Once upon a time there was a wild little girl named Ashley Elise.
She had long curly hair, tall strong legs, and skin the color of sunshine.
She did not like rules or dresses or keeping still, and if she had things her way (as she usually did) she'd spend the day doing cartwheels, singing songs, and dancing, dancing, dancing.
That girl is my sister (and she's having a birthday!).
|When I think of my sister I think about cheesecake. Cheesecake and apricots.|
I spent a lot of time studying her when I was little, she was two years older and my absolute heroine. The way she laughed and ate and styled her hair were cataloged in my mind, so that when I was old enough I could do things exactly the same in that perfectly effortless way.
The eating part though, it never really stuck. My sister's food habits are weird. While I was always pretty consistent, (delicious food all day every day) she was (and is) a tiny dancer and for the most part all I remember her eating was dried apricots, sushi and iced tea. The quirky part came when it was her birthday, and instead of continuing the pattern of light, dainty, and healthful she always requested a cheesecake. A cheesecake, pretty much the densest most decadent dessert you can make. It blew my mind! For ages this confused me, baffled me, since it seemed to be completely out of character. But when I think about it now it makes total sense.
From the day she was born her personality has always been that of go big or go home, it's partly why I studied her so much. She isn't a toe in the water type of girl, with worries and sunscreen and plans, she's a run, and a jump and a CANNONBALL!!! Blue hair? She had it. Party til dawn? Been there, done that. Charm artists, steal airplanes, command snakes with your parseltongue? All in a day's easy work.
So if we're talking birthdays you sure better believe that we're having the cakiest cake there is out there. We're having a cheesecake. And we're totally eating it. We are EATING. IT. ALL.
These days I rarely see her. Life gets in the way, or I have to work or she's off on a pirate ship somewhere. But every year around this time I still think about my heroine. I think about her infectious laugh, her cartwheels and the ferocious way she lives her life and I find myself baking up things for her like she was still close by. Things like cheesecake, and apricots.
Apricot Cheesecake Bars For Ashley
18 graham crackers
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
10 ounces apricots (about 4), halved, pitted, and cut into eighths
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
OR 3/4 cup Apricot jam
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, process graham crackers, 2 tablespoons sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt until fine crumbs form. Transfer to a medium bowl and stir in melted butter until crumbs are moistened. Wipe processor bowl clean. With a flat-bottomed 1-cup measure or glass, press crumbs evenly into a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Bake until crust is firm, 15 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. Reduce heat to 325 degrees.
If you're not using jam
In a small saucepan, bring apricots, 1/4 cup sugar, and pinch of salt to a boil over medium-high, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until mixture is shiny, 10 minutes. In food processor, puree apricot mixture, lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon water.
2. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sour cream on medium until smooth. Add 3/4 cup sugar and beat until smooth. Add vanilla and pinch of salt and beat to combine. Add eggs and beat until smooth, scraping down bowl as needed. Pour cream-cheese mixture into cooled crust and smooth top.
3. Randomly drop small spoonfuls apricot puree or jam on cream-cheese mixture. With a skewer or thin-bladed knife, gently swirl puree. Bake just until set, about 25 - 30 minutes (mixture will still be a little jiggly until it fully chills) Let cool slightly in pan on rack, then refrigerate until chilled and firm before cutting into squares, 2 hours.