From our food contributor, Shaina Olmanson.
Strawberry season where I live comes late. We wait until June, patiently watching as the tufts of green leaves poke through the dirt and then expand. Little white flowers with soft petals and fuzzy yellow centers come next, singing in the May breeze.
When the berries finally arrive there is a fevered rush to fill as many flats as possible with sun-warmed berries. I enlist my kids as field workers, promising them they can eat the literal fruits of their labor. We spend early mornings on our knees between the rows of fragrant plants, lifting leaves to find the glistening reward beneath.
As we carry our prizes home, I make lists of all the things to do with them. I clean and freeze as many as possible for use in smoothies. I make a few jars of jam to get us through the next year. Sometimes I make a few varieties, combining spring berry and rhubarb or vanilla beans before tucking them away on a shelf. I stuff several heaping cups of berries in between pastry crust and freeze those, too, to be pulled out after the berries are long gone. Plenty are eaten straight from the flat, still warm from being on the plant in the sun. Still others get made into sauce or baked into doughnuts or stirred into muffin mix.
Before I know it, strawberry season has come and gone, and I am left waiting for it to appear again. The fleeting weeks in June that always signaled the true beginning of my Midwestern summer.
Cheesecake is a family favorite, requested for birthdays and family gatherings. Here it gets a bit of swirl treatment over the top and is baked into bars. Cheesecake bars are great for swirling strawberries because the low profile means more berry-to-cheese ratios without having to add it directly to the center, and this dessert that usually requires a fork becomes finger food at backyard barbecues.
- 3 cups graham cracker crumbs
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1 stick butter, melted
- 4 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
- 1⅔ cups sugar
- ¼ cup arrowroot
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup cream
- 2 cups sliced strawberries
- ¼ cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- Preheat your oven to 350ºF.
- In a medium bowl, mix together the graham cracker crumbs and the granulated sugar. Add in the melted butter and stir to combine until all the crumbs are coated and moist.
- Pour the crumbs into a 9x13" cake pan. Using your hand or the bottom of a flat-bottomed glass, press the crumbs tightly into the pan to cover the bottom evenly.
- In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the cream cheese until smooth. Beat in the sugar and arrowroot powder until thick and creamy. Then add the vanilla and eggs, beating after each egg until incorporated. Stir in the cream.
- Pour the mix into the crust and use a spatula to spread it evenly.
- In a medium saucepan, mix together the strawberries, sugar, and water. Simmer over medium-high heat until thick and syrupy. Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth. Spoon tablespoons of strawberry syrup over the cheesecake topping. Using a long skewer or a thin knife, run it through the cake to create swirls. You can make a pattern or swirl it randomly.
- Place a baking pan with 2 cups of water in the oven under the cheesecake to create steam. Bake for 55 minutes or until cooked through but still slightly wobbly. Turn the oven off, prop the door open, and allow it to cool slowly.
- Transfer the cooled cheesecake from the oven to the refrigerator. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.