Heidi came to visit us at the beach to get away from the blazing heat of Missoula, MT! Lucky us! We got to have her lovely company for several days, and she brought huckleberries. I know I have expressed my infatuation with huckleberries here already, but without fail their fragrance makes me ecstatic. Part of the excitement is that they are truly a seasonal fruit—one that you can find only in the summer, and only in specific parts of the country. They aren’t grown commercially, must be handpicked, and we have to share them with Grizzly bears—what could be more exciting than that?
The berries that Heidi brought this time were so sweet we ate the first few raw, popping them one after another into our mouths. Though it seems nearly impossible to improve their flavor, huckleberries are transformed when warmed up with a taste of sugar and a pinch of cinnamon, and when cozied up next to something creamy. Cheesecake is the perfect accompaniment!
I have made this cheesecake so many times I’ve lost track of where it came from originally, and have made some small changes over the years. It is a recipe that begs to take on the personality of its maker. While cheesecake is easy to make, you can’t hurry it. It is not a dessert that you whip up to bring to a picnic later that afternoon. It has to cool completely, and in stages. I learned that the hard way when, years ago, I brought a still cooling cheesecake to a BBQ and had to serve it in bowls (embarrassing, but still good—in a soupy kind of way). From start to finish you have to take your time. Adding the ingredients in the right order, beating the mixture until it is smooth, baking the cake slowly, letting it gently cool in the oven with the door ajar, cooling it on the counter, chilling it overnight–these steps are all essential to making the creamiest, dreamiest cake imaginable. The good thing is that most of the time it takes to make this cake is passive. While the cake is baking/cooling you can take a nap, read a book, do a hundred sit-ups, write a letter, plant some vegetables, do the dishes, and/or call your mother.
There are many ways to make this cheesecake year round. You can easily substitute any other berry for the huckleberries, or serve it with roasted fruits such as peaches, apricots, figs, or cherries. Substitute gingersnap or chocolate wafer cookie crumbs for the graham cracker crumbs, and add spices, coconut, citrus zest, finely chopped nuts, candied ginger, or cocoa nibs to make the crust your own.
My ancient springform pan finally gave out and I bought a new “push pan” for this post. The new pan has no spring attachment, which is great because it won’t break, but though it claims to be leak-proof, it was not. It may have been a case of user error? I almost cried when the crust was a bit soggy in places, but miraculously the moist bits disappeared. Next time, and for sure if using a springform pan, I’ll wrap the bottom and sides (about half way up) with a double layer of aluminum foil.
Sliced at cool room temperature. A bit more ragged than if I’d cut it straight out of the refrigerator. See below for a sleeker cut.