I came home to over 200 comments and emails, so don’t mind if I answer a few in the main window here. This one from reader Hattie I especially like because, well, I love that name. But also because there are so many different ways to answer it.
I’ll be honest and say at the outset that a plain vanilla cheesecake is my personal favorite. However I recognize that there are plenty of cheesecake makers out there who consider plain cheesecake to be a mere starting point, a blank canvass if you will. For those folks I have a few basic suggestions.
Fruit toppings are of course a natural. Personally I’d leap straight for some lemon curd and slather it over the top once the cake had a chance to chill and firm completely. Chunky fruit toppings work great too: strawberry, blueberry, cherry, apricot, mango. Most often these are simple fresh fruit compotes. To make one of those simply combine three quarters of a cup of water with half a cup of sugar, two teaspoons of lemon juice and then a dribble of some sort of liqueur if you like. Heat the mixture to a simmer and add a cup and a half or more of fresh fruit. Cook to your desired softness, cool and spoon the mixture onto slices before serving.
Another way to go is to swirl a fruit purée straight into the batter before you bake. To do this pour about half your cheesecake batter into the pan, then add about three quarters of a cup of fruit purée and give it a brief stir with a fork. Gently pour on the remaining cheesecake batter. Make a simple fruit puree by putting about three quarters of a pound of seeded and/or hulled fresh or frozen (and thawed) fruit into a blender or food processor with a teaspoon of lemon juice. Puree until the mixture is spoonable (add water if needed to thin it). Do this with just about any fruit you like save for citrus or peaches which will curdle the baking cake. To make the purée as smooth as possible press it through a fine mesh strainer. Add a little sugar to taste.
What about chocolate? I can hear many of you saying. Yes of course you can add chocolate. A cup or so of chocolate chips, pieces or warm ganache can be stirred into the batter like a fruit purée. You can also just make a chocolate cheesecake by melting about half a pound of a good quality milk, semi-sweet or white chocolate and stirring it into your batter until it’s evenly incorporated. Similar effects can be created with mashed ripe banana (swap 1 cup mashed banana combined with two teaspoons lemon juice for an equal amount of sour cream) or peanut butter (again, swap out a cup of peanut butter for an equal amount of sour cream).
Anyone else who’d like to weigh in with some ideas please do!