Not Thanksgiving (Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake)

November 2010

We have a shared document at work called “The Inflammatory Proclamations of John G.”  It is a collection of quotes mostly originating from lunch time conversations with a huge twitter potential (we’re not there yet).  Here are a few of my favorites so far…

“Reading books inhibits the imagination.”

John: “She has two and a half kids.”
Laura: “Is one still being born?”
John: “No, one’s adopted.”

“You should spank your child daily for the things you don’t know they did but they know they did wrong.”

Before he comes across as completely backward, I submit that the inflammatory proclamations are more about the fun of arguing, and he knows we will argue against blindly spanking your child on a daily basis or referring to an adopted child as a “half.”  At his core, he is extremely intelligent and one of the most sincere people I know, as exhibited by a small gesture with a lasting impact.  After a particularly gray mood of mine, I was surprised to see a large and fragrant, white flower with a note which said, “Smile,  you look so much happier when you do.”  For that reason, I enjoy the proclamations, find entertainment in the debates and count John G. amongst the friends.

At the beginning of November, John started dropping “hints” about what he wanted for his birthday, “what kind of cake are you going to make me?  I really like cheesecake.”  The “hints” proceeded to debate the different schools of cheesecake thought that exist in the world and John’s place in those schools of thought.  I can’t recall his many criteria, but I gave it a whirl and a cranapple swirl, and after his first bite, John gave a nod of approval, which is saying A LOT in the very opinionated and resolute world of John.

Note:  the cranberries used in this cheesecake should in no way be confused with Thanksgiving.  John’s birthday is close to the holiday, but it is NOT THANKSGIVING!  Nor should it be blanketed under the same celebration, so this cake was all about the birthday.

The John G. Birthday Cheesecake

Cranberry Sauce Swirl

1 pint of fresh cranberries
3 organic green apples
½ cup brandy
Apple Cider
Juice of 1 orange (same orange that is used for zesting)
½ Tablespoon ground ginger

*This will make enough cranberry sauce for some extra helpings.  Ideal for a romantic Thanksgiving dinner for two.

7 whole organic graham crackers
1 cup lightly toasted walnuts, divided
2 tablespoons organic light brown sugar
5 tablespoons organic unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons pure almond extract
a touch of local honey
½  cup Agave syrup
2 tablespoons pure cane sugar
1 organic orange, zested


2 (8-ounce) packages organic cream cheese, at room temperature
1 (8-ounce) package of organic Neufchatel cheese
½  cup pure cane sugar
4 large free-range eggs, at room temperature
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
½  teaspoon salt
½  cup organic heavy cream


Shaved white chocolate

What To Do, What To Do

For the Cranberry-Applesauce

Prepare the fruit:  Clean the fruit.  Peel, core and chop the green apples.  Slice the cranberries in half.

Add the apples and cranberries to a medium-sized saucepan.  Add enough apple cider to cover half the volume of the fruit.  Add enough water to fully cover the fruit.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.

Simmer the fruit over medium-low heat.  As the mixture starts to thicken, mix in the fresh-squeezed orange juice, brandy and ground ginger.

When the mixture reaches a sauce consistency (with chunks remaining), remove from heat and set it aside to cool.

Once cool, blend the sauce in a food processor until smooth.  Set aside.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the graham crackers, ¾ cup of the walnuts and brown sugar in a food processor and process until finely ground.

Add the melted butter, almond extract, a few squeezes of honey and then process until the mixture just comes together.

Spray the bottom and sides of a 9-inch spring-form pan with olive oil cooking spray.

Pat the mixture evenly into the bottom of the pan, and bake until lightly golden brown and just set, about 8 minutes.

Remove to a baking rack and let cool completely.


Combine 1/4 cup of the pure cane sugar and the orange zest in a food processor and process until combined.

Place the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand fixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the orange sugar, agave syrup and pure cane sugar.  Beat again until the sugar is incorporated and the mixture is light and fluffy.

Add the eggs, 1 at a time and mix until just incorporated, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined.

Add the salt and heavy cream and mix until just combined.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan.  Scoop dollops of cranberry-applesauce in a circle around the cake.  Use a chopstick or knife to swirl the sauce into the batter.

Pour hot tap water into the roasting pan and place on the bottom rack of the oven.  Place the cake pan on the middle oven rack.

Bake until the sides of the cake are slightly puffed and set and the center still jiggles, about 55 minutes.

Turn off the oven, but leave the cake inside the oven to cool for two hours.

Cover the cake and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours until chilled through.

Top with the cranberry-apple sauce, sprinkle with the remaining toasted walnuts and garnish with white chocolate shavings [apologies that the chocolate has a grated Parmesan look, but I swear it was all chocolate].

Walk the cake to work, and wish the birthday boy a very happy day!

Most of us at work are true dorks, geeks and nerds at heart.  One of John’s more geeked out characteristics is his devotion to Superman.  To this day, he will argue whether or not Superman could take so-and-so in a fight.  With a little Photoshop magic, I turned John into the Man of Steel for his big 3-1 celebration.  Meanwhile, our lovely chemical engineer turned carbon into a special “cake” for John.

Work hard!  Play hard!

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