Recipe Sleuth: Ardeo + Bardeo’s Cheesecake With Cassis Compote

Does dessert get any better than a classic cheesecake with a fruit topping? Pastry chef Cicely Austin told us how to make a bang-up version.

Pastry chef Cicely Austin’s cheesecake is brightened up with lemon zest and anchored by a graham-cracker crust. Photograph by Erik Uecke.

Pastry chef Cicely Austin has influence over three dessert menus at three restaurants—the Oval Room, Bombay Club, and Ardeo + Bardeo—but when it comes to inspiration, she often looks to home. Her creamy cheesecake at Ardeo is one such example.

“Cheesecake is one of my mom’s favorite desserts,” says Austin, who grew up in Fort Washington. “When we were creating the new menu for [the recently renovated] Ardeo, I wanted something classic with a spin.”

The spin in Austin’s recipe, which she calls “really forgiving,” is a sweet-tart compote made of cassis (a fruit similar to black currant). Like the cheesecake itself, the topping should be made in advance. But if time is short, the versatile cake goes with anything from freshly cut cherries and strawberries to caramel sauce. A tip from Austin: Take care when beating the cream cheese and sugar to make sure the mixture is smooth. As she says, if you have lumps in the beginning, you’ll have lumps in the end.

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Ardeo + Bardeo’s Cheesecake With Cassis Compote
Makes 1 8-inch cake

Make the graham-cracker crust:

4 cups graham crackers
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Toast the graham crackers on a sheet tray in the oven, about 3 minutes, until lightly toasted and aromatic. Put in a food processor with sugar and salt, and blend over high heat until the graham crackers are ground.
Put the mixture in a medium-size bowl, make a well in the center, and pour the melted butter into the well. Mix the crumb mixture in slowly with your hands until it becomes the consistency of a cookie dough (add more butter if it’s too dry).
Press the mixture into an 8-inch springform pan and bake for 5 to 8 minutes until set. Allow to cool before filling with the cheesecake filling.

Make the cheesecake filling:

2 pounds Philadelphia cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split
¼ cup cream
5 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Zest of 2 lemons

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Leave the cream cheese at room temperature 30 minutes or until softened. Fit a stand mixer with a paddle attachment and add the cream cheese and sugar. Scrape the vanilla bean into the mixture and beat on medium speed until smooth, about 5 minutes.
Set the cream over another bowl filled with ice, and whip with an electric mixer until it forms semisoft peaks, about 2 minutes. Set aside.
Put the stand mixer on the lowest speed and add the eggs and yolks, one at a time, until each is incorporated. Add the cream, vanilla extract, and zest.
Put the mixture into the pan with the cooled crust. Fill a baking pan with water, and place the springform pan in it; the water should come a couple of inches up the side of the springform pan. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes. The top will puff up slightly and have a slight hint of color, which indicates that it’s done.

Make the cassis compote:
Makes 4 cups

1 cup açai-berry purée, available at Whole Foods
1 cup cassis purée, available at Trader Joe’s
1½ cups Sugar in the Raw
2½ cups dried black currants, available at supermarkets and health food stores such as Yes! Organic Market
1 tablespoon butter
Juice of 1 lime

In a medium saucepan set over medium-low heat, warm both purées with the sugar, then add the black currants and butter. Simmer on low heat until the black currants are tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in the lime juice. The compote can be stored in the fridge up to 2 weeks, or in the freezer up to 2 months.

Allow 1 day before serving the cheesecake, topped with the compote.

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Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.