Spring Has Sprung

This Wednesday, March 20th is the Vernal Equinox, more commonly known as the first day of Spring.  And this past weekend I really felt like Spring has arrived in California.  Days are getting longer, temperatures slightly warmer and there is a freshness in the air that you only get when the winter starts to thaw out.

To make the most of the March sunshine, I was lucky enough to spend the last 48 hours driving down Highway 1 to Big Sur.  As we ambled along the windy roads, hugging the dramatic pacific coastline, taking in miles and miles of azure waters; I spent time gazing out at the light haze dancing along the horizon, and experiencing a kind of stillness that only comes from being in the presence of something awe-inspiring.

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In addition to the spectacular scenery, we also experienced some pretty awe-inspiring food & wine.  One of my highlights was devouring the best lemon cake I’ve ever eaten.  It was buttery but light, sweet but zesty, and literally tasted like sunshine.

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Typically, I prefer chocolate desserts to fruit ones, other than when it comes to cake.  Call me crazy but I’m not a huge fan of chocolate sponge.  Lemon sponge is a whole other story.

This particular lemon cake came courtesy of Nepenthe, which has quite possibly the most breathtaking restaurant view I have ever encountered.  It was simply mesmerizing.   In fact it was so beautiful, it almost rendered me speechless.   And for those of you who know me, you will understand the impact of that statement.

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Combine that view with a half bottle of King Estate Oregon Pinot Gris, a glass of Santa Lucia Pinot Noir, a juicy burger and a slice of lemon chiffon cake and the result was one very content Epicurious Brit.

Until I get round to rustling up some lemon chiffon cupcakes with a raspberry mousse filling (oh yes, it’s happening), I thought I would share with you my other favourite lemon dessert: cheesecake.

I made these dinky desserts a few months ago when I had an abundance of lemons and cream cheese at home, and felt like something yummy for pudding.  The picture is pretty unappealing because I was rushing out the door to meet friends, but I promise that they are more delicious than they look.

These are quick and easy baked cheesecakes, very similar to the mini Hazelnut-Chocolate Cheesecakes I posted a while ago.  In my opinion, gingersnaps are the only biscuit you should use as a base for lemon cheesecake.  There is something magical about the combination of spicy ginger, zesty lemon and unctuous cream cheese when consumed all in one mouthful.

Despite the fact I made these in the depths of winter (if there is even such a thing as the depths of winter in SF) they are actually far more suited to a spring time dinner party.  Or after a BBQ out on the deck on a balmy summers evening by the lake.

Ok summer, we are ready whenever you are.  Until then, close your eyes and indulge your senses in a spoonful of sunshine.  And whatever you do, make sure you drive down Highway 1 to Big Sur at least once in your life.  It’s just too beautiful to miss.

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Mini Lemon Cheesecakes

Thanks to Baking Bites for the recipe inspiration!

Makes: 12 cupcake sized cheesecakes
Baking time: 15-20 minutes

INGREDIENTS

Crust

  • 15 gingersnaps, crushed
  • 2 tbsps brown sugar
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • small pinch salt
  • 2 tbsps butter, melted

Cheesecake

  • 1 packet of cream cheese (8oz), softened
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp lemon zest
  • juice of 1 lemon 

METHOD

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and place cupcake cases in a cupcake baking tray.
  • In a bowl, combine gingersnap crumbs, butter, sugar and lemon zest and mix well.
  • Place a tablespoon of crumb mixture into the each cupcake case.  I use the bottom of a small glass to pack the crumbs in there nice and tightly.
  • Put the baking tray in the oven for 5 minutes to help set the crumb base.  Take out and set aside.
  • To make the cheesecake mixture stir together the cream cheese, sour cream and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg, vanilla extract lemon juice and lemon zest.
  • Divide cheesecake mixture evenly into cupcake cases and bake for 15-20 minutes, until cheesecakes are set, but still have a slight wobble in the middle. 
  • Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the muffin pan, then carefully transfer cheesecakes to a cooling rack to cool completely before refrigerating.

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