I arrived back in San Francisco from Maui, recharged and a bit shell shocked. After being in warm island weather, it was tough to come back to the cool chill of the bay area. The very next day after we arrived home, my friend Glenn texted to ask if AJ and I wanted to attend the SF Chefs 2011 – Sugar and Spice Party. I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so I immediately texted back “of course” and AJ and I ended up attending one of the most happening food events of the city, all courtesy of Glenn’s boyfriend Curtis (thanks Curtis!). Held at the Westin St. Francis in Union Square, the party had chefs (both savory and pastry) making appetizers for the attending guests, highlighting a specific spice that the chef or restaurant had selected. The spices ranged from your basic black pepper, to the more exotic like sumac to the foreign (at least to me) such as Ras el Hanout, a Morrocan blend of spices that varies per who makes it. Often times the spices were a wonderful inspiration to the final product being served, but on occasion the food came across a bit forced and novel. My biggest complaint however was the imbalance of savory versus sweet, as it definitely skewed toward the sweet. That said, there was a dessert there that had me perk up and take notice, the Honey Lavender Cheesecake from Mission Beach Café. I knew after a bite that I need to make it for myself. (Jump directly to the recipe.)
I had been contacted about the SF Chefs 2011 event a few weeks before I left for Hawaii, but the idea of going to a huge social event, a few days after I arrived back from a mellow beach vacation didn’t sound super appealing initially. Don’t get me wrong, I love major food events, but there used to be a time when I could just go to them and enjoy them for what they are. Now, as a food blogger, I feel almost a pathological obligation to document them obsessively. So I shrugged my shoulder and ignored that fact that there was a giant food festival happening in my adopted hometown and I was missing it.
Luckily I changed my mind, because some of my favorite restaurants were there, showing off their best. I could describe all the fantastic food I had, but instead I’d rather show you some of it and you can feast with your eyes.
And though I had some fantastic desserts available (hosting hotel Westin St. Francis went all out with their Chocolate Mousse with Anisette Breton & Schezuan Pepper Ganache) it was the honey lavender cheesecake from Mission Beach Café that made me pondering how to make it at home.
In truth, I happen to love the combination of honey and lavender. I had picked up a huge 1lb package of culinary lavender at the SF Herb Company a few months ago, and it’s been languishing under my kitchen table (where I keep all my overflow herbs, spices and flours since I’ve now run out of room in my pantry). The problem being AJ hates lavender in his food. He claims it makes everything taste like soap (isn’t that suppose to be cilantro that tastes like soap? Apparently it’s lavender to AJ). In fact, around the corner, at my favorite San Francisco ice cream shop BiRite Creamery, my favorite flavor happens to be Honey Lavender, so much so that I dressed up like it for Halloween a few years ago.
So when I tasted the Mission Beach Café cheesecake, I immediately knew I wanted to make it at home, and since I had a dessert party coming up, I could serve it up to friends and not have to worry about forcing AJ to eat it. The perfect solution. Except working with lavender isn’t as simple as just crumbling it into the cheesecake. I wanted to figure a way to make it swirly and pretty. Thankfully the Washington Post had a genius idea of using blueberries to create a colored lavender syrup to flavor the cheesecake and adapting it worked out well.
In the end, I was thrilled to go to the SF Chefs 2011 event, and perhaps next year, if I’m not on a tropical island days before, I’ll see about getting to more of the event that went on all week long. Nevertheless, I have this Honey Lavender Cheesecake to remind me of my quick sample taste of the SF Chefs 2011 event. Well what’s left of it. I think I have one more piece in the fridge, the rest gobbled up by friends who loved the combination of lavender and honey like I do.
Honey Lavender Cheesecake Bars
By Irvin Lin
Lavender in and of itself, doesn’t necessarily impart any color to the product that it is used in. Though I could have used a couple of drops of food coloring, I came across a recipe from the Washington Post that used blueberries to create the coloring in the cheesecake. You don’t taste the blueberries that much, though it does give a faint hint of fruity summer berry flavor. The lavender itself is fairly subtle though, mingling with the honey to create a pretty, refreshing little bite of creamy sweetness. Perfect for anytime of the year, just use fresh blueberries when they are in season and frozen ones when they aren’t.
Inspired by a dessert from Mission Beach Café.
Lavender Blueberry Syrup
1 cup (140 g) blueberries, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons (25g) white granulated sugar
2 tablespoons crushed culinary grade dried lavender
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
Graham Cracker Crust
9 oz of graham crackers
2 tablespoons brown sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
Cream Cheese Filling
20 oz (2 1/2 bricks) cream cheese
8 oz mascarpone cheese
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 vanilla bean
3/4 cup wildflower honey
3 large eggs
1. Make the lavender blueberry syrup by combining the blueberries, water and sugar in small pan. Turn to high heat until boiling, and then lower to simmer. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes or until the blueberries have softened. Remove from the heat and crumble in the lavender. Let the syrup steep for 15 minutes. Once it has steeped, press the syrup through a fine mesh sieve, into a measuring cup. You should have about 1/2 cup of liquid. Discard the solids and stir in the 2 tablespoons of flour into the syrup. Set aside.
2. Preheat the oven to 325˚F and lightly spray a 9” x 13” rectangular baking pan with cooking oil. Then line the pan with a sheet of parchment paper (the cooking oil will help the paper stick).
3. Make the graham cracker crust by crushing the graham crackers in a food processor until they are crumbs. Add the brown sugar, lemon zest and salt and pulse a few more times to incorporate. Then turn the processor on, and drizzle the melted butter into the processor in a slow steady stream until the crust starts to clump. Pour the crumbs into the center of the lined baking sheet and press the crumbs into the bottom, flatten them out evenly throughout. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 5 minutes or until the crust is fragrant. Remove from oven and let it cool (maintain the oven temperature) while you make the filling.
4. Place the cream cheese, mascarpone cheese, and 3 tablespoons of flour in the bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the batter. Beat until blended and fluffy. Add the honey and beat until incorporated. Add the eggs, one at a time beating between additions until each is incorporated. You may want to scrape down the sides with a large spatula between each addition.
5. Gently spoon about 2/3 of the cheesecake filling over the graham cracker crust, spreading it out evenly, being careful as to not disturb the crust too much. Then add the lavender syrup to the remaining 1/3 cheesecake batter in the bowl. Blend well with a large spatula until the batter is a uniform lavender color. Then spoon, in batches, the lavender filling on top of the cheesecake, spacing each spoonful about 1” apart. I “dug” a little into the plain cheesecake batter to try to get as much of the lavender batter in one spot.
6. Take a knife and decoratively swirl the lavender and plain filling together. I occasionally “pulled up” some of the plain filling to wrap it over the lavender one. Don’t swirl too much, as you want the fillings to marble, not blend.
7. Place in the oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the center of the cheesecake only slightly wobbles. The cheesecake will puff up a lot while baking but sink when it cools, this is normal.
8. Allow the cheesecake to cool to room temperature and then refrigerate overnight before serving.
Makes 16 bars.