Strawberry Cheesecake with Oreo Crust

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a new farm wife, it’s this: People will help you with a whole lot of hard work if you’re willing to provide tasty food at the end of it.

This weekend we brought our cow/calf pairs home from the pasture, where they have been grazing since June. Our pasture is three miles straight north of the farm, so we always try to have plenty of help on hand to make sure the cattle don’t try to get into any unfenced fields and stay on the road as we walk them home. When things go smoothly, it can be a fun and rewarding experience, but if you have to spend the afternoon chasing rogue cows in, it can prove extremely frustrating and time-consuming.

This year, we had 15 family members and friends commit to helping us take the cows home, so I knew we’d have some hungry farmhands to feed. I went straight to my mother-in-law for her famous roast beef sandwich recipe, and with a handful of good ol’ fashioned Midwestern side dishes (think cheesy hash brown potatoes, caramel rolls and Snicker salad), I knew our helpers would be fed well. But something was missing from my menu: A super-decadent dessert that can only be justified after you’ve spent all morning burning calories chasing cattle.

Enter this glorious strawberry glazed cheesecake with an Oreo crust.

This cheesecake would be delicious on its own, sans strawberries and glaze. It’s rich, velvety and utterly luscious. But adding the whole strawberries with the strawberry glaze makes it extra special, both in taste and appearance. This cheesecake earned me distinct praise by my sister, who told me she thought it was the best baked item I’ve ever made (and I’ve made quite a few!), and by one of our best friends, who thought I bought it at the store.

Making a fabulous cheesecake isn’t hard, but here are a few secrets to avoid any mishaps along the way. First and foremost, make sure your cream cheese is at room temperature. Food safety experts recommend leaving cream cheese out no longer than 2 hours at room temperature to soften, but many bakers I follow recommend leaving cream cheese out much longer than that to properly soften. Whatever you do, just make sure the cream cheese is soft enough that a butter knife can cut through it with little resistance. To bring eggs to room temperature, cover them with warm water and allow them to soak for a few minutes until they are no longer cool to the touch. Bringing these two ingredients to room temperature will make the cheesecake batter creamy and help you avoid over-mixing, which can cause cracks on the top of the cheesecake.

If your springform pan is not leak-proof, be sure to wrap heavy-duty foil tightly around the outside of the pan to prevent a watery mess. Water baths are often used to help bake cheesecakes at an even temperature and prevent cracks. If using a water bath, make sure to tightly wrap your pan, place in a large roasting pan with 2-inch sides, and then add the water halfway up the pan.

While you don’t want to open your oven door while baking the cheesecake, you do want to check it at the minimum recommended baking time – in this recipe, that would be 70 minutes. The cheesecake will be ready to be removed from the oven when the center looks almost set, but wobbles slightly in the middle when shaken. Resist the temptation to use a knife to check for doneness to avoid cracks.

I’d also advise using regular cream cheese and sour cream instead of reduced-fat or fat-free products, as this recipe was developed using full-fat ingredients. If you need to find some farm work to burn off calories before making this cheesecake, I know of a farmer who would accept free labor.

To serve, slice the cold cheesecake with a warm, clean, dry knife. Use a squeeze bottle to drizzle any leftover glaze onto a dessert plate in whatever design you desire. Serve and enjoy!

Strawberry Cheesecake with Oreo Crust

Ingredients
Crust:

2 c. Oreo cookies with cream center removed, finely ground (2 sleeves)
¼ c. butter, melted
2 Tbsp. sugar

Cheesecake:
4 8-oz. packages cream cheese, room temperature
1-2/3 c. sugar
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. salt
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 egg yolks, room temperature
1-½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
¼ c. sour cream

Strawberry Glaze/Topping
1 c. frozen strawberries, thawed
1 pint fresh small strawberries, washed and hulled
3 Tbsp. water
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. cornstarch
Red food coloring

Directions
Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Boil water for water bath.

Mix together the cookie crumbs, melted butter and 2 Tablespoons sugar and press into a greased 9” springform pan. Set crust aside.

In a large bowl, beat together cream cheese, sugar, flour and salt until smooth. If using a stand mixer, mix on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition. Mix in the vanilla and sour cream until completely smooth.

Place the springform pan in a larger roasting pan. If cheesecake pan is not leakproof, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water. Fill the roasting pan with boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan.

Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 70 to 80 minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool on a cooling rack to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or overnight.

Strawberry Glaze: Puree frozen strawberries in a small food processor or with an immersion blender. Press blended strawberries through a fine mesh strainer in to a small saucepan. Add water.

In a small bowl, mix together sugar and cornstarch. Stir into the puree in saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue cooking and stirring until thickened and clear. Add food coloring. Cool to room temperature.

Arrange strawberries in a single layer around the cooled cheesecake. Drizzle cooled glazed evenly over strawberries on cheesecake. Store, covered, in refrigerator.

Source: Adapted slightly from http://www.barbarabakes.com/2013/04/strawberry-cheesecake-with-an-oreo-cookie-crust/

Cherish the Experience

Farmer Dan likes to remind me that, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”

I’ll admit, it’s been a hard lesson to learn for a strong-willed youngest child who likes to have control over her surroundings and never quite mastered the art of patience. So I suppose it’s only fitting that I end up on a farm, where there’s little I can control.

Not the weather.

Not the breakdowns.

Certainly not the time when the farmer makes it in for dinner. That was one of the first of many hard lessons I learned when I became a farm wife, and boy, has our marriage been happier ever since. I also learned that dinner actually means supper and it can be served at 5 p.m. or 11 p.m. or any time in between – but it only counts if meat is involved. And by meat, I mean beef.

Even though I’m slowly learning to accept that life on the farm is going to be as unpredictable as it is wonderful, the last month has been one of those challenging times when I am again reminded that I am not in control. It started with the lawn mower, when a hard-to-replace bearing broke, leaving the mower stuck right next to the side of the road where it sat for nearly a month as we scrambled to find a part.

Then the dishwasher motor burned out. There was an electrical malfunction with the lighting in our house. The tractor’s air conditioning went out. The hay continually got rained on. And when the bearing was finally fixed on the mower, the transmission went out, effectively turning the mower into scrap metal.

Of course, every farmer has a trick or two up his sleeve when it comes to making the best of a situation. When Dan called and told me that he had a solution to our mowing tribulations, I admittedly was thinking more along the lines of a repairman than the replacement heifers we brought home for pregnancy checking partitioned by some temporary electric fence. But I have to give credit where credit’s due- the lawn looked better than it had all month.

If these mishaps have taught me one thing, it’s that farmers have remarkable levels of patience and the wonderful ability to turn troubles into blessings. Too much rain means longer pasture life for the cows and healing for ground still affected from the drought in 2012. Long grass means a strong root system. A hot tractor cab must mean sweating off a few pounds, so could we have extra steak for dinner, please?

I’ve often wondered how farmers can remain so optimistic even as they face tremendous uncertainty and difficulty. No matter how much they plan, something is bound to go wrong almost every day. An animal gets sick, it rains too much or too little, equipment breaks down, or the frost comes too soon. But I’ve come to realize that farming’s not just a job, it’s a way of life. And you can worry about the little things, or you can appreciate the adventure and enjoy every second of the farm life.

Patience will probably never come naturally to me, and my days of list-making and planning are far from over. But there’s a reason I met and married a farmer. If anybody could teach me how to let go of the small stuff and just cherish the experience, it’s my farmer. And that’s something I’m counting on.