- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I was stumped on dessert while trying to decide on the menu for a cooking class called A Showstopper Christmas Dinner.

This holiday finale had to meet some important criteria. First, I wanted a sweet confection that would serve at least 10, but I also needed a recipe that could be prepared a day in advance. Of course, this holiday dessert had to be striking as well as delectable. I finally came up with the idea for a mascarpone cheesecake with a cranberry topping.

After baking the cheesecake several times, readjusting the seasonings and fine-tuning the techniques, I am thrilled with the results. For the crust, I pat a mixture of ground walnuts, graham cracker crumbs, confectioners’ sugar and melted butter into a springform pan.

To ensure that this bottom layer stays crisp, I prebake it for a few minutes before adding the filling. For the latter, mascarpone, that velvety smooth Italian cream cheese, is paired with traditional American cream cheese, and both are beaten until smooth.

Then eggs, sugar and a hefty amount of orange zest are stirred in. Cranberries cooked in sugar and orange juice make a simple yet glistening topping.

This cheesecake has turned out to be a hit each time I have served it, and it easily meets all the demands I make of a dessert to end Christmas dinner. It can be baked a day ahead and will easily serve 12, and it’s definitely in the showstopper category for appearance.

It’s also easy to transport. Just leave the cheesecake in the springform pan, cover it with foil and unmold it upon arrival.

Mascarpone cheesecake with cranberry orange topping


3/4 cup ground walnuts

3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs

3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted


16 ounces mascarpone cheese

12 ounces cream cheese

3/4 cup sugar

5 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest, from 5 to 6 thick-skinned oranges

3 large eggs, lightly beaten to blend


1 cup orange juice

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

1 cup sugar

3 cups cranberries (12 ounces)

Arrange an oven rack at center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To make the crust, place the walnuts, graham cracker crumbs and confectioner’s sugar into a 9-inch springform pan. Stir with a fork to mix. Pour in the melted butter, and continue to stir until mixture is thoroughly moistened.

Press the mixture with your hands evenly onto the bottom of the pan. Place pan on a baking sheet and bake 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature before adding the filling.

The baked crust will look moist when taken out of the oven, but will crisp up as it cools.

To make the filling, beat mascarpone and cream cheeses in the bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed for 2 minutes. Gradually add the sugar, and beat 2 minutes more. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl, if necessary.

Lower speed, beat in orange zest, then beat 2 minutes more. Add the eggs and beat 2 minutes. The mixture should be lump-free and velvety smooth; if not, beat a minute or two more. Pour the filling into the prepared pan, and smooth out the top with a spatula.

Place the cheesecake in the oven and bake 40 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the cake in the oven with door shut for another 40 minutes.

Remove and cool to room temperature. Then cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours or until chilled and set. (Cheesecake can be prepared 1 day ahead. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before serving.)

For the sauce, place orange juice and zest, sugar and cranberries in a medium saucepan. Stir to mix and place over medium heat. Cook until cranberries are tender and mixture starts to thicken, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove and cool to room temperature. Cranberry topping can be prepared 2 days ahead; cover and refrigerate.

To serve, run a sharp knife around the inside edges of the pan to loosen the cheesecake, then remove sides and place cake on a serving plate. Spoon the cranberries over the top of the cheesecake. Makes 12 servings.


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