Honey Cheesecake with Baklava Crust

We are completely smitten with this cheesecake by Marta Rivera of Sense & Edibility! A smooth creamy cheesecake is fragranced with honey and lemon and is framed by crisp flaky phyllo pastry and sweet nuts spiced with warming cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom. The combination of textures is fantastic; the phyllo and nuts in the baklava layer provide just enough textural interest to complement the decadently silky cheesecake. We love to use traditional walnuts in the baklava or add pistachios for a subtle green hue. The cheesecake is finished with a gorgeously abstract bouquet of phyllo waves that get generously glazed with honey lemon syrup that is simply to die for! Rivera writes that this cheesecake "is a recipe with genius-level status" and we couldn't agree more!

 

By Marta Rivera of Sense & Edibility



Let’s face it, these days we all have some extra time on our hands. Even I, a work from home, homeschool (not quarantine school) mom of teenage twins, have a bit more time on my hands. So, while we’re confined to the four walls of our homes, why not explore new recipes? This week, go out and try to procure the ingredients to make this Honey Cheesecake with Baklava Crust.


WHAT IS BAKLAVA?

Baklava is a sweet pastry made with phyllo dough and nuts, which is later doused in a honey-lemon syrup. Most popular in the Middle East and the Mediterranean, it became my daughter’s obsession when she took her first bite at the age of 6. You can find one of my versions of Baklava here.

Phyllo, baklava’s base, is a very thin sheet of dough that requires patience and skill to make. One of my assignments in culinary school was to make phyllo without breaking the dough. For each hole you punctured into the sheet, you were docked points. I ended up with a B-. As a result, I have never again attempted to make phyllo dough. Buying it is the only way it will show up in my home.


Nuts are another prominent part of baklava. No one in my family loves walnuts, which is the most common nut used in traditional baklava. Because of their ambivalence to walnuts, I mix them with pistachios, pecans, and cashews in equal amounts.


Finally, the honey-lemon syrup. This simple syrup is poured over the pastry right after it comes out of the oven. Because the mission is to keep the baklava as crisp as possible, the pastry has to be hot when the syrup is poured over it. That way the dessert absorbs the syrup while still maintaining its crispness.


HONEY CHEESECAKE WITH BAKLAVA CRUST SHOPPING LIST



To prepare the baklava crust, you’ll need a package of Athens Phyllo Dough. You will only use half of the box for this recipe, but who’s going to be upset that you’ll have enough dough leftover to make a second cheesecake? No one. That’s who.


For the rest of the baklava crust, you’ll need 1 1/2 cups of crushed nuts. Again, this can be your favorite nut or a combination of whatever nuts you have in the pantry. Just crush them in a food processor or chop them with your knife. Cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom- the latter two being optional- will be used to season the nuts. Melted unsalted butter will be brushed between each layer of phyllo dough to produce its characteristically flaky texture.


The honey-lemon syrup is made with, yes, you’ve guessed it: honey and lemon juice. You’ll also need sugar, water, and vanilla.


The Honey Cheesecake part of this dessert is simple: room temperature cream cheese, eggs, more honey, lemon zest, salt, vanilla, and cornstarch.

So, let’s get to our baking project!


COMBINE THE NUT MIXTURE

Although there are a few stages in the preparation of this dessert, they’re all pretty quick and easy to accomplish. Starting with the nut mixture that you’ll sprinkle over every fifth layer of phyllo.

In a small bowl, mix together the crushed nuts, cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom- just use your hand. Set this bowl aside.


LAYER THE BAKLAVA CRUST



One thing that’s very important to know about working with phyllo dough is this: work fast and keep it covered. Phyllo dough is suuuuuper thin and dries out quickly. Because of this, you should keep the dough covered with a piece of plastic wrap. Covering it will keep it from drying out too fast. Also, try to work fast because when phyllo dries out it turns to something akin to dried parchment. It’ll crumble and disintegrate.


To cut the phyllo use the sharpest knife you own, or, better yet, a lame. A dull knife will tear the phyllo instead of cutting it. Remove one roll of phyllo from the box and unroll the dough on your cutting surface. Use the bottom insert of a 9″ springform pan as your cutting guide to cut the dough out into a circle. The leftover scraps will be used later (if you want). Just wrap the scraps in plastic wrap and store in them in the fridge for now.



Brush a thin layer of melted butter onto the bottom of the cheesecake pan using your pastry brush. Place a circle of phyllo dough onto the buttered insert. Brush another thin layer of butter onto this circle of phyllo dough. Place a second layer of dough onto the first and brush again. Repeat this process with the 3rd, 4th, and 5th layers of dough.


NUTS! AND A NOTE ABOUT BUTTERING THE LAYERS



Brush the 5th layer of phyllo with another light layer of butter. Sprinkle a handful of nuts (about a 1/2 cup) onto this 5th layer. Use your fingers to spread the nuts over the surface of the phyllo disc.

Because phyllo won’t stick together without some help, be sure to butter the top of each top layer.


Repeat the process of layering and buttering the phyllo dough until you have three layers of nuts. So, you should have 5 layers of dough, 1/2 cups of nuts, 5 layers of dough, 1/2 cup of nuts, 5 layers of dough, the last of the nuts, and the remaining dough. Just use up however many layers of dough remain in the roll.


Brush the top layer of dough with butter.


SCORE, THEN BAKE THE BAKLAVA



After assembling the baklava, carefully place the pan’s insert inside the collar. Don’t forget to clamp the collar shut! Why, yes, I have made this mistake before. Thanks for asking.

Press the dough down to make sure it’s sits in the bottom of the pan. Use your lame (or sharp knife) to score the dough in a diamond pattern. This will help the baklava soak up the honey lemon syrup we’re going to drizzle over it.


Bake the baklava in a 350°F for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown.


PREPARE THE BAKLAVA HONEY SYRUP



While your baklava is baking, prepare the honey-lemon syrup. It’s best to get it going shortly after you begin baking the pastry since you need to pour it over the baklava as soon as it comes out of the oven.


In a small saucepan stir together the granulated sugar and the water. Bring the mixture up to a boil, stirring constantly to encourage the sugar to dissolve. Once the sugar is dissolved, reduce the heat to low and stir in the honey, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. Allow the syrup to simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.


The syrup will thicken slightly and no granules of sugar should remain. Set the syrup to the side for now.


FLAVOR THE BAKLAVA



Once the crust has finished baking, pour half of the syrup over the hot baklava. Save the rest of the syrup for pouring over the finished Honey Cheesecake later.

Set the crust aside to cool for 10 minutes. Once the pan is cool enough to handle, wrap the bottom and sides in two layers of heavy duty aluminum foil. Set the pan aside while you mix the cheesecake batter.


BEGIN THE HONEY CHEESECAKE BATTER



In a large mixing bowl, use your electric hand mixer or stand mixer to blend the cream cheese, vanilla, lemon zest, and salt on medium speed until smooth. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl and beaters.


Add the eggs to the mixture, one at a time. Be sure to scrape down the bowl and beaters after each egg has been mixed in.


USE FLUID HONEY IN YOUR CHEESECAKE BATTER



Add the honey to the batter and mix until it is fully incorporated. You need fluid (or runny honey). If you’re a raw honey user, just warm and stir it until it’s fluid before adding it to the batter.


Scrape the bowl and beaters once again, then add the cornstarch to the batter. Blend the cornstarch into the batter- this time on low speed- just until it’s mixed in. Over-mixing the batter once the cornstarch has been added will result in a gummy cheesecake.


BAKE, THEN “SAUCE” THE HONEY CHEESECAKE



Pour the prepared Honey Cheesecake batter onto the baklava crust.

Set the foil-wrapped pan into a larger pan, then pour boiling water into the outer (larger) pan to create a water bath (read about bain maries here). This technique makes over-baking the cheesecake virtually impossible as it creates a temperature-regulated environment in which to bake the cheesecake.

Carefully place the pan in the preheated oven and bake for 1 hour.



If you’d like to add a little flair to your Honey Cheesecake, decorate the top with those leftover scraps of phyllo dough. After an hour of baking, carefully furl the phyllo dough scraps into waves and set them on top of the cheesecake. Continue to bake the cheesecake for another 15-20 minutes, or until the phyllo dough is golden brown. Once the topping has browned, pour the rest of the honey lemon syrup on top of the baking cheesecake. Just pull the rack out and douse the cheesecake in that syrup.


If you’re not into decorating, just pull the oven rack out and douse the cheesecake in that remaining honey-lemon syrup. Return the rack to the oven, turn the oven off, and prop the oven door open to allow the cheesecake to cool gradually for 1 hour.


CHILL OVERNIGHT