Mmm.. I like spring cleaning my pantry, mostly because it gives me the perfect excuse and free reign to use a bit of creativity and make a bunch of stuff. After all, 'It'll go bad soon, if not used' is a compelling argument that even my husband cannot find a counter for! Ha!
So, when I found the mostly unused bar of cream cheese (which, I diligently buy every time I run out of it, even though I never have bagels at home!), I decided to make cheesecake. That happened Monday. But, I dragged my feet about it for two days, because, plain vanilla cheesecake sounded boring and nothing inspiring struck me. Yesterday, I walked by the organic grocers next door and saw these luscious black figs and that sent my mind into overdrive.
I tossed around pairings in my mind to go with the figs in the cheesecake and settled on apricots and port wine sauce. I made fig and apricot cheesecake topped off with a warm port wine - cognac sauce. I actually used a short cut for the sauce using some of the incredibly good porto et cognac gelee that I picked up in Montreal. But, you can easily make a simple reduction of port wine, sugar and a tiny bit of lemon juice.
This was a really fun, rewarding exercise. I made up the recipe as I went and substituted some of the traditional ingredients (that I did not have on hand) with stuff that was in my pantry. To my honest surprise, some of them worked much better than I expected.
I was out of Graham crackers and so, I made the crust with ground glucose biscuits (Parle G for those familiar with it!) and almonds. It came out nice and crumbly and perhaps, because of the glucose in the biscuits and not to mention the almonds was more flavorful than the traditional cracker crust.
The fig and apricot reduction puree was flavored ever so slightly with dark rum and honey. I blended the puree into the cheese cake mixture and for added punch made a lava center of it as well. So, even if the mild flavors of the fruits are not sufficiently bold in the cheesecake the puree brings them to the forefront with every bite.
I actually intended to make one 4 inch size cheesecake but I ended up with about a cup more than I needed of the cheese cake mixture. So, I spooned the remainder into a couple of ramekins over a base of the fig-apricot puree. Something like an upside down cheese cake, only I could not really get it out of the ramekins. Nevertheless, it was just as yummy scooped out of the containers directly as it was pretty arranged in the traditional layers!
Fig and Apricot Cheesecake with Port Wine and Cognac Sauce
(one four inch cheese cake)
** The cheesecake bakes in a water bath. To prevent seepage into the crust, generously and tightly wrap the spring form pans with foil. **
For the crust:
6T ground glucose biscuits
1 T ground almonds
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 T melted butter
For the fig-apricot puree:
1/2 cup fresh ripe figs
3-4 dried apricots
1 T honey
2 tsp rum
1/4 cup hot water
For the cheesecake:
6 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 egg, room temperature
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese, room temperature
1/2 tsp almond extract
3/8 cup sugar
pinch of salt
2 tsp of warmed port wine-cognac gelee or reduced port wine sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and heat water for the water bath. Soak apricots for about 10 minutes in hot water. Remove and chopped the apricots and the reserve the water. Grind biscuits and almonds to a fine powder and with fork mix in the butter and extract to a meal like texture. Press the crust into the base of the spring form pan. If you like crusty sides as well, make more of the mixture as needed.
Bake the crust for 10-15 minutes until it is golden. Meanwhile, mix together the figs (chopped), apricots, honey and about 3 tablespoons of the apricot water in a small sauce pan. Cook the fruits over low heat till they become very soft and the water reduces to 1/2 the original volume. Cool the mixture and puree it.
Beat the cream cheese and sugar together until creamy and smooth (about 3 minutes). Add the egg and beat to incorporate. Blend in the mascarpone, almond extract and salt. Mix in about a third of a cup of the fig-apricot puree.
Wrap the spring form pan tightly in foil. Spoon in the cheese cake batter into the pan until half full. Spread about 2 T (I eyeballed it) of the fig puree over the batter. Fill the rest of the pan with the cheesecake batter.
Place the pan inside a larger oven proof pan. Pour hot water so it comes up to half the level of the cheesecake filling. Bake for 45 minutes until almost done. Turn off the oven and let the cake gradually cool down for an hour inside it so it doesn't crack on top. Remove the pan from the water bath and cool on rack to room temperature. Refrigerate for atleast 6 hours, overnight is better.
Before serving, lightly warm the port wine sauce and spoon over the top of the cheese cake. Garnish with a couple of fig halves and serve.