Looking for a fun and exciting dessert for Christmas or New Year’s? This is it! Stunning to look at and seemingly very fancy, but really not so hard to put together, this cherry swirl cheesecake feeds a crowd and a half. A little wedge goes a long way. Inspired by my Mom’s famous blueberry cheesecake and my thirty-year-plus love affair with cherries on cheesecake (I blame you, Andy), I’ve adapted a recipe from Joy of Baking to make this beauty with its festive red fruit swirl. You could replace cherries with blueberries or strawberries with equally good results. The most challenging aspect to this lovely dessert is waiting for the cream cheese to soften, the compote to cool, the cheesecake to set… I hope you and your guests will enjoy it as much as we did.
I’d also like to take a moment and wish Happy Holidays to all my readers– sending warm wishes your way! Enjoy every second of time spent with family and friends.
Festive Cherry Swirl Cheesecake (adapted from Joy of Baking)
For the compote:
- 2 c. frozen sweet cherries (I used Bing)
- 2 T. water
- pinch of salt
- 1 half-pint (8 oz.) jar of red currant jelly*
For the crust:
- about 2 c. graham cracker crumbs (from 1 1/2 sleeves/13 full-sized crackers)
- 2 T. sugar
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 8 T. unsalted butter, melted
For the cheesecake:
- 24 oz. (3 standard 8 oz. packages) of cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1 c. sugar
- 1 T. flour
- 4 eggs, at room temperature
- 1 T. heavy cream
- 1 tsp. vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Thoroughly butter or spray a 9″ springform pan; you can also line the bottom with a round of parchment paper to (mostly) ensure the cheesecake will be removable, for serving purposes. Yes, you can use a similar sized “regular” pan– just make sure it has high walls, at least 3″ deep, and know that you will need to serve it in the baking pan (which is no big deal) since there’s no way it’s coming out whole.
Start by making the compote: in a saucepan over medium heat, warm the cherries and water until the cherries are no longer frozen. (You can start with fresh or defrosted fruit, of course, but in December, frozen fruit may be your best option. Water is only necessary to help defrost frozen cherries; omit it otherwise.) Use a potato masher or fork to roughly break up the warmed fruit, but don’t take it all the way to a puree, as small chunks of cherry are really nice in the final product. Add the salt and currant jelly, stir, and continue to cook over medium heat, at a gentle boil, until the compote has thickened, about 8-10 mins. You want it to be pourable, but shiny and unctuous… like canned pie filling. Remove from the heat and cool completely before using; you can make this up to two days in advance.
To make the crust, crush the graham crackers into crumbs in a food processor. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the sugar and cinnamon, then pour the melted butter over the top. Mix until you have a “wet sand” consistency. Press the crust mixture into your pan using your hands, the back of a spoon or a smooth-bottomed drinking glass until it is evenly distributed, running up the sides of the pan for an inch or so, and packed solidly into the pan. Keep the crust refrigerated while you make the filling.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese, sugar and flour together until smooth, about two minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat on medium speed between additions until each is incorporated; scrape the sides of the bowl again. Add the cream and vanilla and mix on low speed (or by hand)– one key to a good cheesecake is not to whip too much air into the filling, so be sparing and stop mixing or stirring as soon as all ingredients are evenly distributed.
Pour half of the filling into the prepared crust. Dollop half of the cherry compote on the filling, about six spoonfuls around the edge and one in the middle. Pour the rest of the cheesecake filling into the pan. Dollop the rest of the compote over the top and use a butter knife to swirl the top into a pretty pattern. Just two to three passes with the knife are sufficient to swirl without mixing. Be careful not to drag the knife through the crust on the bottom.
Place the cheesecake on a center rack of the preheated oven. Fill a pie plate or casserole dish with water and place on the rack below. Bake for 15 mins. at 350 degrees and then lower the oven temperature, without opening the door, to 250 degrees and bake for 60-75 mins. The cheesecake is done when the top is golden brown, the edges are set and only the very center of the cheesecake (about 2-3 inches in diameter) is slightly wobbly when you gently jostle the pan; start checking at 60 mins. and add 7 mins at a time to the timer until you reach this point. If you bake past the center-is-wobbly stage, you run the risk of a cracked top and dry edges.
Remove from the oven to a wire rack and cool completely. It it helpful to run a knife around the edge of the cheesecake while it’s warm to loosen the edges. Cover tightly with plastic or tin foil and chill completely in the refrigerator (at least four hours) before serving. The cake is best at room temperature, so remove it from the refrigerator about an hour before serving for best results. If you used a springform pan, release the sides and transfer to a serving plate before bringing the cheesecake to room temperature.
*Currant jelly can be hard to find, if you don’t have a lovely jamming friend to share some with you. (Like me!) If it proves too difficult to locate, substitute seedless raspberry or blackberry preserves and don’t think about it for another moment. I would not recommend strawberry jelly or jam as a substitute; you need the tartness provided by the other choices.