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Ambrosial cheesecake right for holidays

| Sunday, Dec. 13, 2009

Rich, indulgent, and irresistible are words that describe this Christmas cheesecake. From the pecan crust and creamy filling studded with dried fruits soaked in orange liqueur to the sour cream topping, everything about this dessert is ambrosial. An update of an old family recipe, it is perfect to end a special dinner on Christmas Eve or Day.

This delectable cake comes with other bonuses for holiday cooks. It can be baked and garnished a day (even two!) ahead and improves in flavor as it rests in the fridge. It is easily transported in a cake carrier to another site, and it serves 12 to 14 with generous portions. Best of all, this beautiful confection looks as though it requires far more work than it actually does. It should definitely bring requests for seconds.

Christmas Cheesecake

For the crust :

• 1 cup finely ground pecans

• 1 cup graham cracker crumbs

• 1 cup confectioner's sugar

• 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the filling and topping :

• 1/2 cup plus golden raisins, plus 2 tablespoons for garnish

• 6 tablespoons dried cranberries, plus 2 tablespoons for garnish

• 1/4 cup finely diced dried apricots, plus 2 tablespoons for garnish

• 1/4 cup currants, plus 2 tablespoons for garnish

• 1/3 cup orange liqueur such as Cointreau or Grand Marnier

• 1 1/2 pounds cream cheese, at room temperature

• 1 cup sugar

• 4 large eggs

• 16 ounces sour cream

• 3/4 cup sugar

Arrange a rack at the center position and heat the oven to 300 degrees.

To prepare the crust : Toss the pecans, graham cracker crumbs and confectioners' sugar in a 10-inch springform pan, and pour in the melted butter. Mix with a fork until the mixture is thoroughly moistened. Use your fingers to firmly pack the mixture evenly on the bottom and halfway up the sides of the pan.

To prepare the filling : Place 1/2 cup raisins, 6 tablespoons cranberries and 1/4 cup each apricots and currants in a mixing bowl. Cover with orange liqueur and let marinate for an hour or longer.

Place the cream cheese and sugar in a mixing bowl and, using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat until the mixture is smooth and creamy, for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the eggs, and beat just until incorporated. Drain the marinated fruits and fold them into the cream cheese mixture. Pour the filling into the prepared pan. Bake the cheesecake until firm, for 50 to 55 minutes. Remove from the oven but retain the oven temperature.

To prepare the topping : Whisk the sour cream and sugar together in a mixing bowl, then with a metal spatula or table knife, spread the mixture over the warm cheesecake. Return to the oven and bake until the topping is set, for about 10 minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the oven and cool to room temperature. Mix 2 tablespoons each raisins, cranberries, apricots and currants together, and arrange them as a border on top of the cheesecake. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours or up to 2 days.

Makes 12 to 14 servings.

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