Not Guilty: Gluten-Free Limoncello Cheesecake Supreme

“Cheesecake packs a sensual wallop unlike anything in the natural world because it is a brew of megadoses of agreeable stimuli which we concocted for the express purpose of pressing our pleasure buttons” Steven Pinker (The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature)

“If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.” Julia Child (qtd by Steve Behrens in “Julia Child Quenched Our Hunger for Loving and Living”)

“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.” Julia Child (qtd by Nancy Barr in Backstage with Julia: My Years with Julia Child)

Julia Child also said, “I’m awfully sorry for people who are taken in by all of today’s dietary mumbo jumbo. They are not

Gluten-Free Limoncello Cheesecake Supreme

getting any enjoyment out of their food.” I agree with Julia on many points. On most points, and especially on this point. Consider the common cheesecake. It’s a much maligned food, these days, simply because it contains a large amount of fat and sugar. Sadly, some people who have no physiological reason to restrict their diets will avoid eating a piece of cheesecake as ardently as they avoid shaking hands with a sniffling person during flu season. I have friends and relatives who will skip cheesecake altogether if it is offered as dessert, or if they do give into temptation (for what normal, red-blooded human being is not tempted by a thick, rich, luscious, soft, delectable piece of cheese cake?), they spend the next three days self-flagellating because they were “bad” for having indulged their taste-buds with something as innocent as a concoction of cheese and sugar. Through their self-recriminations, these cheesecake guilt mongers heap guilt by association on the cheesecake, as if it is something evil that came their way. For one can be “bad” for having eaten something only by having eaten food that is evil or bad in itself! What can possibly be evil about a cheesecake, especially if it can be adapted such that the gluten-intolerant can also enjoy its confectionery pleasures? Why, nothing about a cheesecake can possibly be bad, especially when, like my limoncello cheesecake, it has a gluten-free crust so that even the Celiacs among us can enjoy a rich, creamy piece of cheesecake with a cup of bold, good quality coffee as a chaser. Please don’t forget to top that slice of cheesecake with a dollop of real whipped cream!

Limoncello liqueur, the star ingredient of this limoncello cheesecake, has an interesting past. Several people and towns along Italy’s beautiful

PAOLUCCI LIMONCELLO

Amalfi coast lay claim to having originated the drink. How it came into being isn’t important, but reading all the various theories and claims is an enjoyable past-time (the foggy origins of many of the foods and drinks we eat – the sense of mystery and wonder – add to much of the delight foodies find in everything food). Although the theory about the farmers and fishermen in the region using limoncello centuries ago to ward off the cold in the mornings is quaint, this drink is fairly high in alcohol content. One wonders if these farmers and fishermen would have been able to carry on their day’s work if they had limoncello coursing through their veins. Or perhaps in addition to deadening them to the cold, it deadened their sense of responsibility, so that they didn’t worry about getting their work finished for the day! The theory I prefer to lean toward as true (with absolutely no shred of evidence as to its veracity – just a willing suspension of disbelief on my part) is that nuns of Santa Rosa in Conca dei Marini developed the lemon liqueur, and then used it to make the lemon pastry they call sfoglietta Santa Rosa. This theory may not be far off from fact; it can happen. We know that 18th century Carthusian monks at the Grand Chartreuse monastery gave us the herbal liqueurs green and yellow Chartreuse, so why can’t 17th century nuns give us limoncello?

The undisputed facts concerning limoncello are that it did originate somewhere on the Amalfi coast, where lemons are plentiful, and that it has become the favorite liqueur of Italians. They use it as an aperitif, as well as a digestif.  Many Italian families develop their own recipes for limoncello. This liqueur is also quickly gaining popularity throughout the world, so that distilleries in other countries are now distilling their own limoncello. Even Texas has its own locally distilled limoncello: Paula’s Texas Lemon.

Limoncello (like most liqueurs) can be pricey, but I find that Specs has the most reasonably priced selection of limoncello in San Antonio and in Austin. One reason Specs prices are more reasonable is that the store offers discounts for people who use cash or debit cards to make their purchases. The liqueur is worth its price, though; it tastes delicious by itself, but it also tastes delicious in mixed drink (a shot of limoncello in a glass of blood orange juice, served in a sugar-rimmed glass – amazing!) and as an ingredient in savory dishes. I’ve used it before to make a light lemon sauce for pecan-crusted oven-baked chicken: simply wonderful.

Limoncello is made with grain alcohol, so not all brands may be gluten-free. Ventura Limoncello is made with certified gluten-free grain alcohol, so it is safe. Luxardo, Caravella, and Paolucci limoncellos (as verified by the companies that produce them) are gluten-free, as well. Paula’s Texas Lemon, a locally (Austin-based) produced limoncello, is made from a corn alcohol base; is gluten-free, as well.  Another option to finding commercially produced gluten-free limoncello  is to make your own. Limoncello is apparently an easy and popular liqueur to make at home.   Once you’ve purchased your limoncello (or  have made it – recipes for home-made limoncello are all over the Internet), you are ready to make the most scrumptious of gluten-free cheesecakes!

Hints for making the cheesecake:

I add rice flour to the cheesecake batter, to help prevent the cake from cracking. The flour can be omitted, but the cake stands more of a chance of cracking without the flour. Some people add cornstarch instead of flour. The starch in the cornstarch or flour actually prevents the egg proteins from over-coagulating, and it’s this over-coagulating that causes the cracks.

One of the most difficult tasks in making a cheesecake is to remove it, still in tact, from the spring-form bottom. I wrap the bottom of my spring-form pan with foil, then butter the foil, before I pour the batter in the pan. When the cake is cooled in the refrigerator for a few hours, I simply pull up the edge of the foil after I loosen remove the side of the pan and then I can easily left the cheesecake off the spring-form bottom. The cake easily comes off the foil, so that I can place it prettily on a large, crystal platter.

Gluten-Free Limoncello Cheesecake Supreme

Crust

1 package Mi-Del (or 2 cups) Gluten-free ginger snaps, crushed
1/3 cup sugar
6 tbls unsalted, cultured butter, melted

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Mix crumbs, sugar, and melted butter together.  Press mixture into 9 inch springform pan.  Bake for ten minutes. After removing the crust from the oven, turn the oven temperature down to 300 degrees.

Fillings

1st filling

32 oz 365 (Whole Foods private label) cream cheese
2 cup granulated sugar
4 tbls white rice flour
¼ tsp vanilla bean salt
½ tbls lemon zest
4 eggs
2 egg yolks
¼ cup whole fat Greek vanilla yogurt
½ cup limoncello

Beat together the cream cheese and sugar until smooth and fluffy.
Add eggs and egg yolks one at a time, without excessive beating
Mix in remaining batter ingredients.
Pour into pan and bake at 300 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until the center of the surface is somewhat solid.
Remove from oven and let rest ten minutes.

2nd filling

2 cups sour cream
1/3  cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla vanilla bean paste
1 egg, beaten

Mix together the sour cream, sugar, vanilla paste, and egg.
Spread evenly over the top.
Bake another 10 minutes; remove from oven and let cool to room temperature
Refrigerate for about four hours.

Topping

¾ cup sugar
2 tbls cornstarch
½ cup water
¼ c limoncello
1 egg yolk, room temperature

Mix sugar and cornstarch in a small saucepan.
Add liquids slowly.
Bring to a slow boil and stir until thick.
To incorporate the egg yolk, first stir a tablespoon of the hot liquid into the yolk, then add to the lemon mixture.
Stir and heat until jelled.  Cool before pouring over the cheesecake.

Refrigerate cheesecake several hours before serving.

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