I’m susceptible to most holidays but if there was a Valentine’s Day Scrooge, I’d completely support his life choices. Moreover, if the Grinch stole hearts instead of toys, I could really get behind him. Forced gaiety I can handle but forced hearts and flowers can be pretty tough to take (plus you might get caught). Maybe it’s that my own birthday falls a week before (a personal new year’s eve with the requisite highs and lows) or the wear down of a freezing winter, but I felt little need to acknowledge the day and was resisting all cheerful attempts to make a plan, make a reservation, make something happen.Fortunately, the only boy on my mind was turning one so I was too wrapped up in making him an animal cracker cheesecake to worry about it. I’d given him his first bottle and was thrilled when his mom asked if I’d make his first birthday cake. Some time between the cake chilling and icing monkey and elephant cookies, I started thinking about a different kind of cheesecake, one with guava, orange zest and maybe a little rum, a way to acknowledge the day that must not be named.
If I was going to give in and create a Valentine’s Day post, I wanted reflect my own ambivalence and said it with playing cards. This cake would have hearts of course but clubs, spades and diamonds too. After all, is love a question of fate, written in the stars, a direct hit from a bratty cherub or just the luck of the draw? I considered using fresh guavas but they can be hard to find in New York. Worried that guava paste would be too heavy, I used it for decoration instead. Fortunately, I had a couple of cans of poached guava shells left that were just right, sweet but not cloying. Rich, decadent, and French-sky pink, it helped me believe there are worse things than having a day set apart to celebrate obscure Roman saints, love and friendship.
Of course, in many Latin American countries Saint Valentine’s Day goes by el día de los enamorados. “Los enamorados” referring to couples in love – happy, content, and ready to celebrate Hallmark holidays on any given weekday – or just the people who love – the enamored. I may be biased but I prefer the latter interpretation. Everyone warns against being the one who loves too much so I’d rather think that the holiday celebrates them instead since more often than not the deck is stacked against them. Feliz día de los enamorados.
Tarta de Queso y Guayaba/Guava Cheesecake
For the crust:
30 galletas Maria (about 2 cups), well ground but not powdery
6 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
1 ½ pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 14.5 ounce can poached guava shells, well drained
2 tablespoons orange juice
Freshly grated zest from one large orange
1 tablespoon dark rum
¼ cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk
Optional glaze and decoration:
¼ cup guava jelly
4 oz. guava paste
8-9″ springform pan
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a springform pan and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the cracker crumbs and melted butter until the mixture holds together. Fill the prepared pan with the crumb mixture and press into the bottom of the pan to form the crust. If necessary, use a measuring cup to level the bottom. Bake 9-10 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from oven and set aside to cool completely. Tightly wrap the bottom of the pan in aluminum foil and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Combine the guava shells, orange juice, zest and room in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Set aside.
In an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on medium speed till smooth about one minute. Slowly add the sugar and continue to beat on medium high until light and fluffy, about 5 additional minutes. Reduce speed and blend in guava-orange mixture and flour. Add the eggs one at a time, blending well after each additional and periodically scraping down the sides of the bowl until combined. Pour the filling into the prepared pan.
To prepare the baño de María, place the pan in a larger baking pan. Pour enough hot water into the pan so that it comes about halfway up the sides of the mold. Carefully place both pans in the oven and bake for one hour and 15 minutes. Turn off the oven and cool in the oven for an additional hour. Remove from oven and chill for at least four hours or overnight.
Cut guava paste in 1/4″ thick slices. Using small aspic cutter, punch out small forms in desired shapes from guava paste as additional decoration. Press into the surface of the cheesecake.
Heat guava jelly over medium heat until melted, about 3-5 minutes. Lightly brush top of the cake with glaze.
Slice and serve.