Meyer Lemon Cheesecake-all the flavor with less fat

Are you wanting to enjoy Thanksgiving, but still have those COVID pounds looking back at you from the mirror? What if you could make a great tasting cheesecake with a lot less fat? I have been making cheesecakes this way for at least 8 years now. You can do it and its really not that hard to do. No strange ingredients required, but the best part? Unless you tell your guests or family it is lower fat, they won’t even know it.

You have probably gone or known people that have gone to the cheesecake restaurant, that makes so many kinds of cheesecake its like a “factory.” They are very good, but I have yet to meet a person who could eat an entire slice without feeling pretty bad by the end. Too rich for most of us. Why not make it good without shaving hours of our lifetime off as the price for its consumption?

I found, like many cooks have, that keeping some of the fat and increasing the flavor accomplishes the same goal: a satisfying dessert.

I try to avoid “fat free” yogurt because of the amount of processing that must occur to obtain it. So I use a lower fat content-2%, which can be obtained with much less effort. I do the same with cream cheese. I use a lower fat version: Neufchâtel. This isn’t a new cheese. It has been around for more than a millennia. There are records of it made in France back to the 6th century. It didn’t get much traction in the US until it was marketed as low fat cream cheese or “Philly lite”. At least its easier to find and more affordable now.

My family has many lemon fans, myself included. Previous efforts of mine to make a good lemon cheesecake had mixed results because of the amount of lemon juice needed to have an impact on the flavor. I finally figured it out.

Whenever I saw lemon yogurt for sale, they had lemon concentrate in the ingredients, but I didn’t want to boil my lemon juice. But what if I further strained my 2% yogurt to pull a little more fluid out of it? Then I can add enough lemon juice so it really is a lemon cheesecake, not a “hmmm-yeah, I think there is some lemon here” cheesecake.

I like Meyer lemons for this due to the nice balance they have of lemon flavor without too much tartness. I also use an herb infused raw sugar. Uh what? Its not complicated. Again, herbs have been used for centuries to flavor sugars. Lavender, thyme, tarragon are the most common. My favorite and one I make at home is bergamot. This is the Monarda plant, also known has bee balm. It has a wonderful aroma that gives you a sense of well being…better known as Ahhhhh! My bee balm is shutting down for the season. Last summer I picked several cups of leaves. I washed, let dry and then minced the leaves which were stirred into a raw sugar (you can do it with other sugars too) at a 1 cup herb to 5 cups of sugar ratio. You can choose your own strength to suit your taste buds.

Raw sugar with bergamot

Place into an air tight container and give it at least a week or two to blend. It keeps for a long time. The sugar preserves it and the flavor. I’ve opened a jar in early spring and it was still good. I don’t refrigerate it. Just keep it in a cool dark spot: my pantry.

Just remember, you can make this without the herb infusion. This is just better. You might want to try it sometime.

Enough of my ideas on infused sugar. Let’s make a tasty cheesecake!

You’ll need:

9 inch spring form pan or similar pan

For the crust:

4 cups lemon cookies or biscuits

1 1/2 Tbs herb infused sugar or raw sugar

5 Tbs of melted unsalted butter

For the filling: (have all filling ingredients at room temperature before combining)

2 1/2 cups 2% Greek yogurt-further strained (I use paper coffee filters and a colander) to reduce volume to 2 cups

2-8 oz packages Neufchâtel or lite cream cheese

2 eggs and 1 egg yolk

1 cup herb infused sugar or raw sugar

3 Tbs Meyer lemon zest (about 3 lemons)

1/2 cup Meyer lemon juice (about 2 1/2 lemons)

1 tsp good vanilla extract

1 tsp good lemon or lime extract

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350 F.

For the crust: add the cookies/biscuits and sugar to a food processor and pulse until you have a uniform crumb mixture. With the processor running, add the melted butter and process until the mixture looks like damp sand. (If pressed together will hold but can be broken apart easily.)

Grease or spray your spring form pan. Add the crust mixture and press into place (with a flat bottom/straight sided glass works beautifully) until uniform over the bottom and up the sides.

Bake the crust for about 5 minutes until firm. Remove. Leave the oven on.

For the filling: In a mixer’s bowl combine the Neufchâtel cheese, yogurt and sugar. Beat at medium speed to allow sugar to dissolve.

While the mixer is running…

Zest your Meyer lemons and then juice them-strain the seeds and pulp. Set aside.

To the mixer, add the zest and extracts, then beat for about 30 seconds. Add the eggs/ yolks one at a time and allow to incorporate after each. With the mixer running, slowly add the lemon juice so it can be mixed in quickly and doesn’t pool. Try not to over mix it.

Pour the filling into the crust lined pan. Smooth the top to the edges and place into the center of the oven. Bake for 35-40 minutes (I have a convection oven-your may need a little longer) or until the center of the cake is almost set.

Turn off the oven and crack the oven door and allow the cake to cool in the oven for at least 30 minutes.

Baked filling-you can see the zest and bergamot

Remove from oven and cool another hour before topping.

I used 1/2 cup of elderberry jam (local farmer’s market item) warmed it until liquid and then spread it over the filling. I put fresh blueberries over the warm jam. The jam when cooled holds the berries in place. Chill the cake overnight to complete the set. Remove from refrigerator at least an hour before serving. Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving to you all. 🙂

Ready to serve

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