Blackberry Lemon Verbena Cheesecake, and all that Americana

If I could rewind, I would not have inquiringly flipped the latch on my springform pan causing the liquid contents to ooze slowly, unstoppably out. Slow as molasses, equally as messy, and just as painful to watch.  If you are one of those people who chirps about reframing things, you might call this a teachable moment.  I am not that together most of the time.  

In fact, sometimes I land on the side of catastrophizing, so I'm deeming this incident The Great Cream Cheese Flood of 2012.  I stood just staring at the puddle of cheesecake on my floor for quite a while. Yes, on a Tuesday, at roughly 9 pm, a good deal of wasted dairy threatened to take me down.

After I cleaned bits of eggy cream cheese from my cabinet doors, floor, and the crevice between my stove and sink and collected myself, I got to work on round two.  Ding ding ding … The Cheesecake: 1, Emily: 0

I intended to make dessert for a fourth of July party and it would have been simply un-American to show up cheesecakeless.  We are fighters.  We love Rocky Balboa.  We wear tiny cutoff shorts with the pockets showing.  We get red-faced about second Amendment rights.  We are a people that love dessert.  And so I went back to the grocery store, and reloaded.

Thus, this is not a cheesecake for weaklings.  There seems to be a good deal of praise devoted to cheesecakes that are "light" and "airy." This is all fine and good and could probably be labeled “progressive.” I do not want a cheesecake like this. I want one that is thick and luscious.  One that will knock me out with her American thighs.  And this cheesecake is all of those things.

A sliver is all you need to feel wholeheartedly satisfied.  The cake is simple and honest and I love it for sentimental reasons.  The base recipe I used comes from my Great Aunt Rose.  It won me over as a favorite dessert at family holiday gatherings a few years ago. And when I asked her for the recipe she said, “It’s good.  But it’s a pain in the ass.”  And then forked it over. It’s actually not too terribly difficult to make, but you do have to pay attention to it. And if you open your springform pan prematurely you may find yourself swearing like a sailor.

I added the blackberries because I wanted something to cut through its richness.  And though I’m not usually a fan of their big, brutish drupelets, the container I picked up and sniffed smelled slightly of cassis and this was enough to change my mind.  So with a newly found vision of cold cheesecake topped with a crown of glossy blackberries, I came back swinging.

And number two, oh she was a knockout. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how many dropped cheesecakes you can take, and keep baking.

Blackberry Lemon Verbena Cheesecake
Adapted from Aunt Rose


For the crust

1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
¼ cup sugar
the zest of one lemon
pinch of salt
pinch of ground ginger
pinch of ground coriander
½ cup butter
1 egg yolk
a generous ½ tsp vanilla extract

For the filling

40 ounces cream cheese (5 packages), softened to room temperature
a generous ½ tsp vanilla extract
the zest of one lemon
1¾ cup sugar
3 tbsp all purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
4-5 eggs (1 liquid cup full), at room temperature
2 egg yolks, at room temperature
¼ cup heavy cream
splash of orange blossom water

For the blackberry top

about 25 ounces of blackberries (or roughly 3-4 cups), divided
2-4 tbsp lemon juice (depending on how sweet the berries are, start off with less)
about 1/3 cup of sugar (also depends on the sweetness of the berries)
pinch of salt
2 tbsp Crème de Cassis
3 sprigs of lemon verbena


For the cheesecake

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the first six ingredients for the crust in a medium-sized bowl and then cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly.  Add in the vanilla and egg yolk; mix until the mixture is fully moist. (It may help to do this with your hands.)  Place a little more than 1/3 of the mixture into the bottom of a nine inch springform pan and bake until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes.  Let cool.  (If it's hot in your kitchen you may want to put the rest of the mixture into the fridge while the bottom bakes.)

When the bottom crust has cooled, lock in the sides of the springform pan; butter the sides, and press the rest of the crust mixture from the bottom up the sides, up to about one inch in height. (Not all of the cheesecake will be covered with crust; see a side view of the finished cheesecake here.)

To make the filling, beat the softened cream cheese until creamy and velvety smooth in a stand mixer; add the vanilla and lemon zest and then add the sugar, flour, and salt gradually while the mixer is running on low speed.  Then add the eggs one at a time, while the mixer is still running. Fold in the heavy cream and orange blossom water. Pour the mixture into your springform pan (it will nearly fill the pan; don't be alarmed).

Bake at 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes (my instructions say 12) and then turn the oven down to 300 degrees and bake for 55 minutes more.  Place on a wire rack to cool.  After 30 minutes, gently loosen the sides of the pan with a knife.  After 1 hour, remove the sides of the springform pan.  Allow to cool two hours longer before placing in the fridge to chill.

For the blackberry top

Line the top of your cheesecake with a layer of fresh berries. You can stagger and stack them a bit to create some height, but a slightly haphazard little pile is all you need. 

Place a few handfuls of the berries into a saucepan.  Add in the lemon juice, sugar, and salt and cook on medium heat until the berries start to burst and let their sauces out and then add the Crème de Cassis. Cook until the mixture starts to thicken; it should look thick and glossy, but still be spreadable (this will take about 10-15 minutes).  Add a little more lemon juice to the pan to thin out the sauce, as needed.  Once at the desired consistency, drop in your lemon verbena sprigs and take off the heat to cool slightly, about 5-10 minutes. Strain out the seeds; reserve for another use or discard.

With a pastry brush, gently brush the strained blackberry syrup-glaze over the top of the berries.  Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes one cheesecake (should feed about 12-16 people)

-I love lemon verbena in the summer. It’s a good counterpart for the blackberries and a natural here, playing off the lemon zest and ginger and coriander in the crust. I might even add it a little sooner to the pan to extract more of its flavor next time, but I wasn't sure how it would fair and I didn't want verbena to overpower things.

-You can spread the strained, sweetened seeds on toast.

-More about Crème de Cassis, including tips on how to use it courtesy of Formaggio Kitchen.  You can't go wrong with Kir in the summertime.


  1. I recently made a hefty cheesecake too (with 5 eggs as well!) and after reading about your mishap, I'm glad I decided to make it into cheesecake bars - because Lord knows I'm also the type to prematurely unspring a springform pan... This sounds luscious and rich. Keep baking indeed!

  2. i probably would have given up if that happened to me! glad you persevered to make this beauty. hope you had a nice 4th!

  3. You are a baking diva and I mean the word DIVA! A dropped cheescake would have me on the couch with a pint of ice cream...but you? You go in for round two!

  4. i rarely feel satisfied with a sliver of anything, but man, this sounds rich! i love that topping, too. and one last note: ADRIAN! :)

  5. You went back to the store? Now that is serious commitment. Cheesecake always reminds me of my grandmother, who introduced it to me. She would have loved what you say about its "American thighs."

  6. Bianca: Bars! Doh. So very, very smart!

    Daisy: I almost did give up ... but I had my heart set on cheesecake. (I probably need to get a life.) I hope you a great 4th too!

    Fun and Fearless: I had to laugh when I saw 'diva.' If being a cheesecake diva is wrong, I don't want to be right. ;)

    Grace: You had me at ADRIAN. ;)

    Lorraine: Thanks! :)

    Jess: I love how food is such a reminder of family. It warms my heart; cheers to your spunky grandmother!

  7. First of all, this looks and sounds like a killer cheesecake. Despite the obvious risk of making it and then having it call to me, Bali-Hi style, from the fridge for the rest of the week, I've pinned it to my FOOD TO TRY board on Pinterest. Secondly, bravo for your love of all-things plum-like. Every time I go to Europe I indulge my weakness for prune yogurt, which is ubiquitous in France, but not to be seen here. I have to content myself with improvised homemade. Anyway, good post and lovely photo. Ken

  8. Ken!

    The cheesecake is absolutely worth the risk, Bali-Hi and all. And prune yogurt sounds wonderful! Worth the trip alone to France. (Or a nice excuse to go, "in the name of research.") Thanks for your comment!

  9. Oh, that is just too depressing. I can totally feel the heart-racing, "Dear God what can I do to stop what I've started" feeling that comes with oozing cheesecake - it's awful! Glad you had the wherewithal to try again, this second one sounds fantastic!