For 29 April’s #shortandtweet challenge from Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet I had hoped to discover that a month with five Sundays has a special name but it seems that it doesn’t. My disappointment could only be salved by thoughts of the sense of cheerful indulgence that accompanies the prospect of cheesecake. Everybody who’s eaten the Classic cheesecake on pg 458 has declared it to be the best that they’ve ever eaten. The East End cheesecake pg 460 has a very short pastry-shortbread base and different texture for those whose preference is for that: option 3 was a Cherry crumble cheesecake, pg 462. This cheesecake has a sponge base that absorbs fruit juices, and a crumble topping which covers any cracks (a useful tip). For people who can not bear cheesecake (an ugly rumour, I know, but I’ve heard this), then the Apricot meringue tart on pg 451 offers a more abstemious bake. I’ve offered some observations on the vexed issue of why cheesecakes crack: these are not meant to be comprehensive but I hope they might provide some helpful tips. (The above photograph is from @BakerHay who baked the East End Cheesecake)
As some of you know, I worked at a bakery that specialised in cheesecake when I was at school. I liked the owners so much that I’ve had a soft spot for cheesecake ever since that is conflated with my enjoyment of the frequent mentions of Mindy’s Cheesecake in Damon Runyon’s stories.
@lapindor of Lapin d ‘Or and More made several changes to the classic cheesecake recipe as part of her Kitchen Catch Up (pictured above). @lapindor's Kitchen Catch Up has particularly snagged my attention because of her strategic use of the Eat Your Books site to guide her in using up excess ingredients or those nearing expiry dates. I enjoyed her strategic substitution of hazelnut butter in the cheesecake biscuit base to use up some remnants lurking in the fridge. Her overall verdict: “This cheesecake was very easy to make as there was no fuss with the usual separated eggs having to be whisked and folded or water baths to struggle with”. I applaud the post as, alongside @zeb_bakes' recent Home-made Jaffa Cakes, it offers a useful sanity check as to the reality of menu planning and recipe execution in domestic kitchens.
I doubt that I’m the only one to smile in wry recognition when reading @underthebluegum of Under the Blue Gum Tree's account of her childhood exposure to cheesecake in the form of frozen Sara Lee: “I always hated that gloopy fruity sauce which sat a top the weirdly tangy cheesy stuff, like gone off cream, and invariably the cheesecake would still be slightly frozen in the middle”. Claire has a memorable account of dinner table glares and being compelled by ‘good manners’ to eat something that she loathed.
Claire opted for Short and Tweet: East End Cheesecake (above photograph) as a conscious decision to extend her repertoire. From her description of the flavours, she has no cause to regret this decision. The base was, “a very thin layer of shortbread on the bottom of your cheesecake and is utterly scrummy…As for the filling, on first bite it is very subtle but becomes ridiculously addictive with each subsequent forkful. Along with the hints of lemon and vanilla, there is a gorgeous caramel undertone which I think must come from bringing the butter and cream to the boil before adding to the cream cheese”. Claire mentions a crack. A common tip is to leave the cheesecake in the cooling oven (having vented it gently or even wedged open the door a little to ensure a gentle reduction in temperature). Depending on your preferences (and how easy it is to reduce the oven temperature in a controlled fashion), it might be as well to cover the top of the cheesecake with sour cream to conceal any crack.
@BakerHay delivered a “very light, smooth, delicious cheesecake: @BakerHay’s East End Cheesecake. Like @underthebluegum's, Heather's cheesecake cracked so she camouflaged it with a sifting of icing sugar (a useful tip).
In general, cheesecakes tend to crack as they settle because of the temperature drop after being removed from the oven. However, the filling may also crack if too much air has been introduced to the mix. The filling should be sufficiently well mixed to blend the ingredients but not over-mixed to the point where too much air is incorporated. If too much air is present then the cheesecake may puff up (in an attractive manner) while in the oven but then deflate. If an oven is too hot, then not only air but moisture is lost from the wet mixture. This moisture loss can be uneven initially (particularly in large, deep cheesecakes) and as this stabilises across the cheesecake, it can lead to cracking or even contraction and shrinkage.
The type of cream cheese (or cottage cheese) can influence not only the texture but the cracking of the cheesecake. It’s not unusual for lower fat cream cheese or cottage cheese to produce a coarse, somewhat grainy texture. The amount of whey will affect the moisture content of the mixture and this may crack. Likewise, changing the specified extra thick double cream of a recipe for whipping cream or single cream will alter the fat and moisture content and therefore how it responds to baking and cooling.
My Best Beloved (BB) opted for the Cherry Crumble Cheesecake. This was partly to indulge my fondness for cherry cheesecake but also because the crumble topping held out the promise of concealing a multitude of errors, should the cheesecake crack. The sponge base was a surprisingly fussy method. The egg and sugar foamed in a satisfactory light and fluffy manner but adding the syrup and lemon zest thinned the mixture and it didn’t approach a state of thickness again. Folding through the flour was tricky and there was such a tiny volume of sponge that it was difficult to spread it over the base of a 25cm tin (above photograph).
BB made the crumble topping but continued to rub in the fat until it resembled fine breadcrumbs rather than “dry pastry crumbs” which meant the topping didn’t resemble the one in the illustration. We reduced the almond extract in the filling to a scant 2.5 tsps rather than the specified 3 but, even so, the taste was overpowering (for the first 4 days, thereafter, it mellowed considerably).
We had to bake the sponge base for longer than specified as it was scarcely holding together after 12mins (our mixture was probably considerably more dense so wasn’t cooking as quickly) and was sickly yellow rather than golden. The filling was not at all set after being baked for 20mins so we were a little concerned that the crumble topping might sink into it. It didn’t, but putting the topping on took so long that the oven cooled substantially (BB found it difficult to pull the cheesecake out a little, avoid burns from the oven door and shelves and sprinkle the crumble, all within a reasonable timescale). Suffice it to say that the cheesecake was not merely “a bit wobbly” after the extra 30mins, it was scarcely set more than 1.5cm in from the edge. We baked it for another 20mins after which it was still rather more unstructured than I liked but we were in danger of overcooking it.
Against the advice to leave the cheesecake alone until it was firm and chilled for 4 hrs, my BB tried it after 2hrs. It was almost inedible. The sponge was well-flavoured but the overwhelming taste of almond extract made the filling unpleasant. The filling was no better after standing overnight and the texture was sloppy rather than “dense and creamy” (I think the photograph is from day 2). We were so unhappy with the cheesecake that we didn’t distribute it to friends and neighbours so it remained in the fridge, with tiny slivers sampled for more than 10 days. After 4 days, the filling mellowed and firmed up. After 5 days, the cheesecake was good and its flavour and texture continued to improve over the remainder of the lifespan.
BB seems to have made a number of mistakes with this cheesecake that played havoc with the baking time and it took a lot of maturing in the fridge before it pulled itself together and became edible. I haven’t had the heart to bake this again but might try it in the future as it has the potential to be a good recipe.
Although it hasn’t been another trip to the Broadway of Damon Runyon, it was a treat to read about everyone’s cheesecakes. Thank you.