Homemade cheesecake is one of the most memorable desserts. But this saffron cheesecake recipe takes homemade cheesecake to another level both in flavor and presentation. Featuring the golden color and subtle flavor of saffron, this cheesecake recipe is both sexy and exotic.
Pastry Chef, culinary instructor and author Melanie Underwood shared with us this recipe from her cookbook of mouthwatering cheesecakes, Making Artisan Cheesecake: Expert Techniques for Classic and Creative Recipes – Includes Vegan, Gluten-Free & Nut-Free Recipes. She wanted to share it with you not only because it’s her favorite cheesecake in the book but also because of the cake’s unique blend of aphrodisiac ingredients.
How to make an unforgettable cheesecake
There are certain techniques unique to cheesecake that you’ll need to master. But don’t worry! Melanie is a professional cooking instructor and she’s incredible at walking home cooks through each task in detail.
Making the crust
The first step to making a great cheesecake is the crust. For this cheesecake recipe, you’re going to use ground nuts instead of cookies. The first trick is to grind the nuts finely enough. I use a food processor to achieve the right texture. Once your crust mixture is ready, you want to press it into the pie plate by hand. Since this is a bottom-only crust, you don’t have to worry about unevenness where the sides meet the bottom.
Making the filling
Following Melanie’s instructions. you’ll produce a beautiful cheesecake filling with balanced flavors. But there are three key points you must keep in mind to create a successful saffron cheesecake.
- Make sure your saffron is fresh: As with all baking spices, saffron will lose flavor with age. If you have saffron in your pantry and it doesn’t offer a fresh, floral bouquet, it’s probably time to replace it.
- Get rid of the lumps: After you add the sugar, be sure to scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl while mixing to make sure that all of the sugar gets incorporated and don’t stop mixing until the batter is free of lumps.
- Do not overbeat the eggs: Once you add the eggs, mix until just incorporated, not a minute longer.
It’s also important to start with good ingredients. Make sure to use whole milk yogurt and check the freshness of the nuts you’ll grind for the crust. In addition, make sure that you have quality saffron. Inferior or “fake” saffron lacks the delicacy of true saffron. If you’re not sure where to get saffron, you can order it from Amazon.
Why do you make a water bath for a cheesecake?
Most baked cheesecakes cook in a water bath, also called a bain marie. (Water baths are also commonly used for making puddings and some bread pudding recipes.) The water bath helps cook your cake slowly, as well as adds moisture to the oven. The technique helps to create a creamy, even texture and even helps prevent cracking. The most important part of the baking process for this cheesecake is to prepare the water bath correctly. You should use almost-boiling water and enough that it comes halfway up the pan, no more or less. Do not add the water until the pan is in the oven. If you try to transfer the pan with the hot water, you will risk splashing yourself.
Making the pineapple topping
While the cheesecake is baking, you can prepare the pineapple topping on the stove. Again, the most important step is using quality ingredients. Make sure your pineapple is fresh and ripe and use a whole vanilla bean, not vanilla extract or artificial vanilla flavor.
When you’re planning to make this cheesecake, keep in mind that it benefits from refrigeration after it cools completely on the counter. Melanie recommends chilling the cake for 8 hours so you should calculate 9 hours total cooling time.
It takes a special kind of pan to make any traditional cheesecake. It’s called a springform pan. If you do a lot of baking, you probably already own one. If you don’t already have a 10-inch springform pan, here’s a link to order the right pan from Amazon.com.
In addition, the best way to make the crumb crust is with a food processor. You can crush crumbs by hand but you won’t get the same even texture as you will get from using a food processor.
Although it isn’t special equipment, you also need to make sure you have a roasting pan large enough to hold the springform pan. You’ll need this to create the all-important water bath for the cake.
How to serve this homemade cheesecake with pineapple
Although making a cheesecake takes many steps, the instructions are pretty straightforward when you follow Melanie’s instructions. The fun part of this cake is the presentation.
You can serve this cake the traditional way and just spoon the sautéed pineapple over the top. Or you could follow Melanie’s suggestions and make a pineapple upside-down cheesecake.
Start by inverting the cake onto a platter so the crust is on top. Spoon the pineapple mixture onto each plate then top each with a slice of the upside down saffron cake. It’s a fun way to make an unforgettable cheesecake presentation!
Why this saffron cheesecake is a recipe for romance
Combining saffron, one of our favorite sexy spices, with sweet tropical pineapple, it offers the kind of sweet ending to a meal no diner will forget. (Learn more about the aphrodisiac history of saffron and pineapple.)
Making different cheesecake flavors
Although she loves saffron as much as I do, Underwood let us know that this cheesecake recipe works well with a variety of herbs and spices and encourages home cooks to experiment. Try it as a cardamom cheesecake, or maybe saffron and rosewater, star anise or even lavender.
Saffron Cheesecake with Sauteed Pineapple
For the cheesecake:
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 tsp packed finely grated orange zest
- 1/2 tsp saffron threads not packed
- 11/2 lbs cream cheese
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 11/4 cups sugar
- 2 cups whole milk plain yogurt
- 4 large eggs
For the bottom-only nut crust:
- 2 cups finely ground nuts (such as almonds, walnuts, or pecans; mix no more than two) to grind finely, use a food processor
- 2 tbsp granulated or brown sugar
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter melted
For the sauteed pineapple
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/2 large pineapple peeled, cored, and diced
- 1 vanilla bean split and scraped
- pinch of good-quality saffron
- 1 tbsp light brown sugar
- 1/8 tsp coarse sea salt
- pinch of ground black pepper
For the crust:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a medium bowl, combine the ground nuts and sugar. Add the butter and stir with a rubber spatula to combine, making sure all the butter is absorbed and the crumbs or nuts are evenly coated.
- Place the mixture in a 10-inch (25 cm) springform pan.
- Using the palm of your hand or the bottom of a glass, press the mixture firmly into the bottom of the pan.
- Place the pan in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes, or until slightly firm. (The nut crust will be toasted to a golden brown and have a nutty aroma.)
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely, about 10 minutes.
To make the cheesecake:
- Lower the oven to 325 F.
- In a medium-size saucepan, combine the heavy cream, zest, and saffron; bring to a boil.
- Turn off the heat, cover, and allow to steep for 5 minutes.
- Strain the mixture, discarding the saffron and zest. Set aside to cool completely.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, mix the cream cheese and cornstarch on low speed until softened, scraping down the sides of the bowl, underneath the paddle, and the paddle frequently with a rubber spatula, about 2 minutes.
- Add the sugar and continue mixing on low and scraping down the sides, bottom, and paddle until there are no visible lumps.
- Add the yogurt and mix just until combined.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix just until combined, about 10 seconds after each egg.
- Stir in the cooled heavy cream.
- Prepare the springform pan for a water bath.
- Place the springform pan in a large cake pan or a roasting pan (one that is around the same height or lower than your springform pan).
- Pour the batter over the crust and level it with a small offset spatula.
- Place in the oven and pour almost boiling water into the roasting pan (it should come up halfway around the sides of the pan).
- Bake for about 1 hour 40 minutes, until the cheesecake is firm around the edges, but still jiggly in the center (the jiggly part should be about the size of a quarter).
- Remove from the oven and remove the cheesecake from the water bath.
- Remove the foil from the sides of the pan. Gently run a small sharp knife or small spatula around the edges of the pan to loosen the cheesecake from the sides.
- Allow to cool at room temperature. Place in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours (this will help the cheesecake set completely).
- To unmold the cheesecake, gently run a small sharp knife or small spatula around the edges of the pan.
- Release the latch on the side of the pan and then lift the ring straight up.
- Optional: For a beautiful presentation, invert the cheesecake onto a platter so the pistachio crust is on the top.
- To garnish: When ready to serve, plate each slice individually and serve with about 1/4 cup of the sauteed pineapple.
For the sauteed pineapple:
- Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over high heat.
- Add the pineapple, vanilla bean, and saffron. Cook until the pineapple is slightly softened, about 5 minutes.
- Add the brown sugar, salt, and pepper. Cook for about 5 more minutes, until lightly golden. Remove from the heat and let cool.
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