Did someone say cheesecake?

That word sparked my attention recently on Facebook when Lawrence County District Attorney’s Office detective Matthew Vanasco posted a picture of a swirly blueberry cheesecake that at first glance looked like a fine painting.

I thought maybe a mom or lady friend of his made it, and jokingly, I asked him in an online comment to save me a piece. His response was, “stop by my office.” Turns out he did save me a piece, and I learned that he baked the masterpiece himself. It not only looked beautiful, but it tasted, to quote him, “divine.”

He baked it in a 13-by-9 inch pan and cut it in smaller squares so all of his friends and co-workers could sample his achievement. I learned that he is quite the baker, in addition to being a rugged outdoorsman, tough-guy cop and good detective.

Since it’s blueberry season and it’s hard for any cheese lovers to resist an offer of cheesecake, I asked him if he would share the recipe and he obliged. As it turns out, he used a Philadelphia/New York-style Strawberry Swirl Cheesecake recipe  that calls for Philadelphia-brand cream cheese. It contains strawberry jam, but instead, Vanasco substituted used blueberry pie filling. It worked well. 

Cheesecake has always been a favorite of mine to make. It’s forgiving, because if the top cracks or doesn’t come out right, you can always cover it with decorations or whipped cream. I like to use a mixture of 1 cup of sour cream with a 1/2 cup of sugar, spread on top and baked for five more minutes, which seals it and adds extra richness and flavor as well.

This rich dessert has been a traditional requested for birthday parties, Christmas and other events, and it’s been a challenge to come up with different kinds of cheesecakes that are unusual and tasty and somewhat exotic.

Each year in the fall, a pumpkin cheesecake recipe surfaces, and I’ve made hazelnut cheesecakes for Christmases and chocolate cheesecakes for birthdays. The hazelnut one is a bit of a challenge, because you have to find whole hazelnuts. I usually can find them at Rulli Brothers in Boardman. Then you toast the hazelnuts whole to remove the skins, being careful not to burn your fingers. That can sometimes be difficult. But once it’s done, it’s wonderful.

One recipe that I had to scout for online piqued my tastebuds when I shared a list on Facebook of ice cream flavors at Forbush’s and one was raspberry cheesecake. Someone asked me if I made a raspberry cheesecake, and I  never tried making that kind, so I looked for a raspberry cheesecake recipe. I found a white chocolate raspberry cheesecake recipe at allrecipes.com submitted by Cindy Catudel Shank, that calls for frozen raspberries instead of preserves.

Since Vanasco’s blueberry masterpiece was such a success, Vanasco said he also plans to try other cheesecake recipes. So until he comes up with another one, here are his adapted recipe for his blueberry swirl cheesecake, and the recipes for the hazelnut and raspberry cheesecakes.

Philadelphia New York-Style Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake

(as adapted by Matt Vanasco)

Crust

1 cup graham cracker crumbs

3  tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons melted butter

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 13x9-inch pan with foil with ends of it extending over the sides. Mix together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and butter and pres into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake 10 minutes. Leave oven turned on. 

Filling

5 8-ounce packages Philadelphia cream cheese

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons flour

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 cup sour cream

4 eggs

1/3 cup blueberry pie filling

Beat cream cheese, 1 cup of sugar, flour and vanilla with mixer until blended. Add sour cream and mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing on low speed adfter each until just blended. Pour over crust. Gently drop small spoonfuls of blueberry filling over batter and gently swirl with a knife. 

Bake 40 minutes or until center is nearly set. Cool completely. Refrigerate four hours or overnight. Use foil handles to lift cheesecake from pan before cutting to serve.

Hazelnut cheesecake

Toast and remove skins from 2 cups of whole hazelnuts. Reserve 1/2 cup for crust and about 20 whole nuts for decorating the top.

Crust:

1 cup ground honey grahams

1/2 cup ground hazelnuts

1 stick melted butter

Press into greased 9-inch springform pan, building up the sides a little. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes and cool.

Filling:

4 8-ounce packages cream cheese

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 eggs

1 cup ground or chopped hazelnuts

Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees. Cream together the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla. Beat in four eggs, one at a time, then stir in 1 cup ground or chopped hazelnuts. Pour into baked crust and bake for about 2 hours. Turn off oven and let cool for one hour in the oven with a wooden spoon propping the door open a crack. Then let cool completely at room temperature.

Decorate with whipped cream buds and whole hazelnuts. (Note, if the cake cracks you can try baking the cream cheese mixture on top before cooling.)

Can be refrigerated but cake is best served at room temperature.

White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake

(Cindy Catudal Shank/allrecipes)

Crust:

1 cup chocolate cookie crumbs

3 tablespoons white sugar

1/4 cup butter

In a medium bowl, mix together cookie crumbs, 3 tablespoons sugar, and melted butter. Press mixture into the bottom of a 9 inch springform pan. Set aside.

Raspberry sauce:

1 10-ounce package frozen raspberries

2 tablespoons white sugar

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1/2 cup water

In a saucepan, combine raspberries, 2 tablespoons sugar, cornstarch, and water. Bring to boil, and continue boiling 5 minutes, or until sauce is thick. Strain sauce through a mesh strainer to remove seeds.

Filling:

2 cups white chocolate chips

1/2 cup half-and-half cream

3 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup white sugar

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a metal bowl over a pan of simmering water, melt white chocolate chips with half-and-half, stirring occasionally until smooth.

In a large bowl, mix together cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Blend in vanilla and melted white chocolate. Pour half of batter over crust. Spoon 3 tablespoons raspberry sauce over batter. Pour remaining cheesecake batter into pan, and again spoon 3 tablespoons raspberry sauce over the top. Swirl batter with the tip of a knife to create a marbled effect.

Bake 55 to 60 minutes, or until filling is set. Cool, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8 hours before removing from pan. Serve with remaining raspberry sauce.

dwachter@ncnewsonline.com

Reporter

Debbie's been a journalist at the New Castle News since 1978, and covers county government, police and fire, New Castle schools, environment and various other realms. She also writes features, takes photos and video and copy edits.

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