When traditions collide, cheesecake brings harmony

This year’s Christmas and Hanukkah overlap can make the holidays more challenging for some interfaith families, according to Dawn Kepler, founding director of Building Jewish Bridges, an interfaith resource and outreach organization.

When I asked her about this, she said that one way to make entertaining and celebrations easier “for people feeling conflicted about the holidays would be festive food that could be served for either Hanukkah or Christmas.”

She suggested serving something sweet, something that’s “special” whether you’re spinning a dreidel or wearing a Santa’s cap (or both).

Mint Cheesecake with Chocolate Crust fits the bill. Festive and colorful, it is topped with crushed chocolate cookies, finely chopped fresh mint and, if desired, crushed red and white peppermint candies. It combines a typical Christmas flavoring with a variation on a longtime Jewish favorite, New York-style cheesecake. It also plays into the somewhat obscure Jewish custom of eating dairy during Hanukkah.

Bottom line: It’s very good and very rich, and perfect for a holiday celebration of any kind.

Mint Cheesecake with Chocolate Crust

Serves 8

1 cup plus 2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh mint leaves

¾ cup heavy (whipping) cream Butter

½ cup plus 2 Tbs. finely crushed chocolate wafer or cookie crumbs

1 cup plus ½ cup sugar

¼ cup cornstarch

2 large eggs, beaten

1½ tsp. mint or peppermint extract

4 (8 oz.) packages regular cream cheese (do not use natural, spreadable or whipped), softened

2 cups sour cream

½ tsp. vanilla extract

2 Tbs. crushed red and white peppermint candies, optional

In small pot, heat 1 cup mint leaves with cream to barely simmering. Cover and remove from heat. Let stand for 30 minutes. Strain, discarding mint. Let stand until room temperature or make ahead and refrigerate and let come to room temperature before using.

Check that oven rack is in center of oven and heat to 350 degrees. Grease bottom and sides of 8-inch springform pan (with 3-inch sides) with butter.  Coat bottom with ½ cup cookie crumbs.

Mix in a large bowl with a stand mixer or process in a larger food processor 1 cup sugar with cornstarch until combined. Add eggs, mint-flavored cream and mint or peppermint extract, and beat or pulse until combined. Add softened cream cheese in batches, beating or processing until combined and very smooth, scraping down work bowl as needed.

Pour mixture into prepared crust. Place springform pan on baking tray. Place in oven. (See note.) Bake for 40-45 minutes or until top is golden and sides have firmed up but center is still a bit soft or jiggly. Remove from oven. Cool in pan on wire rack for three hours. Continue with sour cream topping or refrigerate and top later.

For the topping, mix sour cream, vanilla and ½ cup sugar together until smooth. With the cake completely cooled, spread topping evenly over top of cake. Refrigerate until cake is firm (4 hours or overnight).

Just before serving, remove sides of springform pan and garnish with remaining chocolate cookie crumbs, chopped mint and (if desired) crushed peppermint candies.

Note: Cheesecakes can crack and or sink as they cool. In this recipe, the topping covers irregularities, so it is not a concern. If you want to serve the cake without a topping, you can reduce the chance of cracking and sinking by baking as directed but putting a large, deep-rimmed baking pan in the oven on a rack below the oven rack holding the springform pan. Carefully pour boiling water to fill the pan about ¾ of the way. The steam will help reduce cracking but baking time will be affected. Add boiling water if pan runs low. And, of course, let the water-filled pan cool completely before removing from oven.

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer. Her columns alternate with those of Josie A.G. Shapiro. She blogs at www.clickblogappetit.com. Contact her at [email protected]


Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is faithkramer.com. Contact her at [email protected].