Cheesecake: Mother of Invention
Cheesecake is one of those things we order when in New York, eat after dinner with Sadie and Ethel, and now, that we live in France, make at home. I knew someone who used to go to great lengths and expense to do everything from scratch but would buy her cheesecake, I thought - boy it must be really hard to make. When you come to live in a country where cheese abounds and is appreciated in its uncooked form the way it is, you realize that cheesecake is not something that the French would come up with for dessert. When you've been here for a few years, going back to the land of cheesecake becomes a pilgrammage of sorts. But going home should not be all about cheesecake! It should be about so many other things. Some inventiveness was in order, to create my own source of real, rich, dense, delectable New York style cheesecake. Guess what? It's easy.
My cheesecake is not made with any cheese that can be bought in a store. After much experimentation, I found the perfect cheese. It is made with that fresh cows milk farm cheese that does not age or keep well. The cheese is available at most outdoor markets from the people who sell their own butter and yougert but will keep only for a week before it begins a downward spiral. There is no reason to reject this cheese because it is fragile. It is not heavily salted or whipped or any such nonsense like what you might consider similar ones adapted for mass transport and adopted for length of shelf time. It looks like chevre, is soft, a bit tangy but not much, and is perfect for the cheesecake. When you spead it and eat it plain it tastes exactly like whatever the Philly people were trying to imitate when they developed their product. Except it's fresh. ---> recipe follows.
A friend of mine who often finds herself in similar predicaments showed off some cookies that a friend had toted all the way from Belgium with a suggestion that she use them in place of graham crackers or oreos (neither of which are easily found here) for a crust. They are called speculos. They're cinnamon cookies and do well. I found them recently at a local store.
Cheesecake the French Way
250 grams speculos cookies
50 grams granulated sugar (1/4 cup)
125 g. cup butter
or, for a thinner less fatty crust only along the bottom:
100 grams cookies
2 T. granulated sugar
For the cheese part:
700 grams fresh white farm cheese, room temp
180 grams granulated sugar (1 1/3 cup)
1/4 cup heavy cream
(flavorings of your choice)
Process the cookies, sugar and butter until it makes a thick crumb. Press the crumbs into the sides and along the bottom or just along the bottom of a springform pan, depending on how you like your crust.
Preheat the oven to 145C/300F degrees. Work the cheese and sugar together, add the cream and eggs, stir until fully incorporated. Add flavorings (if desired). Pour batter into the cookie crumb shell. Bake for 50 minutes. The top may become dark brown, depending on your oven. The cake will rise to almost double its volume but then sink back down after you've taken it out of the oven. When you take it out of the oven it will still jiggle a bit. If you have chosen a minimal crust on the bottom, run a knife around the edges of the cake to make sure it settles down evenly. Once it's cool, put it in the refrigerator. This tastes better and better as you eat it over the days. We have not ever had a cheesecake last longer than three days. The last slices are the best. (theory: letting a cheesecake sit for a day or even two uncut might actually improve the cake but this theory has never been tested)
Note on flavorings: People add all kinds of crazy things to their cheesecake. I like mine plain. Vanilla is really not necessary.
Note, this recipe was edited in July 2007 to include an option for less crust, and to lower the cooking temperature from 350F to 300F, which I tried recently with excellent results.
Labels: Spring 06