Brie Cheesecake with Shortbread Crust and Strawberry Sauce . . . (Step aside, Chocolate Bunny.)

Dear Chocolate Bunny,

Your appeal is undeniable. No question about it. You've shown up faithfully, year after year, in Easter baskets across the continent. Though your crinkly pastel foil is often askew, you'll always be a snappy dresser in our eyes. We love you, it's true. But, this year,  we're opting for the cheesecake with strawberries on top. 

Hey, you had a great run, but isn't it time to take a break? Maybe reassess your career goals? Think about it, won't you?


P.S. The truth can hurt, I know. But I had to give it to you straight.

About this recipe . . . 

Don't be thrown by the presence of the brie in this voluptuously rich cheesecake. It's a secret ingredient that pretty much stays hidden.

I was a bit concerned, while mixing the filling, that the brie's edgy bitterness might lend an odd aspect to the flavor of the baked cake, but that didn't happen. Which, I suppose, begs the question: Why even use the brie? Why not just use all cream cheese? After all, a wedge of high-quality brie costs a heck of a lot more than a brick of good cream cheese. So what's the point of the brie? Hmmm. Well, honestly, I'm not sure. The texture of this cake is beautiful, but is that necessarily because of the brie? I don't think so.

Would this dessert have been any less wunderbar had I used all cream cheese, instead of the called-for cream cheese and brie combo? Seems like further research is the only thing that might solve the mystery. Perhaps we'll do a double-blind study. Shall I apply for government funding?

Anyway, I found the recipe here, in a Wisconsin milk industry site. For the crust, I decided not to use their graham cracker version so I winged my own, using some homemade shortbread cookies I had in my freezer, and adding in the usual suspects (melted butter, sugar) along with a scant pinch of salt and an even tinier pinch of cinnamon. The fresh strawberry sauce is so simple, I just improvised that one, too.

Brie Cheesecake with Shortbread-Crumb Crust 
and Fresh Strawberry Sauce

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Wrap the bottom and sides of a 10" spring-form pan in heavy duty foil. Have a large shallow roasting pan, or a 12" to 14"-round cake pan, on hand to use for the water bath.The use of a water bath helps prevent the top of the baked cheesecake from cracking. Have a tea kettle full of water on hand as well. You'll need to boil the water shortly before you put the cheesecake in the oven to bake.

For the crust:
1 and 1/4 cup finely ground shortbread cookie crumbs
1/3 cup almond meal (finely ground blanched almonds)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 scant pinch coarse kosher salt
1 tiny pinch ground cinnamon

For the filling:
16 oz (1 lb). cream cheese, softened to warm room temperature
10 oz brie; rind completely cut off, and cheese softened to warm room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean (I used a Madagascar bean.)
3 large eggs, room temperature (not at all cool)
3/4 cup heavy cream (not ice cold)

For the sauce:
1 pint ripe strawberries; hulled, cleaned, and quartered
1 pint ripe strawberries; hulled, cleaned, and halved
3 to 6 Tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice

To make the crust:
In a medium size bowl, mix together all of the dry ingredients.

Add in the melted butter, and mix together using a fork until the crumbs are well coated.

Dump the crumbs into the spring-form pan. Press the crumbs evenly and firmly onto the bottom of the pan and an inch or so up the sides.

To make the filling:
In the large bowl of your mixer, on its lowest speed, mix together the brie, cream cheese, and sugar, and vanilla seeds. Mix until smooth.

Still on the lowest speed, mix in the eggs one at a time. Make sure each egg appears well incorporated before adding the next one. The batter should look quite smooth when you're done adding in the eggs.

Slowly add in the cream, mixing just until well combined, still on the lowest speed.

Pour the batter into the crust in the foil-wrapped pan.

Lift the pan off of your work surface by an inch or two and drop it one or twice, or hold onto it and bang it straight down. This helps allow air bubbles hiding within the batter to float up and be released before baking.

Don't forget, also, to start some water boiling on the stove shortly before you need to put the cake in the oven.

Place the foil-wrapped spring-form pan into the large roasting/cake pan. Place it onto the middle shelf of your preheated oven. Pour the boiling water into the roasting pan so it rises only about an inch or less up the side of the wrapped cheesecake pan. Be very careful not to let any water get on the cheesecake batter.

Bake the cake for 70 - 80 minutes, or until it's just a little jiggly. (I would not, personally, bake this until "golden" on top as the original recipe states.) Let the cake cool in a somewhat warm and draft-free spot, for about one hour.

Run a very thin metal spatula or knife all around the outer edge of the crust. Then let the cake cool another hour at normal room temperature. Refrigerate it in the pan, lightly covered, several hours or overnight before removing the sides of the pan and slicing. 

To make the strawberry sauce:
In the bowl of your food processor, puree the strawberries until extremely smooth.

Place a fine mesh sieve over a medium size bowl and pour the puree into it, pushing it through the sieve with a spatula or spoon.

Mix in the sugar to taste (start with just a couple of tablespoons and add more as you prefer) and sprinkle in a few drops of lemon juice. Add in the quartered strawberry pieces and stir to combine. Let the sugar dissolve completely before using the sauce.

Serve on individual slices of the cheesecake. Be sure to keep the cheesecake, as well as the sauce, refrigerated.

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