Oh, hello! Forgive me for my month-long disappearance. That doesn't mean I haven't been baking! Instead it means I've been too busy having fun and haven't found the time to sit down (at my new macbook!!) to write. I made this cheesecake for a "Match Day" party for some friends of mine in medical school, which was over a month ago. I can't figure out where the time has gone, but I have some delicious recipes to share from the past month. This post is going to be a little different than others because I'm writing it as a review instead of a recipe. Julie's recipe is perfect as written, so instead of writing about how I'd improve the recipe, I'm writing about my experience making it, with the hope of inspiring you to give it a try!
Make the picturesque Clementine Mousse Cheesecake from Willow Bird Baking. With a crust of golden Oreos and a layer of cheesecake topped with clementine mousse, I feel in love with Julie's picture of the cheesecake long before I printed the recipe with the intention of making it. Every time I passed the clementines in the produce section, I salivated thinking about this cheesecake. The first opportunity I had to take "a dish to pass," I knew this was "the one."
In case you haven't been to the grocery store lately, it's still clementine season. It always seemed odd that the "season" for a citrus fruit would be winter. Sort of like how I always thought it was weird that my Christmas stocking at grandma's house always contained a tangerine (with nuts and a toothbrush). The Christmas tradition is supposed to stem from citrus being a rare treat in the wintertime. Citrus fruit in the winter is also a great way to prevent scurvy (most animals can synthesize their own Vitamin C, but humans can't--and we think we're so great). Preventing scurvy is a great way to rationalize making (and eating) more cheesecake!
Clementines are extra sweet and juicy. Their flavor is a little different than oranges. Their thin skin makes them ideal for candied clementines because they are easy to chew. However, their thin skin makes them a little difficult to zest and juice because they are flimsy. They are less acidic than many other citrus fruits. A fruit with lower acidity is important because acid curdles dairy products. If you don't believe me, here's what my Clementine Curd looked like before heating:
The crust for this cheesecake is made of golden Oreos. I have a slight addiction to golden chocolate Oreos, so naturally I was excited to make a golden Oreo crust. I had trouble making the crust tall enough. It would have been best to line the entire 9" springform pan with crust (meaning the crust should be as tall as the sides of the pan). I should have been more prudent while making the crust, but I was lazy and patted it in, so it wasn't nearly tall enough. One warning for the health conscious, the mystery substance that seeps out of the pan while baking is a little alarming. You might not ever eat Oreos again if you start wondering what they mystery substance is doing to your arteries when you eat Oreos. For that reason, I think I would make a graham cracker crust next time. I also recommend lining the drip pan with foil for easy cleanup.
I can't describe the cheesecake layer because I was so overwhelmingly in love with the mousse. A fair warning: when it comes out of the oven, you will wonder where your mousse is going to go. However, as it cools, the cake will fall, leaving the perfect amount of space for the mousse. This does mean the cheesecake itself is a bit dense. I baked the cheesecake at 325 degrees instead of 350 as written in the recipe. The lightest, fluffiest cheesecake recipe I've ever made bakes about 90 minutes at 300 degrees. It takes longer, but if you have the time, it's worth it.
The clementine curd almost discouraged me from making the entire dessert. By no means is it hard to make, but I never liked lemon curd, so I figured I wouldn't like clementine curd. Quite the opposite. If given the chance, I would eat this by the spoonful. I froze the leftovers but haven't decided how I want to eat it. I'm thinking about stirring it into greek yogurt or using it as a spread for pound cake. The juicing and zesting takes some patience. I used the tiny little Cuties clementines that come in the red mesh bags. To save time, buy the larger clementines that come in wood boxes. The only tricky part about making the curd is knowing when it's thick enough. Go with your gut. Stop when you think it's spreadable.
Gelatin, what's that? This was my first time trying to dissolve gelatin. First, I tried gelatin and water in a small saucepan over flame. I quickly discovered this was not the way to dissolve gelatin because it quickly started to boil. Gelatin is made up of the protein collagen, so if you boil it, it denatures the protein and your dish won't set (it's like egg--once you cook it, there's no going back). Other than dissolving the gelatin, the only tricky step is whipping the cream to stiff peaks. Practice makes perfect. I prefer using a handheld mixer over a stand mixer for whipping cream because it whips more slowly and because I can easily test it to see how stiff the peaks are as I whip.
I anticipated this being the easiest step, so I started it last. Boiling them is easy, drying them should be easy. I had trouble getting them to dry. I baked them on a cooling rack at 250 degrees for an hour and they were still dripping. I left them on the counter overnight then stuck them back in the oven (off but with the pilot light lit) and headed to the lab for the day. When I got home they were still a little sticky, but I needed to take the cheesecake to a party in 15 minutes, so I just threw them on top. I never even got to the step where you dredge them in sugar (which is my way of saying I forgot, oops). My friends devoured the candied clementine even though they were Abby-style (incorrectly prepared). No harm, no foul.
Discussion and future directions
This cheesecake is heavenly. The light, fluffy clementine mousse with its sweet citrus flavor is spectacular. It was a refreshing end to a good-ole Wisconsin (albeit in Missouri) cookout: beer brats, baked beans and some form of mayonnaise-laden salad (in this case, broccoli salad). It's rich, so I suggest making it when you have plenty of people to help eat it. If you have leftovers, tightly wrap individual slices and freeze them. I took the leftovers to my family back in Wisconsin when I visited over spring break. When I got back to St. Louis, I got a text message from my brother telling me how good the cheesecake was (a text message from my brother is rare, so that's how I know it was good). I didn't think I could top the SoNo Baking Company Raspberry Pistachio Cheesecake I made for my birthday, but I did.
The most important consideration with this recipe is time management. The candied clementine and clementine curd can be made a few days ahead of time. I would make them both ahead of time. If you make them the same day, you'll be done with the clementines and only have to clean up a juicy, orange mess once. The cheesecake needs to be made the day before to give it sufficient time to cool, plus, more time is always better for full development of the flavor of cheesecake. The mousse could be made early the same day, but I suggest making it the night before. Read through the full recipe and plan your time efficiently (two steps I always skip and always regret skipping).
I headed to the grocery store at 5:30 pm on Thursday, with the intention of serving the cake at 4:30 on Friday afternoon. When the cheesecake was cooling, I headed to the gym. Luckily I got sucked into I Know What You Did Last Summer and stayed on the treadmill for over an hour, and then did an hour of abs and stretching. Even so, the cheesecake was still cooling when I got home. I whipped up the mousse and started the candied clementines. I finally put the cheesecake in the fridge at 1:45 am and left the candied clementines on the counter overnight. I can't tell you how many times I thought "This better be the most amazing cheesecake in the world for all the work required." Turns out, it was amazing and absolutely worth the extra effort. Plan your time wisely and it will probably taste even better!