If I can cook it, you can cook it And I'll travel the world to bring it back home to you.
Marcus Porcius Cato 234-149 BC
If New York has a cake, it is most certainly our richly indulgent and sumptuously creamy cheesecake. There is a lot of culinary history to support this claim. And then there’s Junior’s, a Brooklyn Temple to Cheesecake which made history last year when its owner, Alan Rosen, rejected a $45 million offer to buy its downtown Brooklyn location. Rosen simply didn’t have the heart to see the landmark torn down to be replaced by a condo tower. That gives you some idea of how passionately New Yorker’s in general and Mr. Rosen in particular, feel about cheese cake. Cheesecake itself goes back to the 1st Century AD. According to an article written by Linda Stradley for the website www.whatscookingamerica.net, Marcus Porcius Cato, a Roman politician and writer gave his recipe for “Libum”, a small cake used as a temple offering. He wrote: “Libum
Libum, the world’s first
to be made as follows: 2 pounds cheese well crushed in a mortar; when it is well crushed, add in 1 pound bread-wheat flour” and then offered the first recorded piece of dietary advice about cheesecake, Cato adds: “Or, if you want it to be lighter, just 1/2 a pound, to be mixed with the cheese. Add one egg and mix all together well. Make a loaf of this, with the leaves under it, and cook slowly in a hot fire under a brick.”
William Lawrence, the inventor
of Cream Cheese
Cheesecake is commonly made with one of four cheeses: Ricotta, Nuefchatel, cottage cheese or Cream Cheese. But for true New York Cheesecake only the latter is ever used. Cream Cheese was invented in 1872 in Chester, New York by one William Lawrence. In attempting to duplicate the popular Neufchatel cheese from France, he discovered a formula for an un-ripened cheese that was even richer and creamier, hence the name “Cream Cheese”.
Despite it being a New Yorker’s invention, for some obscure reason, New York’s Empire Cheese Company began producing “Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese”, the cream cheese that is still far and away the preferred brand for making a true New York Cheesecake. According to Kraft Foods website it was James Kraft, who in 1912 developed and method to pasteurize Philadelphia Cream Cheese. This newer kind of cream cheese became the industry standard.
New York cheesecake is pure, unadulterated cheesecake, made with pure cream cheese, cream, eggs, and sugar and lemon zest. It has a slight tartness from the lemon counterbalancing the intense richness of the cream. Even the strawberry topping we’re celebrating today would raise some eyebrows among New York Cheesecake connoisseurs. And virtually every New Yorker is one: By the turn of the 20th century virtually every New York restaurant had their own cheesecake recipe on their menus. Today, while it’s not on every menu in town, it well represented nonetheless.
Andrew’s recipe comes from Ms. Greenspan’s “Baking” (Houghton Mifflin 2006) and from Mr. Maglieri’s “Perfect Cakes” (Harper Collins 2002) .Ms Greenspan, who is responsible for the filling and the crust, starts her recipe off by saying “Not really a New York Cheesecake—there’s no lemon”. Mr. Maglieri, whose strawberry topping Andrew used, first gives us a set of cheesecake rules:
1.All ingredients must be at room temperature of a smooth, lump-free batter.
2. Don’t overmix the batter. If you do, you incorporate too much air which will make the cheesecake rise too much while it is baking only to “sink dismally in the center as it cools”.
3. Bake most cheesecakes in a pan of water to help reduce the bottom heat so the cheesecake sets without rising and ruining its texture.
4. Don’t overbake the cheesecake. When the baking time has elapsed, take the cake out of the oven. It will still be wobbly in the center which it is supposed to be.
Now that you know the rules and the history, here’s the recipe with grateful thanks to Dorie Greenspan and Nick Maglieri.
Recipe for Strawberry Cheesecake
For the crust:
1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
For the cheesecake:
2 pounds (four 8-ounce boxes) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sour cream or heavy cream, or a combination of the two
For the Strawberry topping:
2 pints of strawberries, hulled and sliced
½ cup red currant jelly
To make the crust:
1. Butter a 9-inch springform pan—choose one that has sides that are 2 3/4 inches high (if the sides are lower, you will have cheesecake batter leftover)—and wrap the bottom of the pan in a double layer of aluminum foil; put the pan on a baking sheet.
2. Stir the crumbs, sugar and salt together in a medium bowl. Pour over the melted butter and stir until all of the dry ingredients are uniformly moist. (I do this with my fingers.) Turn the ingredients into the buttered springform pan and use your fingers to pat an even layer of crumbs along the bottom of the pan and about halfway up the sides. Don’t worry if the sides are not perfectly even or if the crumbs reach above or below the midway mark on the sides—this doesn’t have to be a precision job. Put the pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven.
3. Center a rack in the oven, preheat the oven to 350°F and place the springform on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Set the crust aside to cool on a rack while you make the cheesecake filling. 4. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F. To make the cheesecake:
1. Put a kettle of water on to boil.
2. Working in a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese at medium speed until it is soft and lives up to the creamy part of its name, about 4 minutes. With the mixer running, add the sugar and salt and continue to beat another 4 minutes or so, until the cream cheese is light. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one by one, beating for a full minute after each addition—you want a well-aerated batter. Reduce the mixer speed to low and stir in the sour cream and/or heavy cream. 3. Put the foil-wrapped springform pan in the roaster pan.
4. Give the batter a few stirs with a rubber spatula, just to make sure that nothing has been left unmixed at the bottom of the bowl, and scrape the batter into the springform pan. The batter will reach the brim of the pan. (If you have a pan with lower sides and have leftover batter, you can bake the batter in a buttered ramekin or small soufflé mold.) Put the roasting pan in the oven. Pour enough boiling water into the roaster to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.
5. After 1 hour, carefully pull the setup out of the oven, lift the springform pan out of the roaster—be careful, there may be some hot water in the aluminum foil—remove the foil. Let the cheesecake come to room temperature on a cooling rack.
6. Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 minutes, at which point the top will be browned (and perhaps cracked) and may have risen just a little above the rim of the pan. Turn off the oven’s heat and prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon. Allow the cheesecake to luxuriate in its water bath for another hour.
7. After 1 hour, carefully pull the setup out of the oven, lift the springform pan out of the roaster—be careful, there may be some hot water in the aluminum foil—remove the foil. Let the cheesecake come to room temperature on a cooling rack.
8. When the cake is cool, cover the top lightly and chill the cake for at least 4 hours, although overnight would be better.
Next, make the Strawberry topping:
1. Rinse, hull and slice 2 pints of strawberries.
2. Starting at the outer edge of the baked and chilled cheesecake, arrange the strawberry slices in concentric circles, points outward, like the petals of a flower. Heat ½ cup of currant jelly and reduce until slightly thickened, the glaze the berries, using a pastry brush.