wild mulberry cheesecake

Mulberries are native to the Midwest and they grow on these amazing tall trees; some so large you have no hope of capturing all the berries. Your best chance is to snag the lower branches and gather as many berries as you can before they hit the ground- which can be tricky, because as soon as they are ripe, they do just that. The first thing I do after walking up to a mulberry tree is check the ground to see which beauties have fallen recently. 

Be careful picking these berries- their juice is an incredibly powerful dye and it WILL stain your clothes (permanently) and skin (for a long time)! 

Be careful picking these berries- their juice is an incredibly powerful dye and it WILL stain your clothes (permanently) and skin (for a long time)! 

Mulberries resemble blackberries in appearance, but their composition is actually much different. The fruit is almost seedless and not quite as juicy, with a mild flavor and intense sweetness. I've yet to meet a white mulberry (also edible), but black mulberries are truly delectable. Mulberries are in season now, so look around when you are driving and walking! The telltale sign is a big purple smudge on the sidewalk or road, where the berries have fallen and been crushed. They are most likely to grow, in my experience, on the edge of a wooded area, with plenty of sun. 

Once you've hauled home your find, you can treat mulberries like blackberries or raspberries, but be sure to wash them gently and use them within 48 hours or they will shrivel up. Read my post finding wineberries to learn more specifics.

You can see that the individual pods of the berry are actually all different shapes- much different than a blackberry. The stems are very soft and can stay on to be eaten or cooked- they do not have a strong flavor.

You can see that the individual pods of the berry are actually all different shapes- much different than a blackberry. The stems are very soft and can stay on to be eaten or cooked- they do not have a strong flavor.

This year, I used the yield of my first wild berry harvest to make a decadent mulberry cheesecake. Of course, being myself, I chose to make five mini cheesecakes- easier to give them away- but this recipe would work beautifully for one large cheesecake as well.

Although there are several steps to this recipe, the end result is absolutely delicious and worth the effort (and all the dirty bowls). 

A few important notes about this process: I make my crust with storebought shortbread cookies. My favorites come from Scotland. Don't read the calorie count. Just crush them up and throw away the box. It's a buttery, crisp crust, which allows it to stand up perfectly to all the other layers.

This is a shot from before they went into the oven to pre-bake. Don't be afraid of the butter.

This is a shot from before they went into the oven to pre-bake. Don't be afraid of the butter.

After baking the crust for 8-10 minutes to get them lightly browned, I pour in the cheesecake mix and bake until it is fully set- this takes about 30 minutes. No jiggling allowed!

While the cheesecakes are baking, you have time to make the mulberry compote and the sour cream mixture to marble on top of the cheesecake. Whisk the sour cream mix up and set it aside- you need to give the sugar a chance to dissolve.

mulberry cheesecake 6.jpg

After the sour cream mixture is all set, start working on your berry compote. This recipe would work equally well with blackberries or raspberries, but the mulberries are truly special!

Combine all the compote ingredients in a medium pot over medium-high heat, and don't be afraid to keep it pretty hot. You don't want to scorch your berries, but you do want them to release all their juices and get nice and soft. The secret weapon of this recipe is gelatin- once the berry mix is cooked and strained, adding the gelatin allows it to set nicely on top of the cake without getting gummy. Blooming gelatin just means allowing it to soak in liquid until it softens, which will give it the ability to dissolve into your berry mix. Always use cold water to soften your gelatin, and then make sure the liquid you are incorporating is very hot, so the softened gelatin melts and does not clump.

You really want these berries to boil. Use a good strong spatula or wooden spoon to crush the berries against the sides of the pot as you stir- the goal is to release as much juice as possible.

You really want these berries to boil. Use a good strong spatula or wooden spoon to crush the berries against the sides of the pot as you stir- the goal is to release as much juice as possible.

Have your fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl and ready to go, so when your berries are done cooking you can pour the whole pot right into the strainer. Press forcefully down through the sieve with a spatula and make sure to turn the berry mix multiple times- you should end up with a cohesive ball of berry paste once all the liquid has been released through the strainer. Place the strainer and the pot aside, and quickly whisk your bloomed gelatin into the hot strained berry juice. Let this sit for a few minutes in an ice bath. 

Hey, I told you this was going to be a lot of work and make a gigantic mess. Just hang in there. 

At this point, your cheesecake should be cooked and pulled out of the oven. Whisk up the sour cream mixture again, and GENTLY spread over the top of the cheesecake. Dollop it lightly onto the surface and then cover the cheesecake using the back of a spoon to move it around. You should bring the sour cream mix all the way to the edge of the pan, but be cautious not to break the surface of the cheesecake. 

Now take spoonfuls of your berry syrup and pour it on top of your cake. It's going to look like a hot mess. This is normal. There will be lots of berry syrup left over- this is also normal. You'll thank me later. You'll use it when you are serving the cake, but it also serves a myriad of other purposes. Pour it over ice cream. Mix it with soda water for a mulberry fizz. Eat it with a spoon. I don't judge.

mulberry cheesecake 4.jpg

Marble the berry syrup with the sour cream mix very carefully with the tines of a fork, again making sure not to pierce the surface of the cheesecake underneath.

Pop your creation back in the oven and cook until the berry syrup is bubbling and the top is mostly set, with a tiny (maybe dime-quarter size) jiggle in the very center. 

Your kitchen will smell like some kind of magical jelly factory. Resist the urge to stand with your nose over the cake when you pull it from the oven.

Some of the deeper pockets of berry may still be liquid. This is okay. Don't panic. As long as the surface is pretty well set, you are good.

Some of the deeper pockets of berry may still be liquid. This is okay. Don't panic. As long as the surface is pretty well set, you are good.

As tempting as it may be, you have to set this beautiful masterpiece aside for at least 6 hours to chill before you even take it out of the pan. The custard and berry needs time to set, and you don't want to waste all your efforts on a runny mess. Right? Right. Put it in the fridge, find something to do for a few hours.

hello, gorgeous.

hello, gorgeous.

You made it! Congratulations. Gently unhook your springform pan- the cake will pop right out- and slice up your pieces. I served mine with lots of the mulberry syrup, and a few fresh mulberries I had left over. Sensational!!

Recipe:

Crust:

2 c. crushed good shortbread cookies, the kind that have four ingredients- butter, flour, sugar, salt

2 t fresh lemon zest

1/8 t salt

2.5 ounces butter, melted

Cheesecake:

8 ounces cream cheese, room temp

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/4 t salt

1/2 t vanilla

1 T fresh lemon zest

Sour Cream Layer:

1 1/2 c sour cream

1/4 c sugar

1/4 t salt

1 t fresh lemon zest

Berry Syrup:

1 1/2 c fresh mulberries (or raspberries or blackberries)

1/2 c lemon juice

1/4 t salt

1/4 c sugar

1 t fresh lemon zest

2 t powdered gelatin

2 T cold water


Okay, here we go. You can do this! It's all pretty simple, really. Just lots of steps.

Preheat the oven to 350.

First, make your crust. Crush up the cookies until they are pretty broken up and you have 2 cups. Put them in your food processor with the lemon zest and grind them to a fine sandy consistency with no large chunks. With the processor on, slowly pour in the melted butter and pulse the blade until the dough resembles damp sand. It will not be a cohesive unit. Carefully take the whole kit and dump it into your springform pan. Press down on the crust with your fingers and push it all the way to the edge, but don't make a lip, just a flat bottom. Once it is nice and flat, put it in the oven and cook for 8-10 minutes until it is just starting to get golden brown and fragrant.

While the crust is baking, make the cheesecake filling. Cream the cream cheese with your mixer until it is well whipped and fluffy, then add the rest of the ingredients. Beat until there are no chunks of cream cheese left behind, and be sure to scrape the bowl several times. When the crust is cooked, put the cheesecake batter in and cook for another 25-30 minutes, or until there is no jiggle in the center but the cake is not starting to brown.

You're halfway there! Now you can make the sour cream mixture- just mix together the sour cream, sugar, salt, and lemon zest and set aside. Boom.

For the berry syrup, take your clean berries and put them in a medium saucepan. Add the lemon juice, salt, sugar, and lemon zest, and start cooking over medium high heat. You can stir this every few minutes, but it should cook just fine on it's own. Use a small bowl or ramekin to bloom your 2 teaspoons of gelatin in 2 Tablespoons of cold water- just mix them together and set it aside. Boil the berry mixture for 5-10 minutes, until it coats a spoon.

Set up your strainer over a metal or glass mixing bowl that is set up over an ice bath (a larger bowl full of ice). Strain the hot berry mix into the ice bath and immediately whisk the bloomed gelatin into the hot liquid. Mix well to avoid disgusting hunks of gelatin (which means whisk for about a minute). Now that your berry syrup is cooked, just let it chill in the ice bath for a few minutes until your cheesecake is done.

Dollop the sour cream mixture very gently on the surface of the cheesecake, then spread to the edges with the back of a spoon. Top with 1/4 cup of the berry syrup, slowly pouring it over the surface of the sour cream and then marbling it in carefully with the tines of a fork. Avoid puncturing the cheesecake layer. Reserve the remainder of the berry syrup- let it cool to room temperature, then store in the fridge.

Phew! Put the whole thing back in the oven for 15-20 more minutes until the surface is set and the gelatin is bubbling around the edges. Cool on a rack for at least 1 hr and chill in fridge at least 3 hours before cutting- overnight would be best.

Serve with the reserved mulberry syrup and some fresh berries, mint, or basil. 

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