Inspired by the New Mexican palate, my version of a dessert from a Santa Fe establishment.
Piñon Cheesecake with Caramel Topping
1 cup pine nuts
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1 cup raw sugar
20 ounces neufchâtel cheese ( 2 ½ 8oz blocks)
2 teaspoons corn starch
2 teaspoons corn starch
1 cup half and half
½ teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
Lightly toast pine nuts in a hot skillet over medium high heat 2 to 4 minutes stirring frequently. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 10 inch spring form pan. Place ¼ cup of the nuts into a food processor along with the graham cracker crumbs and 1 teaspoon rosemary. Process until well blended. Add melted butter and mix well. Press mixture evenly into the bottom of the spring form pan. Place raw sugar, 1 tablespoon rosemary and remaining pine nuts in food processor bowl and process until mixture begins holding together. Beat cheese in a large mixing bowl at high speed until softened. Add eggs and continue beating at low speed until they are incorporated, scraping bowl as necessary. Add pine nut mixture, half and half, corn starch, extracts and salt. Beat until well blended. Pour over crust. Bake for 50 minutes, then turn off oven but leave cheesecake in oven for one more hour. Remove and run a knife blade around edges. Allow to cool for 30 minutes. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, several hours or overnight. Serve with plenty of caramel topping.
1 ½ cups half and half
¾ cup raw sugar
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons butter
pinch of salt
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to maintain a slow rolling boil and continue cooking for 15 to 18 minutes, stirring occasionally. Caramel should be pale brown and thick. This sauce can be cooled slightly and poured over entire cheesecake or can be spooned over each slice while hot.
Hints: The raw sugar adds a lovely earthiness to the cheesecake and balances very well with the pine nuts. Measure the rosemary without packing down. It is meant as a subtle hint of evergreen flavor and should not overpower the balance of flavors. This is not a super sweet cheesecake and the topping sweetens it up. The caramel sauce can be used in other dishes as well. I may add a teaspoon of vanilla to it depending on the setting. You can use purchased caramel ice cream topping on the cheese cake instead.
What great Mexican food they have in Albuquerque and Santa Fe! Bill took me for Mexican food at least once a day on our vacation. He is a good sport because it is not his favorite. For fast food Taco Cabana ($) on the corner of Montgomery and Wyoming is our go to spot for a fabulous, quick and cheap fix. It is also only a few blocks up from Shoes on a Shoestring or "Shoe Mecca" as I call it. Both the Santa Anna ($$$) and Corn Maiden ($$$$) restaurants at Hyatt's Tamaya resort just outside of Bernalillo are excellent. In Santa Fe stop at Tomisita's ($$) in the rail yard just outside of old town. Coyote in old town is also terrific. (We really had good food at every place we tried except one near old town Albuquerque that was seafood Mexican place. Not good execution.)