Christmas cheesecake
Rich, indulgent, and irresistible -- that's the best way to describe this elegant dish. Whether for brunch or dinner, it's a wonderful (and delicious) way to celebrate the holiday season.

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 if it requires far more work than it actually does. It should definitely bring requests for seconds, if it lasts that long!

Christmas Cheesecake

Servings: 12 to 14

Crust:
1 cup finely ground pecans
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 cup confectioner's sugar
8 Tbsps unsalted butter, melted

Filling and topping:
1/2 cup plus golden raisins, plus 2 Tbsps for garnish
6 tablespoons dried cranberries, plus 2 Tbsps for garnish
1/4 cup finely diced dried apricots, plus 2 Tbsps 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 center position and preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

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

For 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 an hour or longer.

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

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

Remove cheesecake from 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 at least 24 hours or up to 2 days.

-- Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of "Sunday Soup," Chronicle Books, 2008.

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