butterfly cheesecake

Those of you that follow the comment threads should have figured out by now that I’m an avid baker. It came as a surprise to me though that Ephraim’s a partner in baking crime, but I bet most of you enjoy baking and / or pastries.

Cheesecakes, originally a Russian Easter treat, apparently have become as much of a symbol of Jewish culinary influence on NYC diets as bagels (I’ll save the story of bagels for a different post). For understandable reasons, cheesecakes have won the top rank position when it comes to Shavuot holiday food over other dairy food items such as cottage cheese or kefir (serve the latter two if you don’t want any guests over for Shavuot next year).

Since in baking terms, Shavuot is soon to come (maybe not for those to whom baking a cheesecake means defrosting a processed one in the microwave), I’d like to ask you to share your best cheesecake recipes or variations. Above you see my first contribution, a refridgerated creamcheese cream cake on a crumble base with a thin top layer of lemon jelly, cut into halves, re-arranged and decorated with whipped cream.

C’mon now, don’t be shy. This is your bubbe’s chance to share her valued cheesecake knowledge. And who knows? With some luck, I might convince ck to hold a Jewlicious pastry fest. 🙂

About the author



  • I would like to explore further the issues raised in this post. Please send me a sample of the material depicted above at your earliest convenience.

  • Tom, if you cover the FedEx overnight-rate for refrigerated goods & special packaging and deal with US customs, I will.

  • A Mexican ex-gf was once able to fly in hand-made corn tamales from a village outside Veracruz. We can get this done.

  • I hear they’ve become more strict during recent years. Suppose it depends on who is in charge, but I once had my luggage searched for stating on my customs declarations form that I was bringing chocolates. Some other time the gentleman at immigration told me, “Chocolate is not a food”, and simply crossed it out. Other times the customs officials skipped on searching my stuff.

  • Things like chocolate and cheesecake, if they’re especially well-made, can be considered weapons.

  • Maybe I should get myself a lawyer over there so I can say, “Hold on while I’ll call my lawyer”. – Just like on TV.

  • “It came as a surprise to me though that Ephraim’s a partner in baking crime”

    I’ll say…I figured in his free time, Ephraim probably shot pigeons.

  • DK, a little chopped garlic and olive oil can do wonders for almost anything, even pigeon.

  • froylein, we’ll work out an overall deal for lawyerly and gigolo services.

  • Now, that would make a great ad line, “The lawyer that gets you. One way or another.” 😉 Look forward to the post I’m currently working on. I’ve promised ck a shocking headline.

    Never tried koala, but I had Australian chips, a side salad and diet coke to go with the kangaroo.

  • I’ve got a better one, but it’s inappropriate for a family Jewish blog.

  • Can cheesecake actually be kosher? I’ve never witnessed a proper Jewish person eat one.

  • Homemade cheesecake (baked) doesn’t contain gelatin; in refridgerated creacheese cream cakes, you can use agar-agar or pektin instead of gelatin; they’re neutral in smell during production and more easy to handle.

  • When you send me my cheesecake (or is it already out the door?), can you make sure it’s the fat-free version?

  • I could make you a low-fat (0.2% as opposed to around 60% fat) version; with those, it’s important to let them set overnight and use more vanilla.

  • OK, let’s see…. I look for it in the post on Tuesday.

  • Oyish, and I was only just going to bake you a fresh batch of cookies as my family had devoured the best ones that I wanted to send….

  • Two basic cheesecake styles:

    “Italian style” – based on ricotta cheese, which requires flour or cornstarch to absorb the moisture. This is more cakey and can be dry.

    Unfortunately, it’s what most Israelis think of as cheesecake – including some awful concoctions that use Israelis “white cheese” (g’vinah levanah).

    The best recipes of this sort use high-fat farmer cheese – which is thankfully available in Israel due to the Soviet influx.

    2) “New York style” – the Eastern-European variety, based on full-fat cream cheese. The better recipes have almost no flour, and are basically cheese custard. These are the recipes that use a bain-marie. Rich, smooth, moist, and heavy as lead.

    Her first year in Israel, my sister choked down Israeli “cheesecake”. The folowing year, she wrote my mom for her “New York” cheesecake recipe.

    I think she emptied out her corner grocery’s entire stock of Philadelphia cream cheese to make up the required weight of cheese for one cake. The checkout girl looked at her like she was crazy.

    You can now buy Israeli-made real cream cheese.

  • I’ve got the Junior’s recipe, which I mostly use. I was given a cheesecake book for my last b’day, which has provided me with a few things to try out; the next thing on my list is a flat cheesecake with raspberry swirls.

  • BTW, BD, I’ve started using low-fat (0.2% fat) creamcheese for the NY-style cheesecakes, which makes them way less heavy. Also, I add a little cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg to the base to make digestion easier. When you use low-fat creamcheese, it’s important to let the cake rest over night and use more vanilla for it to develop a fuller flavour as fat is a carrier of taste. Best is to let it cool in the oven anyway, so the top won’t crack. I prefer it served at room temperature, my lil bro (who will put away at whole 11″ cheesecake into his 75kg / 2 metre frame in no time), prefers it chilled but will eat it either way.

  • aahhh… I remember the time 2 of our Rabbi’s teenaged sons came in from playing basketball on Yom Tov Eve, and polished off a 10-inch (15 cm) cheesecake between them.

    I can’t imagine the low-fat cheese working out – maybe in Europe it has a more cultured, creme-fraiche taste, but the low-fat “white cheese” here is totally uninteresting.

    I would rather have the real thing, but in smaller bites – and one easy way to do this is to use a wider, flatter baking pan. Most of the NYC recipes use something like an 7-inch (18-20 cm) springform, and are very high/deep. If you simply switch to a larger diameter or to a rectangular pan, the portions are more manageable. You may have to increase the amounts for your crust/base thingy.

    I’ve seen a number of NYC recipes that involve simmering things in milk/cream to flavor the cake. Unfortunately most of these use gelatin, which never has worked for me without separating or going stringy.

    My favorite additions are melted white chocolate and Frangelico liquer.

    Every year before Shavuot the “T’nuva” dairy cooperative produces a newspaper insert of dairy recipes. I’ve saved the better ones – they have some nice baked/no-bake bases, although often the cheesecake filling is usually a disappointing concoction based on “white cheese” and vanilla pudding. There was one very nice graham-cracker-and-halva base. I’ve also had success just using chopped nuts.

    There was also a nice variation of custard-style cheesecake marbled from the top with dark choco/coffee cream, drizzled with an orange-caramel glaze.

    If you’re interested I can dig out the recipes…

    One of our cookbooks has a nice Italian-style recipe that uses drained ricotta and a pureed whole orange – peel and all. But it’s not a custard, its a creamy cake.

  • Have you tried using agar-agar instead of gelatin? You can get it at larger supermarkets here. The Junior’s recipe I’ve got uses three spoons full of potato starch and an egg for thickening. The low-fat creamcheese is pretty good here. It’s also cheap at about 1 Euro per 200 gramms. Traditional German cheesecakes are made with “Quark”, something like creamcheese, but low in fat, very filling though. It’s cheap at less than 1 Euro per 500 gramms, and pretty versatile as it can be used in deserts as well as for savoury dips. I’ve got springforms of 15cm, 26cm (standard size here) and 28cm diametre as well as a square one (goes well with occasion decorations). The springform that works best for my cheesecakes in my experience is that with a glass base, and I use Melitta baking aluminium foil to cover the base (never the frame; no greasing needed either). For flatter cakes I often use foil cake tins as they’ve shown to bake those more evenly in my oven (I use natural gas). When I use a crumble base, I prebake it for ten minutes and let it cool, so the crumbs won’t swim up in the cheese mass. Most times I just make some shiortcrust pastry from scratch (one egg, a dab of butter, a little icing sugar, spices as above, and enough flour to turn it into an elastic yet solid dough).

    The marbled cheesecake sounds really good. Could you get me that recipe, please?

    I’ve found a recipe today where cheesecake mass was baked in coffee cups for 30 minutes and decorated with fresh berries; the photograph looked really neat, so I think I’ll try it out.

    As for a creamy cheesecake (Frischkäsetorte as we would call it), here’s one I made years ago (with pineapples; you get special tins for the pyramid shape, but you can also just create a step pyramid by stacking several squares of baked sponge cake on top of each other. The sand is crumbled sponge cake, the camels and palm trees are used by drawing a template and covering it with baking parchment. Then all you need is a freezer bag or disposable icing bag – opt for disposable here as they’re a pain and take lots of detergent and water to clean – and some melted dark chocolate couverture.):
    Pyramidenkuchen 2

    Pyramidenkuchen 1

  • Quark is what I am calling farmer cheese. I don’t recall what it is called in Hebrew, but the Russian lettering spells out Kvark or something similar. (Also very good as a filling for blintzes, with a handful of sultanas mixed in)

    Your decorations are fantastic! I never had patience for that stuff. And once I had kids I didn’t have time (except for the occassional ambitious birthday cake). For Shabbat I do tarte tatin, streusels, and other things with decoration baked in/on. And plain sheet cakes that the kids and their friends devour before Shabbat is out.

    Here is the recipe:

    Marbled Cheesecake with Coffee Cream and Orange Sauce

    Greased 24 cm. pan

    Preheat oven to 160 C

    200 gr. chocolate biscuits, crushed with
    80 gr. melted butter
    press into pan.

    Cheese Mixture (or substitute a mixture you know):

    500 gr. “white cheese” 9 percent fat, or quark (quark is probably drier and firmer, the “white cheese” is like sour cream)
    1 container sour cream (200-250 ml, don’t have one here)
    3/4 cup sugar
    3 tablespoons flour
    4 eggs
    grated lemon peel
    1 teaspon vanilla extract

    Mix all together – eggs and cheese first, flour last. Set aside.

    Chocolate Mixture:
    Melt 100 gr. bittersweet chocolate
    Add 1 tablespoon. instant coffee powder
    and 1/4 cup milk
    Mix, remove from heat, and beat in
    1 egg yolk
    (I add a tablespoon of Frangelico, but it’s not in the original recipe)

    Pour half the cheese mixture over crust, then half the chocolate mixture. Repeat. marble the mixture further with a skewer or thin knife.

    Bake 1 hour or until firm. Run a knife around edge of pan and let cool.

    Coffee Cream:
    1 container whipping cream (probably 200-300 ml)
    1 tablespoon coffee powder
    1 tablespoon sugar
    Mix together and then whip. Spread over cooled cake and chill overnight.

    Orange Sauce:
    1 cup fresh orange juice without pulp
    1/2 cup sugar
    juice of 1/2 lemon
    Combine and cook on low heat (or micro) to make thick sauce.

    (In a pinch you can cook orange juice and a spoon of marmalade in the micro. Stir to mix.)

    Drizzle orange sauce over each slice as you serve it.

  • The coffee whipped cream is a thin layer – leave the top of the cake a little uneven when you marble it, so the marbling will show through. You can omit the coffee cream and it will still look and taste great.

  • BD, thanks, sounds like I’ll try this recipe for next weekend!

    If you use herbs mixed with quark, you’ve got an easy dairy side to go with steamed new or baked potatoes. Put quark in a linen cloth and apply like a compress to ease the burn of sunburns. You get Magerquark, which is drier, and Sahnequark, which has more of a creamy consistence. Margerquark is usually used in cheesecakes of the German variety.

    An easy crumble cake when it’s plum season:

    pound dough:
    500 gramms of flour, sifted
    1 sachet of baking powder
    5 eggs
    250 gramms of butter / margarine
    250 gramms of sugar
    1 sachet vanilla sugar
    (Use water if you need more moisture; milk makes pastries softer, which might be too soft here.)

    Streusel / crumbles:
    250 gramms of sugar (mix with icing sugar for more crunchy ones)
    250 gramms of butter
    approx. 250 gramms of flour

    two sachets vanilla pudding powder (unsweetened)
    1 litre of milk
    plums (pits removed & cut; cherries and apples also work)

    Spread the pound dough evenly on a baking tray. Prepare the vanilla pudding (without adding sugar; the rest of the cake is sweet enough), let it cool for a bit, and spread it on top of the pound dough (if you spread it boiling hot, the dough may not rise well). Cover with fruit of choice, crumbles on top. Bake at low to medium heat for about 45 minutes (depending on your oven).

  • Sounds good.

    1) I didn’t know “gramms” was spelled that way in German.
    2) I think you are referring to what Anglos call “custard powder” – the only vanilla pudding I’ve every seen already contains the sugar.
    3) Of course I will use water instead of milk as I keep kosher, and dairy cakes are not so practical on most Shabbatot.
    4) A tip on streusel making: first squeeze fistfuls of streusel into balls, then shatter these with a metal fork or spoon. You get larger crumbs that way.

  • Heh, sorry. Indeed, it should be “grammes”. Gramm is German (double consonants after a vowel cause the vowel to be short; compare: Gram = scorn, sorrow, grudge).

    I think custard should work, too, even though vanilla pudding is usually thicker. It’s usually served chilled like a vanilla jelly (dairy one).

    I usually make the crumbs with my hands the way I learnt it from my grandmother, but I think any variety works.

  • Gelatin? In a cheesecake? Oy. And you don’t need pectin or agar-agar, either.

    24 oz. (3 packs) farmer’s cheese, 8 oz. (1 pack) cream cheese, 4 eggs, sugar, vanilla, and grated lemon zest to taste, blend well at high speed until smooth and bake slowly at a low-medium heat (no more than 325 degrees F. or so) in a crust made of 1 and 1/4 cup flour, 1/4 pound of butter and 8 oz. of cream cheese (this crust makes delicious cinnamon sugar cookies) until a thin bamboo skewer (a toothpick isn’t long enough) inserted comes out clean, usually about an hour or a bit more. It’s a good idea to lightly cover with foil once the cake sets so the top doesn’t get too brown. I like to top mine with sour cherries, slightly sweetened with the juice thickened slightly with corn or potato starch.

    I don’t eat kefir on Shavuot. I prefer kuffar.

    And DK? I don’t waste my time shooting pigeons. At least the avian variety, anyway. You should know that by now.

  • A slight correction: that should be 3 oz. cream cheese for the crust, not 8.

  • Ephraim, would that be crust as in a base that goes up on the sides? I usually use wooden shashlik picks for seeing if the cakes’s done; they’re about 8″ long, and come in a pack of 100 at less than 2€. I’ve seen special stainless steel picks though that I plan on buying.

  • Yes, I bake the cake in a fairly deep springform pan. But, come to think of it, it might be even better to just use the crust just as a base on the bottom. I might try that.

    This crust, which my grandmother called “Russian pastry” is impossible to ruin since it contains no liquid. It is very easy to work with and is not crumbly at all. But it gets tough if you overwork it, so be careful.

    I use Japanese bamboo yakitori skewers. Probably very much like what you have.

    Me, I’m counting the days until Italian prune plum season in the fall so I can make pflaumekuchen. Even better than cheesecake, since I can eat more of it without getting sick.

  • We’ve got our own trees: plums, mirabelles, black cheerries, white cherries, pears, all kinds of apples. A couple of years ago the government asked people with spare ground to plant old native varieties of fruit trees and even gave away the trees for free. In addition, there’s a large plot of land (my mother’s) that holds several really old apple trees. Depending on the year, we’ve had up to 2,000 kilos of apples and about 500 kilos of plums and mirabelles, 150 kilos of cherries, and the occasional odd pear (that tree’s not the greatest).

    Here’s a traditional plum cake:

  • 500 kilos of plums? That’s a lot of pflaumekuchen. But it is my understanding that a genuine pflaumekuchen requires a very specific type of plum, what is called in America an Italian prune plum. It is small, slightly oval shaped, with a dark purple skin and firm, lime-green flesh, tart and not too juicy. It’s perfect for the pflaumekuchen, although other varieties are probably better for just eating.

    I’m jealous of your trees. Just think of all the strudel and pie and blintzes I could make with all of those apples……

    If they are a traditional variety, they’re probably smaller and a little more sour than the modern varieties, right? Those are always better.

  • Oh, yeah: where did you get that picture? I bake my pflaumekuchen with the plums skin side up, though.

  • The kind we grow and use is called “Zwetschgen” here, which my dictionary bluntly translated as “plum” as well. They are indeed smaller and firmer, and we use a special appliances to cut the pits out (considering the amount of plums, it saves a lot of time). The traditional shapes are the one above (28cm springform with a conic frame as used by professional bakers) or baked flat on a tray. I made the above cake myself and also took the pic; it was taken after baking, so the flesh has turned brownish, but I think you can see they’re overall still pretty firm. BTW, it keeps pretty well in the freezer and tastes like fresh when defrosted in the oven (even easier if you use those EZ-foil pans as you can freeze as well as re-bake them in those). Plums also work wonders against constipation.

  • The apples are quite different; there are tiny ones with pink flesh that smell like cinnamon, and there are huge ones in green and red that can be up to two kilos a piece, some odd orange ones with a thick peel and white flesh, and some medium sized dark red ones that look like straightly taken from a Snowwhite set. My mother knows what they all are called; I’m not into apples. I recall that when I was small, my grandparents used to have special barrels in the cellar for making cider.

  • Mmmmmm…..cider…..mmmmm (Homer Simpson drool)

    I make pflaumekuchen in a flat pan, but that round pan looks nice. I have a French tart pan that should work perfectly.

    Can’t get my head around the “not into apples” thing, though. I love apples in every conceivable shape and form. The apples you have sound really interesting. Never had an apple that smelled like cinnamon.

    And I’ve never heard of or seen an apple that weighed two kilos. And I lived in Japan, where breeding and growing the prettiest and biggest possible apples is something of a national obsession.

  • Somehow, a German being afraid of apples seems to me sort of like a Japanese not liking fish.

    There are such freaks of nature, true, but they are very rare.

    My guess is the smell of fermenting cider probably got to you.

  • Heh, it’s rather the smell of apples after they’re cut as they decompose quickly. I try to keep at safe distance. I also don’t drink beer. 🙂

  • On the other hand, she’s been in a twelve-step program for addiction to blood sausage.

  • How long do those casings stick around in the lower digestive tract?