With a phyllo and nut topping drenched in a cinnamon and cognac flavored syrup, this cheesecake takes its inspiration from traditional baklava. Phyllo is also used as the pastry in place of the usual cheesecake cookie crust, and completely encases the honey sweetened filling. Try not to skimp on using cognac or a good brandy. You can normally purchase a small 50ml size from liquor stores if you don’t want to make a larger investment.
Baklava cheesecake is a bit labor intensive and may appear difficult to make. But if you plan ahead and take one step at a time you’ll find it’s not hard to do and will be worth the time and effort. The main trick is having patience when working with phyllo pastry as it is delicate, tears easily, and will dry out if not kept covered.
Phyllo Pastry, or Filo Dough, is normally found in a grocers frozen section and is sold in 1-pound boxes, and are typically about 12 inches by 17 inches in size. You will need one 1-pound box for this recipe.
To clarify butter: melt and simmer the butter in a saucepan over low heat for a few minutes. Skim off and discard the white layer that forms on top. Let the butter sit and cool for about 5 minutes to allow the milk solids to sink to the bottom of the pan. Carefully spoon out the clear (clarified) butter into a small bowl. If you think you’ve accidently scooped out some of the milk solids from the bottom, strain the clarified butter through a piece of cheesecloth to remove the solids. Discard the milk solids.
4 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup clover honey
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
6 large eggs, room temperature
Tip: Use a citrus juicer for freshly squeezed juice.
Phyllo Pastry Crust:
8 phyllo pastry sheets (Filo Dough) 12x17 inches
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, clarified
Phyllo and Nut Topping:
½ cup walnuts, fine to coarsely chopped
½ cup blanched almonds, fine to coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
10 phyllo pastry sheets (Filo Dough)
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, clarified
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cinnamon stick, 2 to 3 inches in length
1 tablespoon cognac or other brandy
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare one 10 inch round cheesecake pan or springform pan with 3-inch sides; use a pastry brush to lightly butter the pan with some of the clarified butter to be used in the Phyllo Pastry Crust.
- In a large bowl, add the cream cheese; mix on medium low speed with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add the honey, lemon juice, and vanilla extract; continue beating on medium low speed until thoroughly combined, about 1 minute.
- Add eggs, two at a time, beating after each addition; Tip: crack the eggs into a small bowl and whisk with a fork to thoroughly break up the egg before adding to the cheese mixture.
Tip: Do not overbeat the cheesecake batter. Blend the ingredients quickly to add as few air bubbles as possible. The ingredients must be well blended, but excessive beating creates too many air pockets which can cause the cheesecake to puff up too much during baking, and then crack during the cooling process.
- Let the filling rest while preparing the pastry to allow air bubbles to rise to the surface.
Phyllo Pastry Crust:
- Place a large piece of waxed paper on your countertop to catch butter drips and make cleanup easier. Lay one phyllo pastry sheet on the waxed paper with the long edge parallel to the edge of the work surface, and cover the remaining unused phyllo sheets with a damp kitchen towel to prevent them from drying out. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush clarified butter on one half of the pastry sheet from long edge to long edge. Fold the top unbuttered half over onto the buttered half. Brush the top of the pastry with butter. Gently place the pastry sheet in the prepared springform pan buttered side up with a 5-inch overhang. (The pastry should lay across the bottom of the pan, up the side, and have about a 5-inch overhang.) Cover pan and pastry with another damp towel to keep from drying out.
- Butter and fold another pastry sheet in the same way and place in pan, overlapping the first sheet by about 3 inches. Repeat with 6 more pastry sheets. Remember to keep unused pastry sheets covered with a damp towel, and to keep pastry lined pan covered with another damp towel.
- Wrap remaining phyllo sheets airtight in their original wrapping or plastic wrap and store in refrigerator until ready to use for topping.
- Place the phyllo lined pan on a baking sheet with ½ inch sides to catch any leakage. Briefly stir filling to reblend; Pour the filling into the crust. Gently fold the pastry overhang over the filling and gently press down to make a flat surface. Bake 50 to 60 minutes.
Tip: The Cheesecake is done when the phyllo pastry has puffed a little and is a light golden brown. The edges of the filling underneath should be set but the center 2 to 3 inches are still a pool of liquid batter. The filling will still be soft and jiggly when the pan is lightly jarred or tapped with a spoon.
- Remove from oven, place springform pan on a wire cooling rack to cool. Immediately run a thin knife around the edge of the pan, gently pressing into the side of the pan to avoid gouging the cake. This allows the cake to contract away from the sides of the pan as it cools, helping to prevent cracks. Use a toothpick to poke several holes in the top of the phyllo pastry to allow steam to escape.
- When cheesecake is completely cooled, cover the pan and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours before adding the Phyllo and Nut topping.
Phyllo and Nut Topping:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare 1 large rimmed baking sheet; line with 2 sheets of parchment paper.
- In a medium mixing bowl, combine chopped walnuts and almonds, sugar, and cinnamon; stir together to mix. Set aside.
- Carefully loosen and remove the sides of the springform pan from the chilled cheesecake, cover and return cheesecake to refrigerator. Wash and dry the side of the springform pan. Place pan on the baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Use a permanent marker and draw around the inside of the rim, then turn the paper over so you can see the marking thru the paper.
- Remove reserved phyllo pastry sheets from refrigerator. Stack 10 pastry sheets on a large cutting board. Place the rim of the springform pan on top of the pastry stack and using a sharp kitchen knife cut around the inside rim of the pan and through the entire pastry stack, making 10 pastry rounds. Discard pastry scraps or wrap tightly and refrigerate to use for another project. Cover the pastry rounds with a damp kitchen towel. Tip: Press firmly down on springform pan while cutting so it doesn’t slip.
- Lightly Brush the parchment paper inside the markings with clarified butter. Place one pastry round on the buttered parchment using the markings to place the pastry sheet. Place another pastry round on top of the first one, carefully lining up the edges, and brush the top with butter. Repeat with three more pastry rounds. Spread the nut mixture evenly over the top of the pastry stack. Top with remaining 5 pastry rounds, brushing the top of each with butter. Tip: place the springform pan on the pastry stack to spread the nut mixture, and then remove the pan to finish the remainder of the stack.
- When the pastry stack is completed, use a sharp kitchen knife and cut the pastry into 16 wedges, using a ruler as a guide.
- Butter the inside of the springform pan with remaining clarified butter, and place over the pastry stack. The stack should fit neatly inside the rim of the springform pan.
- Bake topping until the pastry is crisp and golden, about 30 minutes. While topping is baking make syrup and prepare cheesecake for assembly.
- Meanwhile, during the last 10 minutes of the Phyllo and Nut topping baking time, prepare the syrup. In a small heavy saucepan, add the sugar, water, and lemon juice. Stir over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add the cinnamon stick, increase the heat to medium and boil and stir until mixture reaches 225 degrees on an instant read thermometer, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat. When bubbling subsides, stir in cognac. Return pan to low heat to keep hot until ready to use. Let cinnamon stick remain in syrup until ready to pour over cake.
- Just before Phyllo and Nut topping is finished baking, remove chilled cheesecake from refrigerator. Flatten the pastry crust that is atop the cheesecake. Remove baked Phyllo and Nut Topping from oven, and remove the springform rim. Use a large spatula or cake lifter and gently place the Phyllo and Nut topping on top of the cheesecake. Recut the wedges in the topping. Replace the pan rim on the assembled cake, and immediately pour the hot syrup evenly over the topping. Cool about 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate 1 to 6 hours before serving.
Source: Fairchild, Barbara, bon appetit Desserts, Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2010
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