Strawberry & White Chocolate Frozen Cheesecake w/ Basil sugar

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Waaaaay back when, before cupcakes or brownies were my thing, cheesecake was my kitchen staple. Every Sunday, while my mom prepared Sunday roast dinner, I would be sent to amuse myself (and keep from under her feet) with a box of cheesecake mix. Yes- a box mix…we all have to start somewhere. after all. Whilst the brand name eludes me, it basically consisted of  two plastic packets…and that was it. A packet of crumb for the base, so far so good. The piece de resistance? A packet of dehyrated “cream cheese” powder. This was to be whisked with milk, poured on the prepared crumb base and left to set. Sounds delish, huh? Well to be honest it was- at least to 8 year old me. I experimented with various fillings and toppings but no matter how I tried to persuade myself it always tasted the same. But what did I care? I merrily dug in, spoon in hand full of exuberant abandon and prepubescent gusto.

So flash forward nearly 35 years and I have an endless debate going on- Baked or Non-baked? I’ve come to the conclusion that seasonal is best. Baked is my go-to during the colder brackets of the year, and the no-bake/ chilled variety is of course more suitable for the warmer stints of the year. And so we end up here- with frozen cheesecake.

The freezing element of this recipe is not strictly necessary but it does help with achieving a much more stable filling. It’s also utterly addictive to have the frozen cheesecake layer slowly melt to creamy goodness on your tongue, with bursts of berry pieces, in the sweltering summer heat. As I mention in the recipe, once your initial freezing is done you can easily store in the fridge if you prefer a more chilled approach to things. A word to the wise though- this cheesecake is best eaten sooner rather than later so park your guilt and happily dig in- all in the line of duty!

The additional finishing elements here are entirely optional. If you’re happy with the straight-forward, no fuss-no muss cheesecake then feel free to leave it at that- it’s plenty tasty as is. But lets face it- prepping the basil sugar and macerated strawberries isn’t exactly hard work and the end result of flavor explosions are completely worth it. Yes the addition of the herb Basil, so often a stalwart savory element of Italian cooking, might seem a bit of weird but the slightly anise, pepperiness stops the sweetness of  berries becoming cloying. The burnt caramel-like birch syrup used in the macerated strawberries also lends a hand in this way.

A google search for chilled strawberry cheesecake will yield numerous results but I like to think of this as an escalated version of that ultimate summer dessert of strawberries and cream, with each of the additional treatments adding to give you that delicious end result that just oozes summer decadence.

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Ingredients

Cheesecake Base

  • 1 1/2 cups Graham cracker crumbs (apx 10 full crackers, crushed)
  • 5 tbspns salted butter
  • 1/3 cup brown suar
  • 1 tbspn ground cinnamon

Cheesecake filling 

  • 5oz White chocolate, broken in to pieces
  • 12oz Full fat cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 cup Icing sugar
  • 1 tbspn Vanilla extract
  • 1 tbspn Maple syrup, or honey
  • 1 cup Whipping cream
  • 1 lb Strawberries, chopped small

Basil sugar

  • 1/2 cup Granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup Fresh basil leaves, torn

Macerated strawberries

  • 1 cup Strawberries, chopped small
  • 3 tbspns Birch syrup

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Method

Cheesecake base

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F
  2. Double line a 9″ cake pan (2″ high sides) or spring-form tin. Set aside until needed
  3. Heat a thick-bottomed pan on medium heat. Add the butter and stir until melted
  4. The butter will start to foam up a bit, then subside. Watch carefully as lightly browned specks begin to form at the bottom of the pan, and the foam starts to turn brown in spots. Smell the butter; it should have a nutty aroma
  5. Remove from the heat and pour the brown butter into a bowl to stop it from cooking further
  6. Add in the dry ingredients and stir until evenly combined
  7. Press the butter mixture into your prepared tin.  Use the back of a large spoon or measuring cup to press the crumbs into an even layer on the bottom of the tin
  8. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 mins
  9. After the cooking time remove from the oven and allow to cool fully before filling

Cheesecake filling

  1. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, or in the microwave in 20 second bursts, stirring occasionally,  until full melted. Set aside to cool whilst preparing the rest of the filling
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer combine the icing sugar, cream cheese, vanilla extract and maple syrup. Beat on medium speed until smooth and silky
  3. In a separate bowl whip the whipping cream until soft peaks. Transfer into the stand mixer bowl with the cream cheese mixture and beat on medium speed until thick
  4. Pour in to the cooled melted white chocolate and beat on medium until combined
  5. Remove the bowl and fold the chopped strawberries into the cream cheese mixture for a couple of minutes
  6. Pour the strawberry cream cheese mixture over the crumb base and smooth
  7. Gently press a layer of cling wrap over the surface of the cheesecake to protect it while it freezes. Place the cheesecake flat in the freezer for 3 hours until lightly frozen
  8. While the cheesecake freeze prepare the basil sugar

Basil sugar

  1. In a food processor, pulse the sugar and basil until uniform in color and nicely green. Store in a airtight jar in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Shake/ stir the jar and contents occasionally to redistribute the flavor
  2. Set aside until needed for this recipe

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Macerated strawberries

  1. In a bowl, stir to combine the chopped strawberries and birch syrup.
  2. Cover and refrigerate until needed
  3. Stir well prior to using

To assemble and serve

  1. Remove the cheesecake from the freezer approximately 10 minutes before serving
  2. Run a warm knife under hot water and use to run the rim of the tin to loosen the cheesecake edge. Remove from the tin and garnish with basil sugar, macerated strawberries. Again use a warm knife to slice the cheesecake into portions
  3. If you prefer a more standard chilled cheesecake, remove from the freezer 2 hrs before serving and allow to defrost in the fridge prior to slicing and serving

The cheesecake will keep in the fridge, lightly wrapped in cling wrap for up to 3 days.

(I also used some sugar dipped strawberries on top. Lightly whisk 1 egg white until frothy. Lightly paint the berries with the egg white and dip in fine sugar to coat. Allow to set at room temperature for apx 4 hrs. Use as a garnish)

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