Cherry Crumb Cheesecake

adapted from Junior's Cheesecakes published by Fine Cooking

Makes one 9-inch cheesecake

Sponge Cake Crust

1/3 cup sifted cake flour

3/4 tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

2 extra-large eggs, separated

1/3 cup sugar

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 drops pure lemon extract

2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

1/4 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 350° F. and generously butter the bottom  and sides of a 9 inch springform pan (preferably nonstick).  Wrap the outside with aluminum foil, covering the bottom and extending all  the way up the  sides.

In a small bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together.

Beat the egg yolks in a large bowl with an electric mixer on high for 3 minutes.  With the mixer running, slowly add 2 tablespoons of the sugar and beat until thick, light-yellow ribbons form, about 5 minutes more.  Beat in the extracts.

Sift the flour mixture over the batter and stir it in by hand, just until no more white flecks appear.  Now, blend in the melted butter.

Wash another mixing bowl and the beaters really well.  Put the egg whites and cream of tartar into the bowl and beat with the mixer on high until frothy.  Gradually add the remaining sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form (the whites will stand up and look glossy, not dry).  Fold about one-third of the whites into the batter,  then the remaining whites.  Don't worry if you still see a few white specks, as they'll disappear during baking.

Gently spread out the batter over the bottom of the pan, and bake just until set and golden (not wet or sticky), about 10 minutes.  Touch the cake gently in the center. If it springs back, it's done.  Watch carefully and don't let the top brown.  Leave the crust in the pan and transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool.  Leave the oven on while you prepare the cherry filling and cheesecake batter.

Cherry Filling

One 24-oz jar pitted red sour cherries in juice (I used a jar of Montmorency cherries)

2 Tbsp cornstarch

2 Tbsp sugar

2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Red food coloring (optional)

(I added 1/4 tsp of almond extract.)

Drain the cherries, reserving 1 cup of the juice (if necessary, add water to make 1 cup).  Refrigerate 7 cherries for decorating the cake.  Stir the cornstarch into the juice in a small saucepan until completely dissolved, then stir in the sugar.  Bring to a full boil over medium heat.  Cook and stir constantly until the mixture turns clear and thickens (very important), about 2 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and food coloring, if you are using.  Fold in the cherries.  Let cool while you make the cheesecake batter.

Cheesecake Batter

Three 8 oz. packages cream cheese (use only full fat), at room temperature

1 1/3 cups sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract

2 extra-large eggs

2/3 cup heavy cream

Put one package of the cream cheese, 1/3 cup of the sugar, and the cornstarch in a large bowl.  Beat with an electric mixer on low until creamy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl several times.  Beat in the remaining cream cheese, one package at a time, scraping down the bowl after each one.  Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat in the remaining 1 cup sugar, then the vanilla.  Blend in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after adding each one.  Beat in the cream just until completely blended.  Be careful not to over-mix.  Spread half the cherry mixture over the crust.  Gently spoon the cheesecake batter over it, then top with the remaining cherry mixture.  Be sure to spread the cherries out evenly close to the edges.  (You are actually making an  outer ring  of cherries.  There won't be any in the center of the ring.  Hide sight is wonderful!)

Place the cake in a large shallow pan containing hot water that comes about 1 inch up the sides of the springform.  Bake until the edges are light golden brown and the top is slightly golden tan, about 1 1/4 hours.  Remove the cheesecake from the water bath, transfer to a wire rack, and let cool for 2 hours (just walk away--don't move it!!)  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until completely cold,  preferably overnight or at least 4 hours.

Make and bake the crumb topping.  To decorate, release and remove the sides of the springform, leaving the cake  on the bottom  of the pan.  Place on a serving plate.  Top the cake  evenly with the cinnamon crumbs and decorate the center with the reserved cherries.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Slice with a sharp straight-edge knife, not a serrated one.  Cover any leftover cake and refrigerate, or freeze for up to one month.

Cinnamon Crumb Topping

3/4 cup flour

1/3cup firmly packed light brown sugar (I used dark brown as that was all I had.)

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Grated rind of 1 large lemon (about 1 tsp)

1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small  pieces

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Generously butter a jellyroll pan.

Mix the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and lemon rind in a medium bowl.  work in the butter with your fingers until coarse crumbs form.

Spread out the crumbs in the pan.  Bake until the topping is golden brown, bubbly, and slightly crunchy, about 15 minutes, tossing the mixture with a spatula 2 or 3 times.  Watch it carefully.  It's ready when it turns a light golden brown.  Let the mixture cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes, then break it into fine crumbs.  (Extra topping may be put in  a zip  lock and frozen for up to one month.)