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Learning Some Valuable Lessons While the Cheesecake's Cooking

October 13, 1988|JEAN ANDERSON and ELAINE HANNA | Anderson and Hanna are nutritionists and cookbook authors specializing in microwave cookery. and

The microwave, as it turns out, makes dandy cheesecake and teaches several valuable principles in the process.

For example, whenever you melt butter in a microwave, you should cover it with wax paper to keep it from spattering all over the inside of the oven. It's not much fun to clean.

And you should microwave crumb crusts on MEDIUM-HIGH, watching them carefully because sugar mixtures can brown--even burn--with stunning speed. There's a simple explanation for this. Sugar mixtures, and especially buttery ones, attract microwaves. So much for the old wives' tale that food never browns in a microwave oven.

Don't Be Fooled

You can soften cream cheese quickly in a microwave, but for this the power level should be even lower--at MEDIUM--to keep the cream cheese from toughening and/or separating. Don't be fooled by the fact that the cheese keeps its brick shape instead of liquefying. Just prod it and if it is soft, remove it from the oven at once.

Cheesecakes should also be cooked on MEDIUM lest they curdle. And they should not be covered because coverings merely trap steam and water in the filling.

Finally, to make sure that cheesecakes microwave evenly, use a turntable. If the oven isn't equipped with one, you can buy a wind-up or battery-powered model in most housewares departments. Without a turntable, you must rotate the cheesecake every three minutes as the following recipe makes quite clear.

Make this ambrosial cheesecake a day ahead so it will slice easily.

CHERRY CHEESECAKE

1/4 cup butter or margarine

3/4 cup plus 6 tablespoons sugar

1 cup graham cracker crumbs

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese

2 eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 (1-pound) can pitted sour red cherries, drained, liquid reserved

Cherry liquid plus enough water to total 2/3 cup

1 teaspoon lemon juice

2 to 3 drops red food color, optional

Melt butter in 9-inch pie plate, covered with wax paper, by microwaving on HIGH (100% power) 45 to 55 seconds. Add 1/4 cup sugar and cracker crumbs, mixing well with fingers and pressing firmly over bottom and up sides of pie plate.

Microwave, uncovered, on MEDIUM-HIGH (70% power) 2 1/2 to 3 minutes, rotating pie plate 180 degrees every minute, until crust is hot. Watch carefully, crust burns easily. Set crust aside to cool.

Meanwhile, place cream cheese in 1-quart casserole. Cover with wax paper and microwave on MEDIUM (50% power) 2 minutes until soft.

Beat eggs in bowl until foamy, then gradually beat in 6 tablespoons remaining sugar. Continue to beat until pale and thick. Blend into cream cheese until smooth. Stir in vanilla.

Pour mixture into crust, set pie plate on turntable and microwave, uncovered, on MEDIUM 9 to 10 1/2 minutes until filling just sets. Moist dime-sized area in center of cheesecake will set on standing. In ovens without turntable, rotate cheesecake 90 degrees every 3 minutes. Cool cheesecake to lukewarm. Cake will sink slightly, but is normal and accommodates topping nicely.

Combine remaining 1/2 cup sugar, cornstarch and 2/3 cup cherry liquid and water in 1-quart microwave-safe measure. Microwave, uncovered, on HIGH 2 1/2 to 3 minutes, whisking every minute, until sauce boils and thickens.

Stir in cherries, lemon juice and food color. Cool 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then spread evenly on lukewarm cheesecake. Chill 8 to 10 hours before serving. Makes 8 servings.

Note: In ovens of less than 600 watts, increase cooking times about 15%.

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