Until last week, the joys of a warm cheesecake were unbeknownst to me. With my ever present soft-spot for the previously cool but always creamy dessert, I would help myself to a rather generous wedge accompanied by a spoonful, or two, of strawberries in a sugar syrup. For my palate this was a bit too sweet, so I forfeited the syrup for purple grapes, already naturally sweet, crusted in a bit of crunchy sugar. This variety of cheesecake is typical of New York and is combined with the British/Australian tradition of using a crushed biscuit base. The first recipe for cheesecake is thought to date back to the Ancient Greek times but I have both William Lawrence and James Kraft to thank for developing and refining the unripened cheese, also known as cream cheese, in the late 19th – early 20th century. Philadelphia cream cheese is used in most cheesecakes, including the recipe below, and is essential in creating the light yet rich texture characteristic in the best slices.

Feasting on Art has clip in the October 2010 issue of Virgin Blue Voyeur, click here to view.

Henri Fantin-Latour, Still Life with Grapes and a Carnation, c.1880
oil on canvas, 30.5 x 47 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Although Henri Fantin-Latour was predominantly known for his still life floral paintings, he did paint a number of works featuring fruit including Still Life with Grapes and a Carnation, pictured above. The painting is completed in his typical style with the sombre palette influenced by Chardin. His deft skill in arrangement is evident in the painting as well as his refined technique of surface representation. The skin, stretched around each grape appears taut, though the fruits are supple with juice and the crinkled petals of the carnation are perfectly rendered to communicate their fragility. Fantin-Latour is a bit of an enigma when considering his entire body of work. He painted still lifes and portraits in a very conservative and traditional style in the midst of an artistic revolution but was conceptually forward thinking with his ‘imaginative compositions’ – paintings and lithographs inspired by the music of Wagner, Schumann and Berlioz. For this reason, I consider Fantin-Latour a kindred spirit as we both create via inspiration through the art of another.

{Baked Cheesecake with Sugared Grapes}

1 ½ c digestive biscuits, crushed
¼ c brown sugar
½ stick butter, melted
2 2/3 g cream cheese
3/4 c sugar
3 eggs
3 egg yolks
1 TB vanilla extract
1TB lemon juice
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp orange zest
¼ c white wine
2 TB sugar

Crush the digestive biscuits and mix with the brown sugar and melted butter. Press into a buttered baking dish and refrigerate for 20 minutes, until set.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Beat the cream cheese in a large bowl for a few minutes until it is smooth. Add the sugar and continue to beat. Whisk the eggs and the three extra yolks together and pour into the cheese mixture, mix. Once the eggs are fully incorporated, add the salt, vanilla, lemon juice and orange zest.

Remove the crust from the refrigerator. Pour the cheese mixture into the crust and place in a roasting pan. Boil water in a kettle and fill the roasting pan until the water reaches half-way up the side of the baking dish containing the cheesecake.

Slip the cheesecake into the oven and bake for about 45 minutes to an hour until the cake has set, but is not solid. Remove from the roasting pan and let cool.

While the cake is baking, wash the grapes and dip them in the white wine. Roll in the 2 TB of sugar and set on a plate. Place in the freezer and chill for about 20 minutes until cold. Serve with a slice of cheesecake, best when still slightly warm.