Making It Work — Cranberry Orange Nut Cheesecake

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Coming to you live from Columbus, Ohio… 🙂 Oh, how I’ve missed writing these past weeks! Though I admit I’m a little rusty getting back into the swing of writing… 🙂

As one begins the process of moving to a new city, it doesn’t take long to realize that most of us have a lot of stuff. We moved 204 boxes and another 246-ish items to Columbus with us on the moving truck (and our two vehicles were pretty full, too). There was something extremely satisfying about the old house becoming uncluttered about halfway through the packing phase, begging the question, “Why do we have all this stuff?” But then we arrived to our new house and began the unpacking process, and it didn’t take long before all of our stuff turned this house into our home

My house would not make it into a designer home catalog. It’s too messy. Nothing really matches. It’s a hodge-podge of belongings we’ve gathered over time, a 3D scrapbook showing the places we’ve been, the people we’ve met, the things we love. Somehow we make it work. Ironically, this house which is not our own (as we’re renting for a time) fits our stuff better than any house we’ve had so far. There’s a built-in display cabinet for my husband’s pint glass collection. There’s a cabinet for my table linens and my grandma’s china which has never had a home outside of a box since I inherited it. We can seat more people in our living room than ever before. There’s a large garden in my backyard begging to be turned over and planted. I may not have a dishwasher, but I have my cherry kitchen. The computer is no longer in my bedroom but in a bright, sunny breezeway. I have a sewing nook. Yes, we’re making it work.

Doesn’t the food we cook and eat tend to also fit into that same collage effect? What we eat is a collection of who we are, where we’ve been, whom we’ve met, what we love. Chances are, the cookbooks on our shelves are not all one food type. We remember the things we had growing up or on a special occasion. We try something new, whether during vacation or a spontaneous weeknight adventure. We cook with ingredients we have on hand, and somehow we make it all work.

This cheesecake is a lot like my grandma’s china. I’ve had the idea for years, but never seemed to have the right time or the right place to take it out. The concept goes way back to Novembers and Decembers in the 1990s, slaving away making and serving bagels and cream cheese. The cranberry orange nut bagels were the flavor of the month, and they were good, but the cranberry orange nut cream cheese — now that was awesome!  Sweet, tart, tangy, creamy, and crunchy in every bite. It was purely eat-by-itself-with-a-spoon delicious. I always thought it would make an incredible cheesecake flavor, but it wasn’t until last year when I made my first cheesecake that I figured it was about time to give it a whirl.

I looked in cookbooks at the library and began searching online for potential recipes to use or tweak but none of the recipes I found had anything close to what I wanted. Most were plain cheesecake with orange zest and a cooked cranberry topping (or a can of cranberry sauce dumped on top!) I wanted a cheesecake with fresh cranberries, orange, and nuts in the cheesecake. So, when you can’t find what you’re looking for, put on your apron and get to work.

My first attempt for this dessert came at Thanksgiving (at which time I also stocked my freezer with several bags of cranberries). It turned out pretty well, but was a little soft and the crust was soggy. (One of my beefs with cheesecake is a soggy graham cracker crust.) I really wanted to post this cheesecake then, but I wasn’t really happy with the results and I wasn’t about to try again unless I had an occasion and willing people to eat it (my husband isn’t crazy about cheesecake and I sure didn’t need to eat the whole thing by myself). 

January went by. February… March… and we decided to move. I was crazy-busy with packing, but one night before bed I opened my Better Homes & Gardens magazine to find the Prize Tested Recipe November 2012 Contest category  to be: COOKING WITH CRANBERRIES. I had a full bag of cranberries in the freezer to use, a farewell get-together, and an April 23 contest entry deadline.  So like any normal person in the midst of major upheaval, in the name of using up food stuff, a chance at winning money, having a recipe published for real, and a blog post, I made a cheesecake.

I most likely won’t end up winning the contest, and we’re not planning on living in this house for a long time. But this cheesecake is really good. And this house works for right now. After all, we take what we’ve got, we put it together, and we make it work. We enjoy it. Most of all, we simply enjoy it.

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Cranberry Orange Nut Cheesecake 

My dad had once told me about an America’s Test Kitchen cheesecake recipe that used half graham crackers and half animal crackers in the crust (for the life of me, I can’t find the recipe, but no matter).  Not one to shirk one of my favorite foods since childhood, I decided to use a crust of all  crushed animal crackers and to double the amounts for the crust. The result was a crust that held up to the cheesecake and didn’t turn super-mushy, even after a few days in the refrigerator. If you’re one of my gluten-free friends, I recommend using crushed Honey Nut Chex. With either crust, make sure to measure 2 cups after you crush them.

  • 2 cups finely crushed animal crackers or Honey Nut Chex
  • 6 Tbsp. butter, melted
  • 1 bag (12 oz.) fresh or frozen cranberries, partially thawed
  • Half of one medium orange, quartered
  • 1 ¼ cups sugar, divided
  • 3 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts

Set aside ½ cup cranberries. In food processor, pulse orange and 1 cup sugar until finely chopped. Add remaining cranberries and process until coarsely chopped. Place cranberry-orange mixture in fine-mesh strainer over a bowl and let sit for 15-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). In medium bowl, combine animal cracker crumbs and melted butter. Press into bottom of 9” springform pan. Bake for 10 minutes.

In large bowl, beat remaining ¼ cup sugar and cream cheese until smooth. Add sour cream and vanilla. Add eggs one at a time till combined. Stir in drained cranberry-orange mixture and walnuts. Spread into baked crust. Sprinkle remaining whole cranberries over top of cheesecake, gently press into mixture, and bake for 55 minutes or until center is almost set. Remove from oven. Carefully run knife between cheesecake and pan and cool completely on wire rack. Cover and refrigerate a minimum of 4 hours. Cut and serve. Refrigerate leftovers.

Serves 12.

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2 responses »

  1. Animal Cracker Crust from The New Best Recipe, 2nd edition, 2004, Cooks Illustrated – 5 oz Nabisco’s Barnum’s Animal Crackers or Social Tea Biscuits (makes 1 cup), 3 Tbs sugar, 4 Tbs melted unsalted butter.

    • Thanks, Dad! I used Stauffer’s Animal Crackers – my favorite. Sarah and I snacked on the huge bag from Walmart all the way from Illinois to Ohio. She’s apparently a fan, too. 🙂

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