Cheesecake – Italian - Greek - American?
Cheesecake, as known in the US, is a rather new creation however, the first mentions of Cheesecake seem to be from Ancient Rome. The first recipe, written in Latin, is from Cato and is called Savillum (Giacosa, Ilaria Gozzini, "A Taste of Ancient Rome", University of Chicago Press, Chicago. 1992, p. 163) and was made with Farmer’s Cheese better known as Ricotta. Other sources indicate that a crumbled cheesecake was served, in 876 BC, to the Olympians in Ancient Greece. Cakes made with cheese are still widely used in Italian cooking. One of the most famous is the Torta di Ricotta but these cakes have little to do with the version of Cheesecake known today. Cheesecake then appeared in France and England in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Cream cheese, the basic ingredient for the common cheesecake, was invented in the US in 1872. The American dairymen were trying to recreate the French cheese Neufchâtel, a very close cousin to the Italian Mascarpone.
Our taste in desserts is considerable less sweet than most Americans. The Cheesecake, with a few modifications, perfectly meets our idea of what a breakfast sweet or dessert should be. I have been working on this recipe for over five years and only recently have found the flavor and texture desired. My first objective was to decrease the sweetness supplied by sugar allowing the natural flavors to be exposed. The second objective was to eliminate the pasty sensation that coats your mouth when eating cheesecake preferring a smoother, silkier, and more balanced texture that is common with Mascarpone. Finally the cake had to have tremendous flavor without adding syrups or sauces. I wanted to accentuate the balance of the acidity and sweetness of the cheese.
Finally, it was a primary goal to eliminate the industrial fats and sugars in the graham cracker cookie base. During my research I found that until the 1970s the cheesecake base was actually shortbread, which is a very simple butter, sugar, and flour cookie.
Both proportions and methodology are extremely important to arrive at the end product. You may also prepare any simple syrup with fruit to top the cheesecake once cooked if you want to add sweetness.
Ingredients for a 10” cheesecake
For the Crust
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup softened butter
¼ cup sugar
1 egg yolk
¼ tsp. Vanilla
1 tbsp grated lemon peel
For the Filling
32 oz. cream cheese
¼ cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
¼ cup flour
¼ tsp. Vanilla
1 tbsp. Grated Lemon peel
¼ tsp. salt
2 egg yolks
For the cookie crust – mix the flour and sugar together. Mix the egg yolk, the vanilla and the lemon peel together. Add the butter to the flour and stir in with a fork. Add the egg yolk mixture, stir with the fork, mold into a ball with your hands and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for ½ hour.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Butter the bottom of a spring-form 10” pan and cover with parchment paper or wax paper.
Roll the cookie dough and place in the pan. Spread evenly over the bottom of the pan.
With a fork, poke holes in the cookie to allow steam to escape during baking. Place in the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Do not over cook. Place on a rack to cool.
For the Filling:
Cut the cream cheese in cubes with a knife. Add the heavy cream and mix quickly with a fork just to further reduce the size of the cream cubes. Mix on low speed with a paddle. Scrape down the paddle and the edges of the bowl and slowly increase the speed of the mixer until the cream is smooth and fluffy.
Mix the flour, salt and sugar together in a separate bowl.
Scrape down the sides and paddle again. While mixing at low speed slowly add the flour-sugar mixture. Scrape down the sides and paddle. Increase the speed to medium.
Add the vanilla, lemon peel and yolks. Scrape down the sides and paddle. One at a time, add the remaining eggs. Wait between each egg until the previous egg is completely incorporated.
Place aluminum foil around the bottom and sides of the spring-form pan and position the entire pan in a larger pan. Pour the filling into the spring-form and let sit for 10 minutes to release the air bubbles in the mixture.
Heat the oven to 420 degrees. Pour hot water into the larger bottom pan containing the spring-form pan. The aluminum foil will keep the water from arriving at the spring-from pan but still moderate the heat absorption that is the primary cause of splits in the cheesecake.
Bake for 10 minutes. Turn the heat down to 250 degrees and bake for an additional 60 minutes. Before removing the cheesecake from the oven, gently shake the pan. The external ¼ ring of the cake should be firm while the interior ¾ giggles just a bit.
Set on a rack to cool. The filling will completely firm while cooling. If moving to a separate serving plate, wait for the cake to cool completely before attempting to slide onto the plate. Refrigerate overnight before serving.
A great wine would be a Modus Ruffino 2000.