I write very little about my in-laws. My family? Well, I grew up with them, and while I may not name names, or tell every little story I want to, I am allowed. They are required to love me, no matter what.
The in-laws? Well, they are not bound by blood or contract. And? All of them are in a school system. For real. It wouldn’t be nice to tell you all the little things about them, then their students somehow find out about my blog and harass them over it.
But, I am going to take a chance here. You see, my parents-in-law are just about to retire from their respective positions, which leaves me only a few more months of keeping my mouth zipped. So, I am going to tell you a little story about my Father-in-Law, and what I have dubbed the Christmas Meanness.
Every year for the holidays, Jon and I, as well as his sister and her family travel to the unspoken depths of West Virginia to spend a few days with the folks. Typically it’s three days of laying around for the gals, and the guys all go outside and do random yard work. I can get lost in a book or 32 various catalogs that for some reason always seem to be on hand.
It’s an enigma, those catalogs.
This year, there was still plenty of relaxing down time, but upon our arrival the first evening, the Christmas Meanness was deployed as soon as we walked in after a 5 hour drive.
“I need you to make a cheesecake. And you need to use this Cranberry Sauce.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. You know I love to bake. I love cheesecake, especially, and all boasting aside – I make a fabulous cheesecake. Fabulous. I’ve spent about 3 years perfecting my method, I know a good base recipe by heart, and there’s something about popping the springform release on a gorgeous specimen that really gets me going.
But my cheesecakes take a day to make. AND – I don’t dig cranberries. Period.
The biggest kicker? I like to bake at HOME, where I know my mixer, my oven, my ingredients. I’ll be honest – I was skurred. I didn’t want to be the Cheesecake Queen that failed vehemently on Christmas, after a request from a gourmet lover like my FIL. I just couldn’t let that happen. I mean, he’s displayed every single one of my cookbooks, even the one I only photographed. He thinks I am CAPABLE. That’s a lot to live up to.
Despite the fear (am I being ridiculous? Does anyone else have Baking Away From Home fears? Pressure To Impress fears?) – I set out to make that cheesecake.
Because I am a crust hater (judge away, I can take it) I opted to use a sugar cookie as the base, and trust me, that was the perfect crust for this flavor combination. Sweet, but not overpowering, just a great compliment to the flavors I chose to use.
Not being at home with my stash of all things baking, I made use of what their kitchen had on hand, namely some Almond Extract and an orange. I knew both would play well with the cranberry sauce, which I decided to use only as a topping versus IN the cheesecake. That way, those of us who aren’t cranberry lovers (which was about half of us) didn’t have to opt out of dessert. That would have been tragic.
A tip I learned from Dorie Greenspan (the lady I attribute my love and knowledge of baking to) is to take the zest of your orange and work it into your sugar by using your fingers. What results is a pungent, aromatic, gloriously citrus-filled sugar that emanates into every bit of the dessert, and it’s worth the minute or two it takes to do it.
That citrus-y sugar combined with a bit of Almond Extract was exactly the right combination for this cheesecake, and believe it or not, that cranberry sauce he’d purchased was really good…so we all ate it anyway.
Live and learn.
Okay, so maybe The Christmas Meanness was a little harsh. So it took me a few hours of hands on time, but, I did get to eat it.
And blog about it.
That’s a score.
Orange and Almond Cheesecake with Cranberry Sauce
makes one 9 inch cheesecake
- Sugar Cookie Dough (I used Pillsbury, about 18 cookies)
- 4 – 8-ounce packages cream cheese at room temperature
- 1 2/3 cups sugar (I prefer Dixie Crystals)
- Juice and Zest of 1 orange
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 tsp Sea Salt
- 1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon Almond Extract
- 3 large eggs
- 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- Homemade or Purchased Cranberry Sauce, if desired
- Preheat the oven to 350 F and grease or butter a 9-inch springform pan. Wrap the pan in heavy duty aluminum foil so that it is waterproof.
- Press cookie dough into the bottom of the pan. For store bought dough, it will take roughly half the roll or 16-18 cookies.
- Work the zest of the orange into the sugar, until sugar is uniform in color and aromatic.
- Place one 8-ounce package of the cream cheese, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and the cornstarch in a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until creamy, about 3 minutes, then beat in the remaining 3 packages of cream cheese.
- Increase the mixer speed to high and beat in the remaining sugar, then beat in the salt, vanilla, almond extract and orange juice. Blend in the eggs one at a time, beating only until completely blended. Lastly, mix in the sour cream and heavy cream. Be careful not to overmix the batter.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Place the springform pan in a large shallow pan containing hot water that comes about halfway up the sides of the pan. Bake the cheesecake until the top is lightly browned, about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Allow to cool in the oven with the door propped open.
- Cover the cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until it’s completely cold, at least 4 hours or overnight. Remove the sides of the springform pan. Top with cranberry sauce.