Raspberry Port Cheesecake

I never turn down a dessert menu. When Mike and I went to San Francisco for the first time back in the “before” times of 2019, I was handed a menu and noticed that each dessert was paired with port wine. We ordered a slice of cake and a glass of port for each of us and I then and there discovered my love of the full-bodied, sweetened, wine. 

Produced in Portugal, port is fermented like other wines, but is fortified with a neutral spirit before the fermentation process is finished. The spirit stops the fermentation, which leaves extra sugar in the wine, resulting in a fortified wine with all the nuances of non-fortified wine. It’s best to store port in the refrigerator after opening and then enjoy within a month.

I’ve ordered port to go with dessert since, but hadn’t splurged on a bottle of my own. So when Sandeman reached out to collaborate, I jumped at the chance. Port pairs well with cheeses, nuts, fruit, and even chocolate. Basically everything I love! It also adds complexity to dessert sauces, custards, and cakes.

For this recipe, port is added to the cheesecake batter as well as the raspberry swirl. It cuts the richness, while enhancing the raspberry flavor. The almonds in the graham cracker crust add a satisfying crunch and a mildly nutty flavor to go along with the port and raspberry flavors.

Tips for Making Cheesecake

Achieving the silky texture for cheesecake is easy if you follow these tips.

Room temperature ingredients: Cheesecake is a baked custard made with cream cheese, sour cream, heavy cream, eggs, and sugar. The key to making a creamy cheesecake is making sure that the ingredients are at room temperature.

Bake in a water bath: Baking the cheesecake in a water bath also helps retain the sought after silky texture. The water bath helps ensure that the eggs cook slowly and evenly. The smaller springform pan that I used in this recipe is easier to manage. Whereas a larger pan requires a large roasting pan for the water bath, this small 7 inch pan fits inside a standard 9 x 13 casserole dish. To keep the crust from getting soggy, wrap the springform pan in foil. Then place the springform pan inside the casserole dish and add hot water to the casserole dish until it reaches 1/3 of the way up the sides of the springform pan.

Don’t over bake: Baking times vary from oven to oven. The cheesecake is baked once it reaches an internal temperature of 150℉. It will have a slight jiggle in the center when tapped. Cool the cheesecake slowly to prevent cracking and then chill overnight before removing from the pan.

Raspberry Port Cheesecake

Servings: 6 to 8

Yield: 1 – 7 inch cheesecake

Active Time: 30 minutes

Cooking Time: 1 hour 25 minutes

Cooling Time: 2 hours

Chilling Time: 8 hours

Graham Cracker Crust:

1/2 cup (50g) finely ground graham crackers (about 3 sheets of graham crackers)

1/4 cup (35g) finely ground almonds

2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Raspberry Swirl:

1/4 cup (79g) raspberry jam
2 tablespoons Sandeman Reserve port

Cheesecake Filling:

16 ounces Original Philadelphia Cream Cheese, at room temperature

3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

3  large eggs, at room temperature

1/3 cup (80g) full fat sour cream

1/4 cup (40g) heavy whipping cream

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons Sandeman Reserve port

Special equipment: 7 inch springform pan

Directions:

Prepare oven: Check that the rack is in the center of the oven and heat to 350℉. 

Prepare springform pan: Tear off two sheets of foil 16 inches long. Lay the foil in an X shape and set the springform pan in the center. Start with the top piece of foil and form it snugly around the pan and do the same with the bottom piece of foil. The foil will cover most of the pan. Spray the sides (no need to spray the bottom of the pan) on the inside of the pan with cooking spray to ensure the cheesecake doesn’t stick to the pan.

Make graham cracker crust: In a small bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs, almonds, sugar, and salt. Add two tablespoons of melted butter and combine. The mixture should hold together when squeezed. If not, then add the last tablespoon of butter, mix, and test again.

Press in crust: Dump the crust in the bottom of the springform pan and spread it over the bottom. Lightly press the crust with your fingers until it is at an even thickness throughout and doesn’t move when pressed gently. 

Bake crust: Bake the crust on the center rack in the oven for about 10 minutes. The crust will be lightly golden around the edges. Remove it from the oven and set on a cooling rack.

Turn down the oven: Turn down the oven temperature to 325℉.

Make raspberry swirl: Mix the raspberry jam and port in a small bowl until smooth. It will be similar in texture to a thick sauce and have a strong port flavor that will mellow when baked. Set aside.

Make cheesecake batter: In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine cream cheese, sugar, and salt on low for a few seconds to combine and then increase speed to medium for three minutes. Scrape after each minute.

With mixer on low, add one egg and mix for 30 seconds to combine. Scrape the bowl and continue adding and scraping with the next two eggs. After the eggs have been added, mix on medium for 30 seconds to ensure the batter is fully emulsified.

In a small glass measuring cup, combine sour cream and heavy cream. Add to the mixer bowl and mix on medium for 30 seconds to completely combine.

Turn the mixer to low and add the vanilla extract and port. Mix for 10 seconds.

Take the bowl off the mixer and give the batter a couple more stirs with the spatula to ensure that it is fully combined. There shouldn’t be any streaks or large lumps in the batter.

Add batter and raspberry swirl to pan: Scrape the batter over the cooled crust in the springform pan and level with the spatula. Use a spoon to dribble the raspberry mixture over the top of the crust. Turn the spoon around and use the end of the handle to gently swirl the raspberry mixture with the cheesecake batter.

Bake: Set the cheesecake in a 9 x 13 casserole dish. Fill a large spouted measuring cup with hot water and pour it in the pan until it reaches 1/3 of the way up the sides. Transfer to the oven and bake for 1 hour 15 minutes, or how ever long it takes for the internal temperature to reach 150℉. It will have a slight jiggle in the center when tapped. This is good! If the cheesecake starts to puff or brown, turn the oven temperature down 300℉.

Cool: Once the cheesecake is baked, let it cool slowly inside the oven by turning the oven off and opening the oven door. Let the cheesecake cool for an hour. After an hour, pull the casserole dish with the cheesecake inside, out of the oven. Take the cheesecake out of the casserole dish and unwrap the foil from the springform pan. There may be water in the foil so unwrap carefully. Cool the cheesecake on a cooling rack until it’s at room temperature, about 1 hour. Wrap the cheesecake in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or at least 8 hours.

Serve: Remove the plastic wrap from the cheesecake and unlatch the springform pan, removing the sides of the pan. For the cleanest slices, warm a chef’s knife under hot water and dry with a towel. Slice the cheesecake into eight slices, wiping the knife, warming, and drying the knife after each cut. Wrap leftovers in plastic wrap or place in an airtight container and refrigerate for 3 to 4 days.

Strawberry Smash Cake

Do you need a small cake for a first birthday party or a small-scale celebration? This cake is the perfect size for four people. It’s also delicious! Tender, light, and full-flavored without using butter or oil. The cake layers are filled with a fresh strawberry filling and a rich cream cheese frosting for a perfectly balanced dessert.

Typically smash cakes are small cakes given to babies for the first birthday. I made two of these cakes for my friend’s twin sons for their first birthday and it was a huge hit! The birthday boys smashed and ate and then smashed and ate some more. I’m still smiling at the pictures. I can totally see why this is a first birthday tradition.

Overhead view of vanilla cake for two with a slice on a plate.

I decided to use a simple sponge cake instead of an oil or butter based cake for this recipe. I like the springy, tender texture and light vanilla flavor.

There are many different ways to make a sponge cake. Some recipes add melted butter to the batter, some warm the eggs and sugar before whipping, others separate the eggs. I love this one because of its pure simplicity.

Slice of layered strawberry mini cake on a plate.

If you are new to sponge cakes, here are a few tips to ensure success. Knowing when the eggs are whipped sufficiently and when the cake is completely cooked are essential.

  • Pull eggs, butter and cream cheese out of the refrigerator an hour before starting so that they have a chance to warm to room temperature.
  • Clean mixer bowl and whisk with soap and water and dry thoroughly before starting. This will help the eggs whip properly.
  • Check that the batter is fully whipped and at the ribbon stage before adding the dry ingredients. Test by allowing the batter to fall from the whisk back into the bowl in ribbons and watching to see that it stays visible for a few seconds before being fully reincorporated.
  • When baking, test for doneness by gently pressing on the top of the cake. Your finger should not leave an impression when done. The cake will feel slightly “springy”.

Feel free to make this cake in stages. The baked and cooled rounds can be wrapped in plastic wrap and foil and stored in the freezer for up to three months. You can also wrap and refrigerate the cake rounds for a week before frosting and serving. After assembling the cake, it can be wrapped and stored in the refrigerator for two days.

Mini Strawberry Smash Cake

Makes one 4-layer 5 inch cake

Cake Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (half if using table salt)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 eggs at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Frosting Ingredients:

  • 8 tablespoons cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Green food coloring

Strawberry Filling:

  • 1/2 pound strawberries
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, if desired

Cake Directions:

Prepare: Heat oven to 350℉. Trace two 5×3 round pans on parchment paper and cut out circles. Spray the bottom of the pans with cooking spray. Set a parchment circle inside each pan and spray again. Set pans aside. Take frosting ingredients out of the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature.

Two mini cake pans on parchment.

Whisk dry ingredients: Whisk flour, salt and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside.

Whip egg: Crack eggs into the bowl of a stand mixer and use the whisk attachment and whisk on medium for one minute. Turn the mixer to high and add in the sugar and vanilla extract. Continue for a minute and then stop and scrape the bowl with a flexible spatula. Return mixer to high and continue for 8 minutes. The mixture will be very thick and look like stiff whipped cream. Test that the batter is ready by stopping the mixer and allow batter to drip off the whisk and in the mixer bowl. This is called the ribbon stage. The ribbon of batter should be visible on top of the batter for a couple of seconds before reabsorbing. If the ribbon of batter is immediately absorbed then whisk for another minute and test again.

Fold in dry ingredients: Take bowl off mixer and sift 1/3 flour mixture over whipped eggs. The salt may not fit through the mesh so just pour on top. Use a flexible spatula and gently fold in dry ingredients. Once combined, sift another 1/3 flour over bowl and fold in again. Finish off with the rest of the flour and do a final fold to make sure all the flour is combined. I found this to take longer than I thought so be patient. It may take as much as 15 folds each time. The flour tends to hide so make sure to work your way around the bowl.

Bake cakes: Scrape an even amount of batter into pans and bake. Keep the oven door closed until the cakes are golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. The cakes are baked when the center of the cake gently springs back when pressed.

Wash mixer bowl: While the cakes are baking, wash and dry stand mixer bowl to use for frosting.

Cool cakes: Remove pans from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Run a small spatula down and around the sides of the pan to release cake. Turn out cake onto cooling rack and let cool completely, about an hour.

Make cream cheese frosting: Add cream cheese, butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt to the stand mixer and use the paddle attachment to mix on medium for 5 minutes or until thick, fluffy and easily spreadable.

Color frosting for leaves: Scoop 1 tablespoon of cream cheese frosting into a small bowl and add a few drops of green food coloring to achieve the desired green.

Matcha frosting with blue food coloring added.

Make strawberry filling: Look through strawberries and pick out the prettiest one and set aside. Hull the rest of the strawberries and cut large ones in half. Process in a food processor until the consistency of thick applesauce. Mix in a tablespoon of sugar to taste.

Assemble cake: Once the cakes are completely cool, use a bread knife to cut each cake into equal rounds. On a small plate or cake board, set one cake layer with the cut side up. Use a slotted spoon to spoon strawberry mixture to the edges. Take the second cake round and spread cream cheese frosting on the cut side. Lay cream cheese side down on top of strawberry filling. Spread strawberry filling on the top of the second round (the one that has cream cheese frosting spread on the other side) and continue layering until there are three layers of strawberry filling and cream cheese frosting. The top of the cake should be the non-cut side of the fourth round.

Frost the outside of the cake: Get on eye level with the cake and adjust until straight and center it on the plate. Using an offset spatula, scoop frosting on the top and spread to the edges. Scrape off spatula to remove crumbs and continue adding frosting to the sides, scraping off crumbs as you go until the whole cake is coated to desired thickness.

Use a spoon to make a swoop of green frosting in the center of the cake and set the prettiest strawberry on top.

Serve: Serve or cover loosely in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Let cake come to room temperature before serving for best flavor and texture. Refrigerate leftovers in an air-tight container for up to 3 days.

Ice Cream Cake

Before having kids, I envisioned what motherhood would be like and to be honest, I thought it would be a constant party. Children scurrying through the kitchen while a pie cools on the counter. It was going to be so easy and FUN. I’m not exactly sure where I got this idea (our lying elders perhaps?) but needless to say, it has not quite lived up to the fantasy. Of course, I wasn’t all wrong, there is plenty of laughter, scurrying children and home baking going on – but not 100 percent of the time to be sure. So when it’s time to for a party, I like to go all out.

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Each year when February turns to March, I deem Birthday Season to have begun. It’s a whirlwind of seemingly constant parties. Three out of the four of us have birthdays in the span of one month. Cupcakes for the kid parties and cookies for each child’s class  and then the main event: the family party. Presents, birthday dinner, extended family, hopefully some decorations then, of course, CAKE!

As with all major life decisions, choosing ones birthday cake takes careful thought and consideration. Just Kidding!! Yet, birthdays do come around only once a year so its best to wish for the moon and back. This year we had light and fluffy strawberry cake with chocolate frosting for the 8 year old, creamy cheesecake for the husband and a homemade ice cream cake to celebrate the oldest turning 11.

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JP has a thing for ice cream so ice cream cake was a no brainer for this year’s birthday. All his dreams come true in one ginormous dessert. Ice cream, Oreos and whipped cream. Perfection. It takes a decent amount of rest time (especially if you make your own ice cream) but the pay off is totally worth it.

This is true for parenting as well. It takes patience and some work but, fingers crossed, it will pay off in the end. I know people say this all the time, but honestly I wouldn’t change a thing. I would marry the same man, have the same kids and make the same career choices. Yet, I would suggest to my younger self to take off the rose colored glasses and get ready to roll up her sleeves. There is lots of work involved but still plenty of reasons to throw a party.

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Ice Cream Cake

Without having actual cake in ice cream cake recipes, I find it a confusing term. Ice cream cake is actually a cookie crust with ice cream layered over it and covered in whipped cream. I don’t make the rules.

Feel free to use any two ice cream flavors you desire. I chose homemade vanilla ice cream and bought Haagan Daz chocolate to keep myself sane. I adapted Food Network’s recipe for Ice Cream Crunch Cake, with some help from Smitten Kitchen and Stella Parks to take it over the top. I will give you the breakdown of how I made mine, but just remember that you could make this all in one day if both flavors of ice cream were store bought. All the recipes and directions are below but here is a quick overview for ease.

  • 2 quarts vanilla ice cream (recipe below)
  • 1 quart chocolate ice cream (1 – 28 fl oz of Häagen-Dazs container)
  • 14 ounce package of original Oreos, divided (crust recipe and filling below)
  • 3 cups whipped cream (recipe below) for outside of the cake

4 days before serving, make the custard for the vanilla ice cream and make sure the bowl of your ice cream maker is frozen.

3 Days before serving, churn the chilled ice cream base in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer directions. Churn in two batches so as not to over fill the ice cream maker. Freeze in a freezer safe container over night.

IMG_4269
These are more pulverized than I would do next time. I think chunkier would be better.

2 days before serving, assemble the cake.

  1. First, make the Oreo crust, as well as crushing the Oreos for the cookie layer (see below).
  2. While crust is firming, remove vanilla ice cream from freezer to soften if needed to spread easily. Once the crust is firm, spread vanilla ice cream over Oreo crust and up sides of pan and freeze, about 30 minutes until firm.
  3. Take the store bought chocolate ice cream out of the freezer to soften. Once the vanilla layer is firm, spread chocolate ice cream over vanilla ice cream layer, forgoing the sides of the pan. Freeze for about 30 minutes, until firm.
  4. Spread crushed Oreos evenly over chocolate layer to form the cookie layer. Freeze for about 30 minutes, until firm.
  5. Once firm, top cookie layer with more vanilla ice cream. Work gently so as not to disrupt the cookie layer. Soft ice cream helps this step. Freeze again for 30 minutes, until firm.
  6. Make whipped cream while cake is in freezer. (recipe below)
  7. Run an offset spatula around the edges of the pan and unlatch the springform pan. Remove sides and set on a baking sheet or cutting board.
  8. Using an offset spatula, frost the outside of the cake with the whipped cream (recipe below). Refreeze until firm. I found it a bit trickier to get the cake in and out of the freezer without the sides of the pan so be careful!
  9. Scoop some whipped cream into a pastry bag with a star attachment and pipe decorations along top and bottom if desired. Place back in the freezer.
  10. Serve cake by cutting with a hot knife. Wrap leftovers in plastic wrap and foil or move to an airtight container. Mine was not pretty when I moved it and hardly resembled the original – but we ate it without complaint a week later.

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Vanilla Ice Cream

I used David Lebovitz’s recipe but used vanilla extract instead of the vanilla bean out of pure laziness. The recipe below is for a double batch. There will be a little left over after making this cake.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract (I use Madagascar)
  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • 10 egg yolks

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl pour the heavy cream and set a strainer on top of it.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks.
  3. In medium saucepan stir milk, salt, sugar and vanilla extract and heat on medium-low. Stir occasionally and remove from heat when the mixture starts to steam and before simmering.
  4. While whisking egg yolks, slowly pour the warm milk mixture into the egg yolks. Once all the milk mixture has been whisked into the egg yolks, pour it all back into the saucepan.
  5. Cook the egg and milk mixture over low heat, stirring and scraping with a heatproof spatula continually, about 5 minutes. The custard will thicken slightly and coat the back of the spatula when done with the color of buttermilk and the thickness of cream.
  6. Pour custard into the strainer to remove any lumps and combine with the heavy cream. Taste and add more vanilla extract if needed.
  7. Cover and refrigerate over night.

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    Sides of pan removed and now can breathe easy

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    Covered in Whipped Cream – Pipe some decorations and call it DONE!

Crust

This recipe is slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

  • 1/2 package original Oreos (7 ounces)
  • 2-3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/4 -1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

Process whole Oreos in a food processor until finely ground. Pour into a small bowl and mix in salt and butter, starting with the smaller amount listed and adjusting if needed to get the right consistency and seasoning. The mixture should hold together but not be so wet that its slick with butter. Press firmly and evenly into a 10 inch springform pan. Place in freezer until firm, about 20 minutes.

Cookie Layer

  • 1/2 package original Oreos (7 ounces)

Directions:

Place whole Oreos in the bowl of a food processor or a gallon size freezer bag. Pulse a couple of times in the food processor or crush in the freezer bag until the cookies are small chunks.

Whipped Cream Topping

I now only use Stella Parks Make-Ahead Whipped Cream recipe. It tastes great and allows for making ahead, which I love. The recipe is doubled below to frost the cake and have some left over. Can refrigerate in an airtight container for up to a week (though will want to re-whip a little before using).

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all the ingredients. Using the whisk attachment, whip on medium-low to dissolve the sugar, about 1 minute. Then increase to medium-high and whip until thick and holds firm peaks, about 3 minutes.