4. It sat for another three hours in the fridge at my friends’ house but because we hit a few speed bumps on the way over, half the cake fell.
Nonetheless, it was worth the wait. After an Epoisses appetizer; a Michel Richard’s tomato tartare starter, which we wolfed down with incredible speed; an amazing artichoke soup; and a huge plate of osso buco with risotto alla Milanese; at least three of the six guests – AH-hem – including me – snuck into the kitchen for a second helping.
Yogurt and Pistachio Cheesecake with Oranges in Cardamom Syrup
For the cookie base
5-1/2 ounces sugar cookies
1 oz blanched almonds
1 oz blanched hazelnuts (Henry’s recipe uses 2 oz almonds but I liked mixing the two nuts in the crust)
2-1/4 oz butter
For the cream
2-1/4 cups (18 oz) Greek yogurt
2-1/4 cups (18 oz) crème fraiche
8 tablespoons orange blossom honey
2 teaspoons orange flower water
Zest and juice of 1 orange
2 envelope powdered gelatine (Henry’s recipe uses 1 envelope but it's not quite enough to hold the cake together)
For the oranges
3/4 cup orange juice
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup water
8 tablespoons clear honey
Seeds from 8 cardamom pods, crushed
2-1/4 oz chopped pistachios
confectioner’s sugar for dusting
For the cookie base, bash the cookies and nuts together in a plastic bag using the flat side of a steak hammer (Henry recommends a rolling pin but I found it difficult to crush the nuts). You want to end up with a textured mixture.
Lightly grease an eight-inch springform pan and line it with a disk of baking parchment. Melt the butter and pour it into the cookie mixture and stir it around until it’s mixed in. Press the cookie and butter mixture into the bottom of the pan and put it in the refrigerator to firm up for an hour.
In a bowl, mix together the yogurt, crème friache, honey, orange-flower water, and orange zest. Put the orange juice in a small heavy-bottomed pan and sprinkled in the gelatine. Let it sponge for about 5 minutes then put it over low heat and melt it. Pour it immediately over the yogurt mixture, stirring as you pour.
Pour the yogurt mixture on top of the cookie base and refrigerate until set.
Henry recommends five hours but she’s out of her mind. I’ve made this twice now and even after 10 hours and no speed bumps, the cake has fallen slightly on one side with very little prompting. Next time, I would either add in two envelopes of gelatine OR make this 24 hours in advance just to be sure it’s perfectly solid.
To make the oranges in syrup, heat the orange and lime juices with the water, honey, and cardamom, stirring from time to time to help the honey melt. Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture is very syrupy. Leave it to cool. Cut the top and bottom off each of the oranges and then set them on a board and remove the peel and pith by slicing if off with a very sharp knife. Cut in a curve, working from top to bottom, all around each orange. Slice the oranges along the membrane so you’re extracting only the orange part, not the membrane. Place the oranges in a shallow serving bowl and pour the cooled cardamom syrup over the top.
Scatter the cheesecake with pistachios. Unmold the cheesecake by first sliding a knife around the edge to prevent the cake from sticking to the sides, then removing the side of the pan. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.