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Strawberry Cheesecake

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
cheesecake.

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.



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