Key Lime Cheesecake for Shavuot

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Key lime cheesecake
Key lime cheesecake (Photo by Jessica Grann)

By Jessica Grann

I’ve never had the pleasure of buying a quality key lime pie from a kosher bakery or restaurant. When I started to have a craving for a slice, I knew that I was going to have to make it at home, but I wanted to do something a little different. I took my basic cheesecake recipe (which uses lemon) and tweaked it into a key lime cheesecake — and I have to say that I’m incredibly happy with how this turned out.

It took a few attempts to get the natural, zesty lime flavor that I was looking for. I prefer sweet but natural-tasting desserts, and this one really did it for me.

I’ve never seen actual “Key” limes for sale locally so I used the small round ones that I typically use for cooking or making margaritas. When I made the adjustments for the amount of lime juice needed it changed the texture of the cheesecake, but I was pleasantly surprised.

My regular cheesecake recipe, which I got from my mother, is incredible but dense. This version is so light that it’s more like a cheesecake mousse. You will get all of the flavor of a homemade cheesecake, but the consistency is much easier to enjoy after a large meal.

This dessert is perfect to serve over Shavuot and into the summer months when citrus desserts are extra refreshing.

Key lime cheesecake

Serves 10-12

Ingredients

Graham cracker crust:

  • 1 cup finely crushed graham crackers (1 sleeve of crackers makes 1 cup)
  • ¼ cup melted, salted butter. If you have unsalted butter, add a small pinch of sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon of cinnamon

Cheesecake filling:

  • 3 8-ounce bricks of full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, strained
  • 1 teaspoon lime zest, gently packed
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature

Lime slices and whipped cream for garnish, optional

Prepare the crust first. Either hand crush the graham crackers by placing them in a large plastic storage bag and going over them with a rolling pin, or throw them in the food processor. If there are any larger pieces left intact, crumble them with your fingers.

Place the crushed graham crackers in a small bowl and mix in the melted butter, sugar and cinnamon.

Mix/pulse the ingredients to get a light, almost sandy texture. The graham cracker mixture should hold together when pressed down but just barely. If it isn’t holding together, you can add an extra tablespoon of melted butter.

The crust can be prepared ahead of time and left on the counter until you’re ready to bake.

Preheat your oven to 325 F, and place the oven rack in the center of the oven.

Pour the graham cracker crumbs into a springform pan. Gently press the crumbs down with your hands, spreading them evenly across the bottom of the pan to create a crust. Bring the crust up the side of the pan slightly for extra stability when cutting slices later.

Bake for 8-10 minutes and remove from the oven.

While the crust is baking, mix the cheesecake batter. I have not seen much difference between using a whisk or a paddle attachment here and lately, I’ve been using a hand mixer instead of my stand mixer.

Add the cream cheese to your mixer bowl and mix on medium-low for 2 minutes until smooth. Add the sugar, lime juice and lime zest, and mix for another minute before adding the eggs, one at a time. As soon as the yellow of the egg yolk looks mixed into the batter, add the next egg. Once blended, turn the speed up to medium and mix for another minute.

Stop the mixer, scrape the bowl down and mix again on low speed for one more minute. You may see some small lumps even if it’s well mixed — they will bake into the cheesecake so don’t worry about them.

Cut two pieces of foil that are larger than your springform pan and also large enough to come completely up the side of the pan. Fold one up and turn the edges over to make a rim around the edge of the baking pan and repeat with the second layer.

Boil 6-8 cups of water.

Place the springform pan (with foil) into a stable baking pan or dish that is larger than the springform pan and is also level.

Gently pour the batter over the graham cracker crust. Use a rubber spatula to even out the batter and smooth the top.

A Bain Marie (water bath) works well with this version of the recipe and I think that it helped with the mousse-like consistency. I also didn’t have any cracks and the cheesecake stayed pale in color after being baked.

Pour the boiling water into the bottom pan so that it comes at least halfway up the side of the springform pan.

Be extra careful when putting this into the oven because the water is boiling.

After placing the cheesecake with Bain Marie, close the oven door, turn the heat down to 300, and bake for 55-60 minutes or until firm. You can tell that it’s done when it looks firm but there is a slight wobble to the cheesecake, like when you make quiche.

Turn the oven off, crack the door and allow the cheesecake to rest for an hour.

After an hour, pull the pans out to continue cooling on the counter. At this point, take the springform pan out of the Bain Marie. You can also loosen the foil around the springform pan because that retains heat.

Once it’s completely cool — which could take 2-3 hours — run a sharp knife around the edges and then release the spring on the pan. I prefer to leave the springform sides around the cake while refrigerating to support it and protect it from anything else that may fall onto it. I place a large dinner plate over the pan and refrigerate overnight. Avoid plastic wrap at this point — it will ruin the finish of the cheesecake.

It is important to let this rest in the refrigerator overnight for the best consistency, so make this the day before you plan to serve it.

You can add thinly sliced limes as a garnish with whipped cream. Fresh mint and strawberries also pair well with it. Canned whipped cream melts quickly, so if you’re using store-bought, put it on each slice immediately before serving. Homemade whipped cream holds up much better, so you could decorate the cake several hours before the meal and store it in the fridge. Either way, keep this refrigerated until immediately before serving.

This cheesecake keeps well in the refrigerator for 3-4 days and freezes well if wrapped in several layers of plastic wrap and is frozen on a baking pan. That will keep it level and in good condition.

Wishing you an inspiring holiday of Shavuot! Enjoy and bless your hands!

Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.

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