Why is it that every time I’m on a diet, someone puts a cheesecake on the table? A conspiracy, I tell you! Really, I’m only a mortal human being. There’s just so much I can resist. You know where this is leading, I’m sure. Of course, my will power caves in and I end up with a big slab of it on my plate, waiting for consumption. And consume I do. But that’s what cheesecake is about. Total indulgence.
Cheesecake isn’t really a cake, in my estimation. It’s more like a really thick cheese custard. So a misnomer is about the only negative thing I can say here since I don’t know anyone who doesn’t adore it. No wonder. Whoever thought of combining fresh cream cheese, sour cream, eggs and sugar – then baking it in a spring form pan – is a genius in my culinary book. But who did come up with the idea?
I’ve heard tell that the cheesecake, in its most literal meaning, was originated in Ancient Greece as it was served to Olympic athletes. More recent history records recipes for cakes made with cottage cheese that were brought to this country by immigrants. However, it seems that the original cream cheese version was invented by Arnold Reuben, owner of the Turf Restaurant in New York City. Good job, Arnold.
Now, I know there are several kinds of cheesecake. While growing up, my parents were always entertaining guests for dinner. Inevitably, someone would stop by a local bakery and bring a cheesecake for dessert. You remember – the one’s that came in the white boxes tied with string? There was something not quite right about those cheesecakes. Sort of fluffy and dry and strangely garnished with yellow cake crumbs. Not my cup of tea. The real deal, as far as this guy is concerned, is the thick, dense, creamy cheesecake that put Junior’s here in New York City on the map. My Aunt Ann somehow procured their recipe, and began bringing it to family functions – on demand. And it’s remained the only kind of American cheesecake for me ever since.
I say American cheesecake, because being the Italian that I am, I must mention our take on this bit of heaven. These are made with ricotta cheese and often flavored with citrus. I must say, the Italian cheesecake is truly sublime. So much so that my friend Phyllis offered a recipe for you to try. You’ll find it below. Truly outstanding.
So, variations on the theme? There are many. Some prefer their cheesecake smothered with strawberries, cherries, blueberries or any other fruit. I can do that. Others desire it marbled with velvety chocolate. Works for me. Thanksgiving dessert tables offer pumpkin cheesecake, boasting those warm holiday spices. I look forward to it every year. As for the crust – traditional or graham cracker both work. I’m happy just as long as I’m served a large wedge.
I’ve been know to brulee my cheesecake. Just a sprinkling of sugar and a gentle torching do the trick. Sometimes I add a sweet liqueur, such as Gran Marnier, to the mix. Just a little bit goes a long way. I’ve also pulled all the stops and fried my cheesecake. Just be sure that it’s really cold. Then cut some small squares, dip them in batter, fry until golden and serve with whipped cream. Hey, if they can do it with Twinkies and Oreos, I can do it with cheesecake.
On a diet? Me too. But look at it this way. Salads and grilled fish or chicken all week will leave plenty of room for cheesecake on the weekends. American or Italian style, just one slice will make life worth living. That’s why it was invented.
I’ve always preferred the light, ethereal Italian cheesecake to the sometimes unctuous New York cheesecake. The latter uses cream cheese only, but the Italian version includes sour cream for tang and ricotta for lightness. The citrus zest is a must.
This recipe appeared in The Daily News in 1979. It was featured in a little northern Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village called New Port Alba. It’s both rich and delicate. I serve it with fresh raspberry coulis, the perfect accompaniment.
1 lb. whole milk ricotta cheese
1 lb. sour cream
1 lb. cream cheese (or mascarpone)
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 stick sweet butter, melted
Pinch of salt
3 large eggs
3 T flour
3 T cornstarch
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 ½ T pure vanilla extract
¼ t Fiori Di Sicilia,* optional
Finely grated zest from one orange and one lemon
1. Have all filling ingredients at room temperature. Grease and flour the bottom and sides of a 9 X 3-inch springform pan.
2. In a stand mixer beat together ricotta, sour cream and cream cheese until well mixed.
3. Beat in sugar and then melted butter and pinch of salt.
4. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
5. Add flour, cornstarch, lemon juice, vanilla, Fiori Di Sicilia and zest, beating until completely mixed.
6. Transfer to prepared pan and bake in a preheated 300 degree oven for one hour.
7. Turn off heat and let cake stay in oven, door closed, for another hour.
8. Remove and let cake cool completely in pan, set on a wire rack. Cover and refrigerate. Remove sides of pan before serving and serve slightly chilled.
In a small saucepan, mash and heat ½ pint of fresh raspberries with 6 oz. raspberry preserves and 1 T Grand Marnier, stirring until syrupy. Strain syrup and mix with ½ pint fresh raspberries. Serve with cheesecake.
· Fiori Di Sicilia is an all-natural combination of vanilla and citrus with a pleasingly floral aroma. Italians use it to scent their panettone and pandoro. It can be mail ordered.
Photographer Bill Brady
Written by Victor Ribaudo
Recipe Provided by Phyllis Kirigin, aka sweetpaprika
Blog syndicated at the datingsymbol.com
Images were photographed to Gwynns Sweet indulgence