Though a cheesecake can be savory (and served with crackers as an appetizer), most of us think of the term as describing a luscious, rich dessert. It may be baked or unbaked (usually refrigerated). The texture of any cheese cake can vary greatly – from light and airy to dense and rich to smooth and creamy. All cheesecake begin with cheese – usually cream cheese, ricotta cheese, cottage cheese or sometimes Swiss or Cheddar cheese. A cheesecake may or may not have a crust, which can be a light dusting of breadcrumbs, a cookie crust or a pastry crust. The filling is made by creaming the cheese and mixing it with eggs, sugar (for dessert) and other flavorings. The mixture is then poured into a special SPRINGFORM PAN and baked. After baking, the cheesecake is thoroughly chilled and generally topped by sour cream, whipped cream, fruit or some other embellishment.
Smooth fresh unripened cheese sweetened with honey must be almost as old as cheese-making itself, and “land of milk and honey” is a deep-rooted idiom. An ancient form of cheesecake may have been a popular dish in ancient Greece even prior to Romans’ adoption of it with the conquest of Greece. The earliest attested mention of a cheesecake is by the Greek physician Aegimus (5th century BCE), who wrote a book on the art of making cheesecakes (πλακουντοποιικόν σύγγραμμα—plakountopoiikon suggramma). The earliest extant cheesecake recipes are found in Cato the Elder’s De Agri Cultura, which includes recipes for three cakes for religious uses: libum, savillum and placenta. Of the three, placenta is most like most modern cheesecakes, having a crust that is separately prepared and baked.
A more modern version is found in Forme of Cury, an English cookbook from 1390. On this basis, chef Heston Blumenthal has argued that cheesecake is an English invention.
It did not start looking like the normal cheesecake that we see today until around the 18th century. Europeans began removing yeast and adding beaten eggs instead. With the overpowering yeast flavor gone, the result tasted more like a dessert treat.
Modern commercial American cream cheese was developed in 1872, when William Lawrence, from Chester, New York, while looking for a way to recreate the soft, French cheese Neufchâtel, accidentally came up with a way of making an “unripened cheese” that is heavier and creamier; other dairymen came up with similar creations independently.
Modern cheesecake comes in two different types. Along with the baked cheesecake, some cheesecakes are made with uncooked cream-cheese on a crumbled-biscuit base. This type of cheesecake was invented in the United States.
Almost all modern cheesecakes in the United States and Canada use cream cheese; in Italy, cheesecakes use ricotta and mascarpone; Germany, the Netherlands, and Poland use quark. Cheesecakes are most easily baked in a leak-proof springform pan, often paired with a water bath to more evenly distribute the heat. Because of the high density of most cheesecakes, they continue baking for some time after removal from an oven.
The early Greeks considered cheesecake a cake. Some modern authors point to the presence of many eggs, the sole source of leavening, as proof that it is a torte. Still others claim that the separate crust, the soft filling, and the absence of flour prove that it is a custard pie
RECIPE: Original New York Style Cheesecake
For the Cheesecake’s Crust:
- 11-14 Graham Crackers or any other type of wheat cookies
- 6 tablespoons melted butter
- butter for pan (important: room temperature)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- pinch of salt
For the Cheesecake (one 10-inch cake):
- 3 1/2 pounds (7 eight-ounce packages) philadelphia cream cheese (important: room temperature)
- 2 1/4 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sour cream (important: room temperature)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 5 large eggs (important: room temperature)
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
- Butter the sides and bottom of a 10-inch springform pan
- Now wrap exterior of the pan (including base) in a double layer of foil.
- To make the crust for the cheesecake, process graham crackers in food processor until fine. Now you can combine the crumbs, the melted butter, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl.
- Transfer the mixture to the pan and pat it into a flat layer using the bottom of a glass or meat pounder to make it even.
- Put the springform pan in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes. Then place it on a baking sheet and bake until the crust is firm, for about 15 minutes. Let the pan cool completely. (with left over cheesecake mix you can also fill cupcakes with cheesecake)
- Now beat Philadelphia (best brand for me!) cream cheese in a large bowl, on medium speed until well combined and fluffy, for about 3 minutes (scrape down the sides too)
- In another large bowl, whisk together the sugar and flour. Set your mixer on low speed and add the sugar mix to the cream cheese. Mix until well combined and smooth.
- Now it is time to add the sour cream and vanilla. Mix again until smooth.
- Add the 5 eggs, one at a time though, beating until they are just combined (do not overbeat)
- Now we are almost done. Pour the cream cheese filling into your springform pan. Place the pan inside a large, roasting pan. My springform pan fit right into it, I did not have much space left
- Carefully pour boiling water into the roasting pan. Pour in halfway up sides of springform pan. This will prevent the cake from cracking.
- Bake for 45 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and continue baking your New York Cheesecake until it is set but still slightly wobbly in the center, another 30 minutes.
- Turn off your oven but leave your cake in oven with the door halfway open for a good hour.
- Now transfer the springform pan to a wire rack and let the cake cool completely. Refrigerate it uncovered overnight.
- Before you unmold the cake, run a knife around the edge of the cheesecake. And also: When cutting out slices, hold the knife under hot tap water. Dip the knife into hot water and then wipe it on a clean towel before making a new cut. This method will prevent chunks of cake from the previous slice you made from depositing on top of the next slice.