In a city where temptation to dine at every renowned culinary establishment is ever-present, dinner parties with friends has become my new favorite hobby. It is the closest thing to feeling as fancy and sophisticated as walking into a $30-a-plate establishment. You have good wine, good music, good food, maybe even a few lit candles, and best of all good company all at your disposal.
As a pastry chef, I always feel the obligation to bring dessert. However, after pre-dinner hors d’oeuvres, a myriad of cheese and crackers, appetizers, and finally the main course, there’s usually not much room left for dessert. This is especially the case if the night has kicked off with several bottles of wine, which plays a huge factor in pushing the limits of one’s true stomach capacity. My dilemma: To show off my pastry skills, yet not being the one who’s dish nobody touches at the end of the night.
Solution: The Dinner Party Cheesecake Tart.
Rich as a cheesecake, light as a tart. Covered in fresh, juicy, tart berries. Encased in a delicate tart shell. It screams casual elegance.
Despite whines and groans of feeling full and “I ate way too much,” needless to say, this tart completely vanished within moments. Serve this at your next dinner party and you will be famously known as the friend who made that “amazing cheesecake tart thingy.”
The Dinner Party Cheesecake Tart
6 graham crackers (2 1/2 by 5 inches each)
1/3 cup whole almonds (toasted)
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 bars (8 oz. each) cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
2 baskets of strawberries
1 cup each of blueberries, raspberries and blackberries
1/2 cup sour cream
Toasted Almond-Graham Cracker Crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, grind graham crackers, toasted almonds, and 1/4 cup sugar until finely ground. Add melted butter and process until moist. Transfer to a 9-inch removable-bottom tart pan. By using the base of a measuring cup, press mixture firmly into the bottom and up sides of pan, distributing evenly.
Wipe clean food processor blade and bowl. Add cream cheese, 1/2 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup sugar, egg, vanilla and salt. Blend until smooth. Place tart pan on baking sheet and fill with cheesecake mixture.
Bake until filling is just set: 30-35 minutes. The surface should still have a little bit of a firm jiggle to it. Remove from oven and allow tart to completely cool.
Optional: Take second of measure of sour cream and spread a thin layer over cheesecake.
Top with berries and adorn in whatever manner you’d like. The sour cream layer acts as a cement for the berries to stay in place, and adds a lightness that further complements the richness of the cheesecake.