If the universe gives you blueberry cottage cheese, make cheesecake

Illustration for article titled If the universe gives you blueberry cottage cheese, make cheesecake
Graphic: Natalie Peeples

Recently I had an epiphany: Necessity may or may not be the mother of invention, but it is the mother of cheesecake.

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What brought about this revelation? Let’s go back.

I am somewhat addicted to cottage cheese. I eat it almost daily. It is a protein-rich addition to my breakfast, a fast snack, the thing I turn to when I am about to have a snaccident and faceplant into a bag of chips. Cottage cheese always has my back. And in general, I like it two ways: plain or with chives. Hood makes a chive cottage cheese that is really great and even comes in adorable single-serving tubs, but at the moment it’s not sold anywhere in the greater Chicagoland area. So now I DIY it and keep a small tub of freshly chopped chives in the fridge.

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But these are strange and wonderful times, and PR folks everywhere are trying to figure out how to promote their products in ways that don’t seem overly opportunistic. This means that I, a food media person whose name and mailing address is on some PR lists, receive boxes filled with samples of things for me to try and, the PR people hope, write about them. This can be fun, and luckily for me, I have plenty of pals and neighbors to donate the spoils to. Sometimes I find a winner, sometimes a dud, but most of it falls solidly in the middle. I don’t solicit these items unless I am specifically working on a piece, but if a PR person sends me an enthusiastic email about something that seems interesting, I will now and again say yes, if I think it might be useful for a future project.

My yeses have gotten more frequent of late and for entirely selfish reasons. For starters, since the COVID-19 quarantine began, I’ve had four adults in my house to keep fed and watered with no grocery shopping and minimal deliveries. I have friends and neighbors that I like to help out when I can. We are keeping a box of prepackaged snacks on our porch for mail and delivery people as a small token of our appreciation for their frontline activities. It’s nice to have an outside source for snacks. But mostly, in a time of isolation, there is something super exciting about a package to open, new treasures to uncover! Little presents are a tiny moment of joy, and I am here for that right now.

I’m getting to cheesecake, I promise.

So, when I got a reach-out from the reps for Hood asking if they might send samples, I not only said yes, I might have indicated a particular interest in the chive cottage cheese. Which they sent, glory be, and which I doled out to myself in a semi-restrained manner over the course of several days. But they also sent blueberry-flavored cottage cheese. Sweet cottage cheese is not my thing generally, so while I liked that it had good blueberry flavor and wasn’t overly sugary, I also knew I was unlikely to eat it it straight out of the carton.

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Then I remembered a German-style cheesecake I once had that was made with quark instead of cream cheese, which made it much lighter, both in terms of calories and texture. I like blueberry cheesecake. Quark is not dissimilar to cottage cheese. What happens if you make a cheesecake with blueberry cottage cheese?

What indeed.

What happens is that you end up making a really wonderful cheesecake with subtle blueberry flavor, and then you decide to amp it up with a blueberry compote, and now all the people in your house and some of your neighbors really like you.

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You can also do this with other flavors. Hood makes strawberry, pineapple, peach, and honey and pear, but other cottage cheese brands also sell fruit flavored versions—see what your local retailers carry.

And if you only have access to plain cottage cheese, you can add some lemon flavor by using the zest and juice of 1 whole lemon and upping the sugar to ¾ cup.

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Any way you try it, I promise it’ll make you as as happy as it’s made my friends and neighbors and me.


Illustration for article titled If the universe gives you blueberry cottage cheese, make cheesecake
Photo: Stacey Ballis
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Blueberry Cottage Cheesecake

Serves 8-10

  • 3 cups Hood blueberry cottage cheese, or other fruit-flavored cottage cheese of your choice (regular, not non-fat)
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt

For the crust:

  • 1½ cups graham cracker crumbs
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 6 Tbsp. butter, melted
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of cinnamon

For the blueberry compote:

  • 1 pint fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup blueberry jam (I like Bonne Maman intense fruit spread)
  • ⅓ cup dried unsweetened blueberries
  • Pinch of salt

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8" springform pan with butter.

First, make the crust: In a bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs and sugar with the salt and cinnamon until well combined. Add the melted butter and stir with a fork until you have a fluffy mixture that looks like damp sand. Dump the mixture into the springform pan and carefully press it into the bottom and up the sides. Put the lined pan into the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes.

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Put the cottage cheese into your food processor and whiz it up until it’s a super smooth puree. Add the sugar, salt, egg yolks, vanilla, lemon zest, and lemon juice and puree again until well combined. Transfer to a mixing bowl, then fold in the melted butter. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Carefully fold the whipped whites into the cheese mixture. Pour the cheese mixture into the chilled crust. Bake on a sheet pan (in case of butter seepage) for 50-60 minutes. The top should be lightly browned and the filling should be set with a little gentle wobble in the middle.

Turn off the oven and open the door a crack or prop it open with wooden spoon. Let the cake cool in the oven for another 15-20 minutes.

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Remove the cake from the oven, then run a knife around the edge and open the springform. Let cool to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge. Let sit at room temperature for 30-40 minutes before serving.

To make the blueberry compote, put the fresh blueberries, jam, and dried blueberries in a small pan and add the salt. Heat over medium heat until the mixture is bubbling and the fresh berries have cooked and some have burst, about 5 minutes. The mixture should have thickened slightly. Let cool to room temperature then store in an airtight container in the fridge. This is also amazing over pancakes, waffles, or French toast, or swirled into yogurt or over ice cream.

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You can use this ratio to make any fruit compote: 1 pint fresh fruit, washed and diced if needed; 1 cup jam of the same fruit; ⅓ cup of the same fruit dried and diced if needed. This works especially well with strawberries, apricots, pineapples, and peaches.

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DISCUSSION

This sounds brilliant. In quarantine, instead of a reading list, I have a cooking list, I’ll have to add this to it!