Friday 6 June 2014

Cheesecake Anyone?

My version of a cheesecake........Its soft, smooth, lemony and yummy.

Originally a two-layered cake, the cheesecake was made up of a thin layer of cake at the bottom and the soft cheese custard filling on top.

Like every recipe that evolves and leaves its indelible mark, it is the New York Cheesecake that has left its impression. This already established centuries-old Greek and Roman recipe became a household name as late as the 1900s. In spite of almost every European country on the continent making their own version of a cheesecake, it is still generally considered to be an American dessert! The power of advertisement? 

The base can be made up of either  graham crackers, digestive biscuits or even sweet tea biscuits that are crushed and mixed with melted butter before being patted down into the pan. Some use ginger biscuits for an added flavour.

Many like myself make their own dough. This is first baked before adding the filling on top to prevent it becoming soggy.  Vanilla extract, lemon zest and fresh lemon juice flavours most cheesecakes. Oranges are often an alternative. Sugar or honey sweetens it. Any starch like flour or potato starch is added as a thickener if being baked. Gelatin leaves are the binder in the non-baked cheesecakes. Cream is added for richness. Fresh berries and whipped cream are common accompaniments.

The filling itself is made up of a soft cream cheese, depending on the geography or origin of the cheesecake. The famous New York cheesecake uses processed cream cheese. This was quite accidental while trying to replicate a popular soft unripened French cheese Neufchatel. Named after a commune in Normandy in Northwest France, the Neufchatel was produced as early as the 11th century and continues to follow the same process. 

A typical French cheesecake these days is made up of Fromage Blanc, puff pastry and is only an inch in height. (It is believed that France produces very limited cream cheese. Perhaps a sure sign of protest  to the very existence of something not truly categorically cheese; it is regarded as an insult to the wonderful array of cheese they do produce!) The Bavarian German cheesecake typically uses Quark and cream. Italians make their cheesecake with Ricotta and like to add candied fruit to it as well. This tends to be a drier consistency and hence some prefer to use Mascarpone to keep the cheesecake smoother and creamier. The Swedish like to serve theirs warm straight from the oven. The Polish use their local soft cheese called the twarog or twarozek. Funnily, it is almost identical to the Indian Paneer that I use in my own cheesecake!

Belgium and the Netherlands continue to be traditional  and serve a non-baked cheesecake using melted dark chocolate to flavour it. A traditional sweet biscuit is the base for this. 

Bulgarian and other Eastern European peoples add ground nuts to the base and top their cheesecake with a sour cream topping called Smetana before baking it, making it a three-layer cheesecake. And the Greeks, where this journey all began, use the Mizithra/Myzithra—a soft cheese made from goat or sheep's milk and whey thus continuing their centuries-old tradition of their version of cheesecake.

What's in a name, Gateau au Fromage, Kasekuchen, Sernik, Sajttorta, Bolo de queijo; how wonderfully different are each of these that are all commonly called Cheesecake

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