Mom’s Turtle Cheesecake for a Special Son’s Birthday


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80eee-img_4348When your children are growing up, if you’re a baker (and sometimes even if you’re not), you bake a cake for their birthdays.  I wonder if that’s still true?  Most of the time my kids’ parties were simple affairs—celebratory and fun, to be sure–but sort of cake and ice cream parties for a bunch of their buddies or maybe even just the family and neighbors.

(below:  Sean, a marvelous cook, making his world-renowned pizza–one of my frequent requests.  He’s also a fine brewer.  Nice combination, huh?)



As they grew, and our budget expanded, we might have extended the celebration a bit to include supper out (pizza) or to have a sleepover with pizza ordered in.  But the cake remained.  Mom made the cake.  And it wasn’t always a cake, per se.

Sometimes there was a request for pie, cupcakes,  or even for lemon bars.  My famous brownies came up on the list.  Actually, they still do.  At one time, I taught myself to decorate cakes; I couldn’t afford the class.  My cakes always tasted better than they were decorated, but at least I could get someone’s name written and a border piped.  I did learn — somewhat — to draw on cakes and that’s incredible since I can’t draw at all. A carrot that looks like a carrot still appears on my carrot cake.  Leaves show up come fall and so on.  And my friends all know I’m good for a birthday sweet if they only say the word or tell me what they want.  I just like to have an excuse to bake.

(right, above and below:  Sean, the dog whisperer)


Now that they’re all grown up…


...they’re not always around on their birthdays. But if they are, they still get their choice of a treat.  This year, for Sean’s ??th birthday, (I won’t spill his beans or mine.) I didn’t ask him what he wanted.  He, like his Dad, loves cheesecake.   Dave each year requests the basic, no frills, heavier than lead version I’ve made for years, Pagliacci’s New York Cheesecake (Victoria, British Columbia). After years and years of making this cake, I’m ashamed to say that when we finally visited Victoria, BC, in 2010, we did not have time to go to Pagliacci’s due to a very tight cruise ship tour schedule.  Great reason to go back!



And while Sean loves that one, he also loves the souped-up version I call “Turtle Cheesecake.”  This year, I changed a few things and pretty much recreated the cake.  I not only added the “turtle” element, but I worked to lighten it up and heighten taste. I think I just might have improved it–the “turtle” version anyway.  If you’re adding caramel sauce, chocolate,  and toasted pecans, the lightened cheesecake –less sweet and less heavy, and then less caloric and healthier– just makes sense. There really didn’t seem to be much difference in the texture despite the changes and the taste was everything you’d want in a cheesecake.

What I changed to lighten and increase the taste for this cake, besides the typical “turtle” chocolate and caramel additions: 

1.  I decreased the cream cheese by 1/2 pound (8 ounces — one regular package) and substituted 1 cup plain no-fat Greek yogurt.

2.  I decreased the eggs from 5 whole eggs and 3 egg yolks to 4 eggs total.

3.  I decreased the granulated  sugar from 1 3/4 cups to 1 1/4 cups.

4. I changed the heavy cream to 2% milk.

5. I changed the lemon juice to orange juice.

6. I decreased the vanilla extract a little and added some almond extract.

7. I added nuts to the crust and replaced some of the butter with peanut butter.

See what you think:



mom’s turtle cheesecake     

 serves 12

A not-too-sweet vanilla cheese cake with chocolate swirls on a nutty crust. Served gar-nished with salted caramel sauce* and toasted pecans


CRUST:  (above photo)

  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup toasted and  ground pecans
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter

IMG_4586 IMG_4587 IMG_4589

CHOCOLATE SWIRL (above and right photos)**

  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup) chopped bittersweet chocolate (or 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips)


  • 2 pounds (32 ounces) room temperature low-fat cream cheese
  • 1 cup plain, non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup milk

GARNISH:  1 cup toasted pecans and Salted Caramel Sauce*

    To quickly make toasted pecans:   Place  1 cup pecan halves in 8-inch skillet over low heat for 6-7 minutes until toasted. 

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and place rack in center of oven.
  2. CRUST:  In a large bowl, by hand, or in the food processor, mix together all of the ingredients for the crust very well until the mixture resembles moist, coarse sand.  Press crumb mixture into the bottom and about 1-inch up the sides of a 10-inch springform pan. Place in refrigerator.
  3. CHOCOLATE SWIRL:   Heat cream over low heat in a small sauce pan.  Add chopped chocolate and stir until just melted.  Stir well and set aside to cool.
  4. FILLING:  In a food processor using steel blade, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, or in a standing mixer, process or beat together the softened cream cheese and yogurt until smooth.  Add orange juice,  sugar, flour, and extracts, and process or mix well.
  5. Pour in beaten eggs a little at a time and process or beat after each addition until very smooth and completely mixed.  Pour in milk and mix until just well-combined.
  6. Pour half of the batter into the springform pan.  Dot evenly with tablespoons of the chocolate swirl, and swirl the chocolate gently through the batter using a sharp knife.  Pour the other half of the batter on top and dot with tablespoons of the remainder of the chocolate swirl.  Swirl again with a sharp knife.
  7. Bake 20 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake approximately 45 minutes or until toothpick, inserted at center of cake, comes out just almost clean.  Cool on rack.  Cake may crack.+  Chill eight hours or overnight.
  8. Cut and serve with a generous drizzle of caramel sauce and a few toasted pecans.

+ To avoid the cracking:  You can try placing a pan of hot water in the oven while the cake bakes.  It may or may not do the trick.


* Salted Caramel Sauce:  I used Carole Bloom’s Classic Caramel Sauce, to which I added a good pinch (1/8 teaspoon) of kosher salt at the very end of preparation.  Use any caramel sauce you’d like or pick up a jar at the store, though it’s very easy (and much tastier) to make it.  It’s a bit of a chemistry experiment, but fun!

IMG_4584**Chocolate swirl makes a lovely sauce for ice cream or other desserts that would benefit from a luscious soft drizzle of chocolate.  The better the chocolate, the better the swirl, and some chocolate chips aren’t great chocolate.  Callebaut is an exception.  I used chopped bittersweet Ghiradelli chocolate, available at most grocery stores at a reasonable price.  If I have time to drive to Whole Foods,  and am feeling flush, I will buy Valrhona chocolate, but it’s a treat and I really think the bittersweet Ghiradelli does a perfectly fine job for baking or eating.

IMG_4583Cook’s Note:  Make this cake when you have  a little time to spare.  It deserves a good part of the morning  or half the afternoon so that you needn’t rush and can really pay attention to it. The caramel sauce needs all of your undivided attention.  Try not to have the mail woman ring the bell needing postage due if you can help it.  Or to drop your checkbook in the dog’s water while you’re trying to find change.  That’s what happened at my house.

Substituting Greek yogurt
for sour cream, butter, cream cheese, etc.

Celebrate all birthdays.  Enjoy each moment, Sean!  I think you hung the moon, honey.

(below:  our current Colorado moon taken at night with my iPhone)


Sing a new song,


A note to readers:  I also blog at Dinner Place — Cooking for One.  Check it out!

3 thoughts on “Mom’s Turtle Cheesecake for a Special Son’s Birthday

  1. Pingback: Ina Fridays — Desserts — Classic Cheesecake for the Fourth of July | More Time at the Table

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