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Pistachio and White Chocolate Cheesecake from "Baked Occasions" by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

Pistachio and White Chocolate Cheesecake from "Baked Occasions" by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
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Solomon and The Queen of Sheba
as painted by Piero della Francesca

Nobody seems to know why, but February 26th is World Pistachio Day.  The day even has its own website: www.worldpistachioday.com

And, as the site points out, it’s hard to believe that until 1976 pistachios weren’t even grown in this country.  The nut had been imported since the 1800s. It was slow-growing in popularity until a man named James W. Parkinson of Philadelphia invented Pistachio Ice Cream at which point Pistachios took off.  Now, California alone produces 300 million pounds of Pistachios annually.  The pistachio itself is an ancient nut, one of only two nuts referenced in the bible.  The second?  The almond.   The Queen of Sheba was said to be so mad for pistachios that she ordered that her country’s entire crop be set aside just for her.   Was it greed or just good sense?  Pistachios are highly nutritious and have a very long storage life. That makes them a perfect food for travellers like the Queen who ventured from her home in what is now Yemen to Jerusalem to meet King Solomon. From the Middle East, they were introduced to Rome in the 1st Century AD.  Their popularity truly is worldwide.  China consumes almost twice as many pistachios as are eaten in the US.  But we’re hardly pikers: 45,000 tons of pistachios were eaten here last year.  So let’s celebrate this remarkable nut, whose trees can bear fruit for up to 200 years.  Let’s bake a rich, decadent cheesecake studded with pistachios over a chocolate graham crust to celebrate World Pistachio Day.


Matt (L) and Renato (R)

We’ve featured many recipes from Baked, the bakery that got its start in Red Hook, Brooklyn.  Recently Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, the brains and bakers behind Baked opened a commodious new shop in Tribeca (279 Church St. NY NY 10013 (212) 775-0345.  There, in addition to a menu of soups and savories, you can order spectacular cakes right out of their latest book “Baked Occasions” (Stewart Tabori Chang 2014).  Or you can, as Andrew did, make one of these glorious confections from the duo’s excellent recipes.  That’s where this recipe for Pistachio White Chocolate Cheesecake came from.  It seems that Matt’s grandmother Boreali was the Queen of all Cheesecakes and much of what goes into this particular cake were her cardinal rules for baking cheesecakes.  According to Matt in “Baked Occasions”  ‘she always added a thin layer of sour cream to the top of her cheesecakes for two reasons.  First, she liked the slight sour note.  Second, she told me it was a great way to cover up any cracks (though Grandma’s cheesecake never cracked.)’  Interestingly she never used a ‘water bath’ in her life.  However, Matt invites his bakers to ‘feel free to place a 9 x 13 inch pan filled with water in the oven directly below the cheesecake to help prevent cracking’.  Note: this is not a bain marie in which the cake would sit in a water bath.

Andrew’s version of the cake
used ground pistachios to
decorate the sour cream topping

This is not a thirty minute recipe by a long shot.  For one thing, you need to refrigerate the cake after you’ve baked it for a full 8 hours. But the wait only increases the anticipation of this seriously delicious, creamy-rich pistachio-filled cake sitting atop a Chocolate and Pistachio cookie crust.  There’s one other secret ingredient in this cake: To make the filling look like real pistachio ice cream, Matt recommends a little food coloring to ‘green’ up the cake.  But if you object to food color, by all means leave it out.  Your cake will still achieve the pale green color of pistachios.  Here is the recipe:

Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito’s Recipe for Pistachio White Chocolate Cheesecake from Baked Occasions  
Makes 1 nine inch Cheesecake. Serves 16
For the Chocolate Cookie Crust:
2 ½ oz. shelled pistachio nuts (about ½ cup)
12 oz. Chocolate Wafer Cookies
3 tbsp. granulated sugar
½ tsp. kosher salt
6 oz. (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter
For the Pistachio White Chocolate Cream Cheese Filling:
5 oz. shelled pistachios (about 1 cup)
4- 8 oz. packages of cream cheese, softened
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1 tbsp. all purpose flower
4 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
3 tbsp. heavy cream
4 oz. white chocolate, melted and cooled
Green food coloring or gel.
½ cup sour cream
First make the Chocolate Cookie Crust:

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Using nonstick cooking spray, lighly coat both the bottom and sides of a high-sided (2 ½ to 3 inch)

9-inch springform pan.  Line the bottom of the pan with parchment and lightly spray the parchment. 

2. Wrap the outside of the pan in foil on the off chance that it leaks during baking.

3. In a food processor, pulse the pistachios until finely ground, about five 5 second pulses. 

4. Add the cookies, sugar and salt and process until the ingredients are coarsely ground, 30 to 40 seconds.

5. Drizzle the melted butter over the crumbs and pulse until the mixture has the consistency of wet sand.

6. Transfer the crumb mixture to the prepared pan and press it into the bottom and up the sides.  Use the bottom of a flat measuring cup to create a firm, even crust.

7. Bake the crust for 8 to 10 minutes to set. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely.

Now make the Pistachio White Chocolate Cream Cheese Filling:
1. Increase the oven temperature to 500 degrees F. and position a rack in the center of the oven.

2. In a food processor, pulse the pistachios until finely ground, about 30 seconds. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, sugar and flour. Beat on medium speed until just combined, being careful not to overbeat.  Add the eggs and egg yolk, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the ground pistachios and cream and mix until incorporated.

4. Pour half the batter into a bowl.  Fold the white chocolate into the batter in the bowl until combined.  Pour this batter over the top of the chocolate cookie crust, smooth it out and place the pan in the refrigerator for 10 minutes. If using, add the green food coloring, a few drops at a time, to the remaining batter and stir to incorporate until the desired color is achieved. 

5. Pour this batter over the refrigerated white chocolate batter. Smooth the top.

6. Bake in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes.  Open the oven door for a few seconds to let out some heat lowering the oven temperature to 350 degrees F as you do.  Close the oven door.  Bake until the cheesecake is set around the outside but still slightly wobbly in the center, 45 minutes to 1 hour, rotating the pan every 15 minutes.  

7. Remove from the oven and spread the sour cream over the top of the cheesecake in a swirly, decorative pattern.  Return to the oven until the sour cream browns slightly, about 5 more minutes.  Turn off the heat, crack the oven door and let the cheesecake cool completely in the oven (about 1 hour). 

8. Chill the cheesecake, lightly covered, in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight.  Loosen the sides of the crust from the pan with an offset spatula, then remove the spring form sides and serve.

The cheesecake will keep, tightly covered in the refrigerator for at least 3 to 4 days.  

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