The Perfect Shavuot Cheesecake

The creamy cheesecake that stars at every Shavuot meal dates back to Roman times. Some suggestions for ensuring that yours stays tall and airy.

Limor Laniado Tiroche

Shavuot − that happy, bright and colorful holiday, with rich cheese pastries and colorful salads − is also characterized by a star that everyone waits for at the end of the meal: a lily-white and tall (so we hope) cheesecake with a cool and creamy texture that glides down the throat.

The idea of cheesecake is ancient, apparently dating from the time of the Roman Empire. Most of the recipes from days of yore essentially resemble those for modern cheesecake − calling for combining cheese with eggs, and such seasonings as lemon, raisins, rosewater and spices. The cheeses they used back in the day were soft white cheeses (quark‏) from goat’s or cow’s milk, cream cheeses or ricotta. To stabilize the mixture, the bakers used flour, cornmeal, semolina or ground almonds.

Because cheese contains a lot of water, it is hard in a home kitchen to achieve a perfectly beautiful cake that doesn’t fall, and therefore cheesecake has to be handled in a slightly different manner than other cakes. Here are some useful tips:

To reduce the amount of water, it is important to drain the cheese before you get started: Place a strainer over the edges of a big bowl, leaving a space between the strainer and the bowl, to collect the liquid from the cheese. Alternately, you can stand a colander in a clean sink, arrange a clean cloth diaper inside (rinsed free of laundry detergent) and place the cheese in it to drain for 2 hours. Afterward the diaper can be washed and reused.

To attain a crispy crust, seal it to reduce its capacity for absorbing liquid: A crust made from crushed petit beurre biscuits is best if refrigerated before the filling is added, and pie crust dough should be brushed with egg white before baking.

Beating the egg whites precisely is also important for the appearance and consistency of the cake. Weak foam will make the cake fall, while stiff foam will make it difficult for it to rise. The stable foam is folded into the batter by hand, with quick movements, as soon as whipping is complete.

The cheese-yolk mixture should be gently mixed with a hand-held beater, not an electric mixer, to keep the air rate down. The yolks give the cake its volume and airiness.

When baking a cheesecake, it’s a good idea to place a pan of boiling water on the bottom of the oven to keep the cake from drying out, and to make it even more moist.

During the first 10 minutes of baking, set the oven at a high temperature, remove the cake from the oven and run a wet knife around the rim of the baking dish. After this separation, put the cake back in the oven and continue baking at a lower temperature. This allows the cake to rise and lets the air collected inside to get out in a way that does not harm the cake. Once you’ve returned the cake to the oven, it is better not to open the door again. This way, the oven heat will stabilize and the cake won’t fall. To prevent the cake’s collapsing in the middle, leave it in the oven for 30 minutes after baking − after you have turned off the heat. When you take out the cake, run a wet knife around the rim a second time. Cool at room temperature for 2 hours, cover with your topping, and then refrigerate overnight before serving. Refrigeration enables the cake to set.

Classic baked cheesecake

This is a tall soft cake with an airy consistency and great taste. The cake is sufficiently sweet that the flavors of the cheese, the lemon zest or vanilla are dominant. If you are careful to use pale yolks (from organic eggs) the cake will come out pure white. Use a 26-cm. springform pan.

For the base:
160 grams petit beurre biscuits (22 cookies)
50 grams walnuts or almonds, finely ground and sifted
100 grams melted butter
1 tablespoon honey

For the filling:
750 grams 9%-fat white cheese
1 container ricotta cheese (250g)
2 containers (400ml) sour cream
5 eggs, separated
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup (200 grams) sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
or
zest of 1 lemon and 1 tablespoon lemon


pinch salt
For the topping:
2 containers sour cream, strained for 30 minutes
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
or
1 container heavy cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 container sour cream, strained for 30 minutes

Grease a 26-cm. springform pan with butter and line with baking paper. Place a cloth diaper in a strainer (after you’ve rinsed it in boiling water and then cold water to remove traces of laundry detergent) and strain the cheeses and sour cream for 2 hours (outside the ‘fridge and in a shady spot).

Dissolve the butter and honey in the microwave oven or a frying pan. In a food processor with a metal blade, crumble the petit beurre cookies into coarse crumbs. Add the nuts and melted butter while mixing the crumbs. Press the crumb-mixture into the bottom of the springform pan; refrigerate for 2 hours. Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Place a pan of boiling water on the bottom of the oven.

In a big bowl, combine the mixture of strained cheeses and sour cream, egg yolks, cornstarch, vanilla extract or lemon zest and lemon juice, and 1/2 cup sugar. Mix well until the mixture is smooth and there are no lumps. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with salt, and when a soft foam starts to form, slowly add 1/2 cup sugar; continue beating until you get a stable foam. Gently fold it into the cheese mixture and beat until the mixture is homogeneous. Pour the cheese mixture over the cookie-crumb base. Bake for 15 minutes.

Remove cake from the oven and run a wet knife between it and the rim of the pan. Lower the temperature to 160 degrees Celsius, and continue baking without opening the oven door for 1 hour.

Turn off the oven and leave the cake inside for 30 minutes. During this time the cake will lose some of its height.

Cool the cake outside the oven until it reaches room temperature. Prepare the topping while heating the oven back up to 150 degrees Celsius. In a bowl, combine sour cream, powdered sugar and vanilla extract, and pour over the cake. Bake 10 minutes. Let it cool while and then refrigerate for 12 hours before serving.

Another option for the topping: Whip heavy cream until stable and add powdered sugar to the whipped cream. Fold in strained sour cream by hand, and coat the cake. Refrigerate for 12 hours before serving. You can decorate the cake with raspberries, strawberries, cherries or another fruit you like.

Limoncello cheese dessert

Makes six individual servings.
For the cheese cream:
3 egg yolks
3 tablespoons (40 grams) sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 tablespoons limoncello
250 grams mascarpone or whipped Philadelphia cream cheese
1/2 container (125 ml) heavy cream (38% fat)

For the base:

6-8 biscotti, broken in half
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 tablespoon limoncello
For the garnish:

Fruit in season such as melon balls soaked in 1 tablespoon limoncello and nana mint, orange sections and nana mint, strawberries soaked in creme de cassis, passion fruit, Amarena cherries or fresh and pitted berries or some other sweet and sour fruit.

With an electric mixer, whip egg yolks, sugar and lemon zest until you have a thick puffy mixture (10 minutes at least). Add limoncello and whip another minute. Fold in the cheese by hand. In a separate bowl, whip the heavy cream and fold it by hand into the cheese mixture. Refrigerate 10 minutes. In the meantime, place the biscotti halves in each cup in such a way that they cover the bottom of the cup in a single layer. Mix together lemon juice, powdered sugar, and limoncello, and drip over the biscotti (a little less than a tablespoon per cup). Pile the cream on top. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Top with fresh fruit before serving.

Quick cheesecake with berry jam

Here’s a quick cake that is easy to make, without any whipping or complicated preparations, is beloved by children and adults alike, and most important: It is one of the tastiest and most beautiful cakes there are. Use a 26-cm, springform pan.

160 grams petit beurre (22 biscuits)
50 grams finely ground walnuts or almonds
100 grams melted butter
1 tablespoon honey

For the filling:
500 grams 30%-fat cream cheese
500 grams 9%-fat white cheese
2 containers sour cream
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup ‏(150 grams‏) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 eggs
For the jam filling:
250 grams blueberry or raspberry jam
2 tablespoons boiling water
2 teaspoons lemon juice

Grease a 26-cm. springform pan with butter and line with baking paper. Place a cloth diaper in a strainer (after you’ve rinsed it in boiling water and then cold water to remove traces of laundry detergent) and strain the cheeses and sour cream for 2 hours (outside the ‘fridge and in a shady spot). Dissolve the butter and honey in the microwave oven or a frying pan. In a food processor with a metal blade, crumble the petit beurre cookies into coarse crumbs. Add the nuts and melted butter while mixing the crumbs. Press the crumb mixture into the bottom of the springform pan and refrigerate for 2 hours. Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Place a pan of boiling water on the bottom of the oven.

Prepare the jam filling: In a small food processer, blend together jam, boiling water and lemon juice until smooth. Refrigerate. In an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, or else in a big bowl and using a hand-held beater, combine the mixture of strained cheeses and sour cream, cornstarch, sugar and vanilla. Mix well until the mixture has no lumps. Add one egg at a time; keep mixing until the mixture is smooth and homogenous. Pour the cheese mixture over the cookie-crumb base. Spoon 5-6 little piles of jam on at intervals from each other (save the leftover jam for the sauce). Spear a wooden skewer into the center of each pile and lightly turn to create a marbled effect. Lower the oven temperature to 160 degrees Celsius. Bake the cake for 1 hour (without opening the door). Turn off the oven and leave the cake inside for an additional 30 minutes to cool .

Cool outside the oven until the cake reaches room temperature. Refrigerate at least 12 hours before serving. Serve with the remaining jam (if it’s too thick for a sauce, you can dilute with a tablespoonful of water).

Limor Laniado Tiroche
Limor Laniado Tiroche