Two words: Tread carefully.

This Blackberry, Lemon, and Gingersnap Cheesecake Pudding has the potential to be stellar.  Truly, it does.  But as I said before, there’s a lot going on here, and balance is key.  But before we get into that, I’ve taken exception to a few details in this little ditty of a dessert recipe.  Allow me to elaborate…

Blackberry: As in compote.  That’s what the recipe called it, anyway, but a compote is cooked: fruit cooked in syrup, unless I’m missing something (which is entirely possible).  The berries here are simply macerated in sugar and liqueur, and not cooked at all.  I don’t get why they’re calling it something it isn’t, but I do get that it’s super easy to toss berries in a bowl with sugar, liqueur, and lemon zest.  Done.

Lemon: As in curd.  What’s a curd?  Well, in the dairy world, curd is the part of milk that thickens when it sours and separates from the whey.  In more citrusy circles, curd is a thick custard made with lemon (or lime) juice and eggs… sort of like lemon pie filling, except true pie filling is sweeter and thickened with cornstarch.  I suppose it’s called curd because it has the same consistency as milk curd… who knows?  At any rate, this lemon curd recipe was easy and delicious, and I might just keep it on hand as a cake filling. Or from eating straight from the bowl.  So far, so good.

Gingersnap: As in crunchy storebought spice cookies.  I picked up two different brands, just to contrast them.  Surprisingly, Matt picked the ones with cloves and red pepper in the formula, instead of the straight-up ginger/molasses/cinnamon combo.  (He’s not a huge fan of cloves, but says it’s well-balanced in this cookie and not overwhelming.)  Gingersnap is an interesting choice here, for two reasons: a) with their warm spices, they’re more of a fall/winter thing, so it’s an unexpected pairing with bright citrus and summer berries, and b) as you’ll see in the next paragraph, this recipe is going for a cheesecake-y type thing, and graham crackers are the more typical (albeit more boring) choice for cheesecake crusts.  Hmmmm.

Cheesecake:  As in… where’s the cheese? This isn’t a blatant “Huh?” moment like the pseudo-compote, but it’s still a stretch.  The recipe calls for 1/3 cup of mascarpone cheese to be whipped along with the cream.  That ain’t much. 

Soapbox alert!  I’m biased, because I prefer my cheesecake to taste like… well… cheese, and not like creamy-white-nothingness-in-desperate-need-of-a-topping.  I love cream cheese (mascarpone is an Italian style cream cheese that begins its lovely existence as crème fraiche), so I want some twang with my cheesecake, dangit.

Anyway, I dutifully performed my whipping duties, holding out faith that the complete lack of sugar and the smidge of cheese were going to work out in the end.

Pudding:  As in… um… okay, now I’m lost.  I see no pudding here.  Perhaps they mean “pudding” in the British sense, which is to say, a generic term for dessert.  But the online version of the recipe is actually filed under a category called “pudding recipes”, and when I click on that, I see lots of dishes that are either British desserts, or American-style pudding, or both.  I get the feeling that there’s a loop here that hasn’t been closed, and I’m hoping that the print version of this issue is going to clear it up for me.  The best I’ve got is the possibility that gingersnaps originated in the UK, but if Bon Appetit is expecting me to connect those dots… well, I’m not the National Security Advisor for a good reason.

So, what do we have so far?  We have macerated blackberries, a beautiful lemon curd, some unsweetened whipped cream with a dab of cheese, and crushed gingersnaps which may or may not, in fact, be British, and therefore pudding-esque. Humph.

You’ve probably noticed that there are a lot of steps here, and that’s true… but almost everything can be done in advance, and the most tedious step is juicing and zesting the lemons.  Not too bad, if it turns out to taste as good as it looks.  I might even be willing to overlook all the kooky non sequiturs in the recipe.

Speaking of which, how does it taste?!

Wellllll… I served it to my in-laws, and they really really liked it.  Eileen described it as a “flavor explosion” that “woke up her mouth”, and on a scale of 5, she gave it a 4.5. (A 5 requires chocolate in her book… can you blame her?)

Dennis said… well, first I had to wait for him to stop trying to harass me about my “Barn Appetite” project, and then I had to endure some story about harvesting raspberries in Montana with government survey equipment under the constant threat of bear attacks – you think I’m joking, don’t you? - and then he finally gave it a 4, because he doesn’t give out 5s “for obvious reasons”.

Matt and I felt differently, though.  Matt said that he liked all the individual flavors, but he thought there were too many flavors co-mingling here.  Which is consistent for him: he likes simple straightforward food, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

And as for me… I personally thought the gingersnaps overpowered everything.  At first I thought that dumbing it down with graham crackers might help, but Eileen said that would be a big snoozer, and I think she’s right.  After thinking about it more, I think I was too careless with proportions during the assembly and added too much gingersnap in mine.  Say it with me: operator error.

If I made this again, I would test drive the proportions in bite sizes, and proceed accordingly, probably scaling back on the gingersnaps.  If the combination was done correctly, and if we renamed the silly thing, I think it probably could be a consistent 4.5.

But get this… part of being in a Barn Appetite test group naturally means having to answer 5,487 questions about the dish, and when I asked how everyone felt about the cheesecake angle, everyone furrowed their brows and said, “Cheesecake? What cheesecake?  There was cheese in there?”  Case closed.  (Although I was wrong about the lack of sugar in the cream – it perfectly balanced the sweet-tartness of the lemon curd.)

So, in summary… more care and restraint with the gingersnap proportions (or perhaps even replacing the cookies with liqueur-soaked ladyfingers or genoise cake!), and more cheese, please.  And on a personal note, I’d do a better job of sourcing berries, because my neighborhood grocery store wannabes had very little flavor. 

Normally, I’d give this a B-, but considering all the weirdness in the recipe, I’m calling it a C+.  That feels kind of harsh… but the blogosphere’s not always a pretty place, and we can’t give everybody a soccer trophy, right?