Des(s)erting the auction: Lavender Cheesecake

I pretty much loathe auction fundraisers. The bad food. The bad art. The trips that have so many contingencies that you can never really take them. The awkward embarrassment when something you donated sells for less than its actual value. The same 100 people you saw at the last gazillion auctions and the same boring small talk.  I have managed to avoid these functions for the last several years offering to write a check in lieu of my presence, which basically makes me an auction deserter.

This year, I couldn’t really get out of going to the auction of one of my clients. However, to their credit, they have a dessert auction and I REALLY REALLY REALLY LOVE SUGAR.  I was asked to contribute something, and after a lot of hair-twisting and face pulling, I decided to make something completely out of character: lavender cheesecake.

I’m not exactly a cheesecake fan. I’ve had a few great cheesecakes, but more often than not, the cheesecake tends to be too heavy and leaves a tacky film on the inside of my mouth. Not so pleasant. And with the lactose intolerance issues, the cheesecake has to be pretty awesome for it to be worth the pain and suffering that is sure to follow. So I rarely, which means I can’t remember the last time, order cheesecake in a restaurant and even more rarely, make and serve cheesecake myself.  Why would I when there is the vast and delicious world of chocolate?

But I do like lavender. Lavender cupcakes? Yum. Lavender cocktails? Double yum. Lavender ice cream? Triple yum.  And I had tasted lavender cheesecake before. It was a few years ago, left over from a friend’s sister’s wedding, and I liked it enough that the memory of it remained in the dark recesses of my mind.  I decided I would try to recreate the flavor, but lighten the texture.

On one of my home curling days, I went through all the cheesecake recipes I owned and made a spreadsheet of the ingredients and types of crusts, calculated ratios of cheese to eggs to other dairy, and compared methodology. This turned out to be 18 recipes. Of which I had previously only made one. (At this point, SP was rolling his eyes.)  After analyzing them all, I drafted a recipe, went out to my yard and picked a few handfuls of lavender, and baked a test cake.  The result?  Light and airy texture, subtle lavender flavor, smooth and rich melt in the mouth cheesecake. Definitely worth the pain and suffering that did follow.

When we took the lavender cheesecake to the auction, I started to get a little self-conscious about my humble, sort of unusual, not so beautiful or flashy cake.  Especially when I saw that the guy who won the World Cup of Baking donated a chocolate masterpiece.  However, our cake was one of the first cakes chosen in the dessert auction.  And the best compliment?  Although most of the tables didn’t even finish their cakes, when we went to retrieve the platter, it was scraped clean.

Lavender Cheesecake
Yield: one 9 or 10-inch cheesecake

Crust:
8 ounces graham crackers (approx 15-1/2 crackers)
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon lavender
2-1/2 ounces (5 Tablespoons) butter, melted
 
 
Filling:
8 ounces of heavy cream
5-6 large sprigs of lavender
24 ounces cream cheese
5 ounces sugar
5 ounces sour cream
4 eggs, separated
 

1. Infuse the cream with lavender. Over medium heat, bring the cream and lavender sprigs to a boil. Remove from heat, cover and steep for 15 minutes. Strain and reserve cream. Discard lavender.

2. Prepare pan. Wrap the bottom of a 9 or 10-inch springform pan with foil and replace outer ring. Fold the foil up around the sides. Wrap outside of pan with another layer of foil.  Butter the inside surfaces of the pan.  (A 9 inch pan will make a slightly taller cake, but you may also have a little batter left over.  Just scoop into a buttered ramekin dusted with a few crumbs and bake at the same time.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

3. Make crust. Put the graham crackers, sugar, and lavender into the bowl of a food processor and process until fine crumbs. Add the melted butter and process again to make consistently moist crumbs. Press into the bottom and up along the sides of the springform pan to make a even crust (a bit thicker on the bottom than the sides). Place into freezer while mixing the batter.

4. Mix filling. Have all ingredients, especially cream cheese at room temperature. Whip egg whites to semi-firm peaks. In a separate bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth and uniform. Add egg yolks and beat, scraping down the sides at least once. Add sour cream and mix again until smooth, scraping down the sides. With the mixer on low, add the lavender cream and mix well until batter is perfectly smooth, free of lumps. Fold in egg whites. Pour filling into the prepared springform pan.

5. Bake in a water bath. Place the springform pan into a roasting pan. Add hot water until it comes halfway up the side of the springform pan. Bake for 50 minutes. Turn off oven, crack the oven door and let sit for at least 1 hour inside the cooling oven. Remove the pan from the water bath, remove foil and continue to cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or preferably overnight before unmolding and serving.

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