A chef friend recently stayed with me for a few weeks and we had an interesting chat at the grocery store. She was raised in Switzerland, is currently working in Hong Kong and was in town to work at a Michelin starred restaurant for a short time. We’d made a quick stop at the grocery store to pick up some food and she stood in front of the yogurt display, baffled. “Why is there so much yogurt? Why do you have so much yogurt?” Good question. I looked at the display and was a little embarrassed. Have you taken a good look at the yogurt selection at your local grocery store lately? It’s absurd. Why do we have so much yogurt? My store is on the smaller side and has a 7-shelf display that is at least 10 feet long. Hundreds of containers and more than half of it is Greek yogurt. It’s really ridiculous.
While she searched with some difficulty for a simple strawberry yogurt, I sheepishly picked up a large container of plain Greek. Healthy breakfasts were initially on my mind. Later, while eating a bowl with some granola, my thoughts turned to dessert. I was hosting my annual “Polish Easter” in a few weeks and dessert after all that heaviness – sauerkraut, sausage, pierogies – is always a challenge. The tanginess of yogurt would be a nice finish. Maybe a panna cotta or custard of some sort. Or … a cheesecake. But I didn’t want a dense, NY style cheesecake. It didn’t seem right, too heavy. A lighter, silky, creamy texture was more in line with what I was thinking.
This meant no-bake. I haven’t made a “no-bake” cheesecake since I was a kid and that was from a box, that Jell-o no-bake cheesecake that was all the rage in the ‘80’s. Apparently, that box mix is still out there but I started with a recipe from Bon Appétit instead. A mix of cream cheese and Greek yogurt set with gelatin, it was a solid point from which to jump. I made the crust with biscoff cookies, those utterly delicious spice cookies and I baked it. A no-bake cheesecake with a baked crust. Yep. A baked crust holds together so much better than buttered crumbs that are just pushed together and chilled. I added some orange zest to the filling, stirred in the gelatin and poured it into the waiting crust. A long chill and it was ready. Pretty simple really, which is the point, but it was missing something. The texture was perfect – light, creamy, almost ethereal. While nice on it’s own, it was a bit plain. It needed a sauce of some sort.
I’ve been reading a lot of Mediterranean cookbooks lately so fruits like dates, figs and oranges were on my mind. A lightly simmered compote of orange juice, dried figs and dates with some spices – a cinnamon stick and a few star anise – was wonderful. Just before serving I added some orange segments for a fresh note. The compote was amazing – earthy, spicy, a little tart with good texture – an excellent counterpoint to the silky, luscious texture of the cheesecake. It was perfect.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: CREAMY GOODNESS. A cheesecake is always a welcome finish to a meal. I served this after a traditional, and rather heavy, Polish dinner and it was perfect. Several guests asked for seconds, something that doesn’t always happen after a long, boozy meal. I even had a slice for breakfast the next day. The spiced compote is one I’ll make again and again; it will be wonderful on ice cream, or pancakes or a slice of cake. Even a bowl of yogurt. In fact, I’m going to make that right now, for a snack.
other cheesecake recipes: Classic Vanilla Bean Cheesecake, Ricotta Cheesecake, Bourbon Pecan Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies
Eight years ago: Khachpuri (cheesy Georgian bread)
Seven years ago: Kolacky
Six years ago: Blogger Breakfast with David Lebovitz, Guinness Stout Floats
Five years ago: Greek Sunday Lunch
Four years ago: Classic Yeast Coffeecake
Three years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise
Two years ago: Flourless Chocolate Cookies
Last year: Soft Potato Rolls
GREEK YOGURT CHEESECAKE WITH SPICED FIG-DATE COMPOTE – adapted from this recipe
For a no-bake cheesecake, it’s really important that the cream cheese is at room temperature or it won’t be smooth. Take it out the night before and leave on the counter. The easiest way to turn the speculoos cookies into crumbs is to place the cookies in a large Ziploc bag and use a rolling pin to bash and roll cookies into fine crumbs. You can also use a food processor but this way is easier, more consistent and with less clean up.
for the speculoos crust:
1 ¼ cups speculoos cookie crumbs (16 Biscoff cookies/4 ¼ ounces/120g)
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly
3 Tablespoons sugar
pinch of kosher salt
for the filling:
2 teaspoons powdered gelatin
1 ½ Tablespoons cold water
1 ½ pounds cream cheese, room temperature
¾ cup sugar
1 ½ cups plain whole milk Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or pure vanilla)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
for the compote:
6 dried figs, each cut into 8 pieces (4 ounces/scant 1 cup)
6 dried dates, pitted and each cut into 8 pieces (4 ounces/scant 1 cup)
3 Tablespoons mild honey, such as clover
1 teaspoon fresh orange zest
½ cup fresh orange juice
½ cup water
1 small cinnamon stick
2 whole star anise
segments from 1 orange or two tangerines
- For the crust: Preheat oven to 325°F and place a rack in the lower third of the oven.
- In a medium bowl, combine the cookie crumbs, sugar and melted butter.
- Press crumbs firmly and evenly into the bottom of a 9” springform pan with removable sides. Use a small ramekin to tightly pack down those crumbs.
- Bake 15 minutes until firm and golden.
- Cool the crust to room temperature before filling.
- For the filling: place gelatin and 1 ½ Tablespoon cold water in a small heatproof bowl or ramekin. Let stand 10 minutes.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a hand mixer), blend the cream cheese on low until smooth, then add the sugar and mix another 1 minute. Scrape the bowl and beater and mix for another minute until smooth.
- Add the yogurt and mix on low until blended then add the lemon juice, orange zest, vanilla paste (or extract), and salt until smooth, scraping as needed.
- Gently melt the gelatin until liquid either by placing the bowl in a skillet or small pan of simmering water or in the microwave at 50% power, stirring until the gelatin dissolves.
- With mixer on low, drizzle the melted gelatin into cream cheese mixture until well blended, about 1 minute.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared crust. Tap pan firmly on the counter to break up any big air bubbles and smooth the top.
- Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill for at least 6 hours before serving.
- For the compote: Combine the chopped figs and dates in a small saucepan with the honey, orange juice, orange zest, water, cinnamon stick and star anise.
- Bring to a low boil and reduce the heat to low; simmer for 5 minutes, or until mixture has thickened slightly but is still syrupy (it will continue to thicken as it cools.)
- Let cool completely. Before serving, discard the cinnamon stick and star anise and gently fold in the orange segments.
- To serve: to slice cleanly, dip a long, thin, sharp knife in a tall glass of hot water and cut in clean slices, wiping the knife clean between slices. Top with a spoonful of the fig-date compote.
- Do ahead: the cheesecake can be made up 2 days ahead and kept refrigerated. The compote will keep refrigerated for at least 1 week.