High Country Baking: This creamy berry torte lighter than regular cheesecake
High Country Baking
Editor’s note: High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
Love cheesecake? Me too, but I often find that a standard serving is too much of a good thing, particularly after a full meal. So, I tried making cheesecake with the same lush taste and texture but with fewer rich ingredients and in smaller portions. In this recipe, I’ve reduced the amount of cream cheese, eliminated the sour cream and/or whipping cream and made it so that servings are about half the usual size. It’s still delicious but lighter and less filling.
The cream cheese and eggs must be at room temperature before starting the filling; that’s critical to get a creamy texture. It’s creamiest if it has two days in the ‘fridge but it’s still very good when served only a day after baking.
Cheesecake tends to develop cracks while baking and cooling. If cracks occur, just add another 2/3-cup of fruit to the topping and cover the entire top of the torte with berries, hiding any imperfections.
Berry Cheesecake Torte
Make in a metal 8 ½-inch springform pan
¾ cup honey graham cracker crumbs (seven 5×2 ¼- inch crackers)
1/3 cup whole pecans
3 tablespoons superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
16 ounces whole fat cream cheese, at room temperature
2/3 cup superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
1 cup washed, stemmed blueberries
1 cup raspberries
2 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam, optional
1 teaspoon crème de cassis or water, optional
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center. Unlock your springform pan, flip over the base, so the lip faces down, and relock it in place (this makes it easier to cut and serve). Generously grease the pan with a baking spray that contains flour.
2. Make the crust: Combine the graham crackers, pecans and sugar in a food processor, and pulse until the crackers and nuts are finely ground. Add the melted butter, and pulse until the dry ingredients are uniformly moistened. Pinch some between your fingers; it should just hold together. If it doesn’t, add a little more melted butter (not too much, or the crust will be hard). Press the crumbs into the pan bottom, making a level layer. Bake until the crust is set and aromatic, about 10 minutes. Cool completely.
3. Make the filling: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, with a rack in the center. Cut the cream cheese into ½-inch cubes and, using an electric mixer at low-medium speed (don’t go above this speed, you don’t want air bubbles in the filling) or with quick pulses in a food processor, combine it with the sugar until completely smooth. Don’t overmix but be sure it’s lump-free. Add the eggs and vanilla, mixing only until smooth. Pour the filling into the crust and smooth and level it. Tap the pan on a counter several times to release any air bubbles.
4. Place the pan on a cookie sheet and bake until the edges of the filling are set and puff a little but a 3-inch circle in the center still jiggles when you gently shake the pan, about 44-48 minutes. A thermometer inserted into the filling about an inch from the edge should read 165 degrees F. Turn off the oven, open the oven door all the way, and leave the pan in the open oven for half an hour. (It needs to cool slowly to prevent the filling from cracking). After about 15 minutes, while the torte is still in the open oven, run a greased offset spatula or knife between the torte’s edge and the pan, pressing toward the pan, to release any stuck filling. Remove the torte from the oven and set it on a rack to cool completely, and then refrigerate it, lightly covered, 24-48 hours.
5. Make the topping: Make the topping and decorate the torte a few hours before serving. Remove the torte from the ‘fridge, detach the pan sides, and arrange the berries and mint leaves on top. To add shine and sweetness to the berries (optional), melt the raspberry jam in a small bowl, stir in the crème de cassis/water, and brush over the fruit. Refrigerate until serving time. To cut, dip a thin-bladed, sharp knife in hot water and dry it between slices. Store leftovers in the ‘fridge.
This recipe is a variation of one published by King Arthur Flour.
Dr. Vera Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks (available at The Bookworm of Edwards, Next Page Bookstore in Frisco and Breck Books in Breckenridge). She became a full-time Frisco resident in 1991 and has been developing and adjusting recipes so that they work at our altitude ever since. Contact her at email@example.com.