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Jun 17 2011

Ask Bubbe: The Perfect Cheesecake

By at 10:07 am

Here’s the first of our Ask Bubbe advice column. Remember, if you’ve got any parenting-related questions, we’ve found a woman who’s been through it all, so send any and all questions to info@kveller.com.

Dear Bubbe,

Can you tell me the secret to a perfect cheesecake?

-Avital

Dear Avital,

My recipe for cheesecake should be called “The Philosophy of Cheesecake.” It transcends the type of cheese; it is simple; it is pretty quick to make. You may find better cheesecakes made by talented pastrycooks, but this will give you a nice, lightish cake with minimum of patchkerei (fiddliness) and you can whip one up every week for Shabbat morning to have with coffee. Mmmm.

I used to be intimidated by cheesecake recipes calling for pastry bases, separation of eggs, whipped whites, yada yada. It doesn’t have to be that hard! Cheesecake is not an exact science because cheese will vary in moisture content, texture, and fat content, so results will vary but the cheesecake will taste good no matter what. In Australia we are metric but I have given you substitutions.

You will need:

For the cheese filling:

  • 400-500g  (1lb) white cheese, either cottage cheese, continental-style, farmer cheese, quarg, ricotta, whatever, as long as it is not salty
  • About 300ml (8-10oz, a large cup) sour cream
  • 3-4 large eggs
  • ¾ cup sugar, or 1 cup if you like it sweeter
  • 2 tspn vanilla, or more if you are into vanilla,  like I am
  • 100-200ml (1/2 -1 cup) milk
  • 2 level tablespoons cornflour

For the crust:

  • 1 packet plain biscuits (about 200g or 8 oz) like Marie biscuits or Grahams
  • 100g (1 stick) butter
  • Cinnamon, a few shakes
  • A springform cake tin, 24cm (10-12″), lined with baking paper, or lightly greased and floured on the sides
  • A large bowl of electric mixer
  • Small bowl to mix the butter and crushed biscuits

Preheat oven to 160C (150C fan forced) (340 F)

1. Crush the biscuits, either by pulsing in food processor or by placing in a plastic bag and rolling with a rolling pin.

2. Melt the butter, mix with the crumbs in a small bowl, then place in the prepared cake tin. With your fingers, press out the crumbs in an even layer over the bottom of the tin. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Refrigerate while you make the filling.

3. In the large bowl of the mixer, place the sugar and 3 eggs and beat well. Add the cheese bit by bit, beating, then add the sour cream and vanilla.

4. Here’s where you have to make some judgements. If the mixture is so stiff the beaters can’t really get through it, add the milk, 100 mls/3 oz  at a time, beating well. You are aiming for a consistency like thick dollops of cream. If the cheese was very soft, you will not need to add the milk, but you may need the fourth egg to give the mix more setting power.

5. Then add the cornflour, mix well.

6. Place the batter in the prepared baking tin and bake for about 1 hour. The top should not get too brown. The cake will rise in the tin a bit like a soufflé, but don’t get too excited as it WILL settle. To test if it is done, give the tin a little shake; the cake should just give a little jiggle, not slosh around.

7. Once the cake seems done enough, turn off the oven and leave the cake in the oven to cool; it will continue to set and won’t collapse as dramatically.

8. Once cool, refrigerate.

9. To serve, remove from springform tin. Once the cake is cold, it shouldn’t be too hard to peel off the paper and slide the cake onto a serving platter. Decorate with fresh berries and whipped cream if you like, but it’s not necessary. Serve with coffee, or as a dessert with berries.

Variations: This can be gluten-free if you use either gluten-free cookies or shredded coconut as the base, and make sure that the cornflour is not wheat-based. Use crushed plain chocolate biscuits or gingersnaps if you prefer these to plain biscuits. Or add desiccated coconut to the biscuit crumbs.

Add shredded lemon zest and the juice of a lemon to the cheese mixture for a lemon cheesecake. Or swirl chocolate syrup through the mixture, just a little swirled with the tip of a skewer when the cheese mixture is already in the cake tin. Or swirl blueberries or raspberries through the mixture before baking. You can leave out the sour cream completely or you can use the sour cream as a topping; beat it with ¼ cup sugar and pour this over the cheese filling before baking. You can add the berries into this sour cream-sugar mixture and pour over the cheese mixture.

You can do a lower fat version by using low fat cheese and milk and leaving out the sour cream and the crust, but it won’t be the same. Still nice, but not the same.


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