It seems every country has a cheesecake – Australia has the gelatine cheesecake, America has the baked, Italy’s is the ricotta or mascapone cheesecake, while France’s is the flatter, neufchatel cheesecake, Germany has quark flans and the list goes on! Perhaps there are so many variations because they’re not only densely, richly delicious but also, incredibly easy to make.
Cheesecakes are basically a dense baked custard – a mix of cream cheese, cream and eggs baked at a low temperature. You can use any cheese you like – just as long as you give it enough structure to support its fat and water content – and any filling or topping can be used. Think nuts, rosewater, fruit in any form, chocolate, whiskey, raisins, maple syrup – the options are endless.
A stand alone, crust-free cheesecake also makes a great gluten free dessert – the eggs are what bind cheesecakes so no flour is required, although some cheesecakes include cornflour to stabilise the cream mix. The only exception is ricotta where flour is needed to soak up the moisture in the cheese.
If you’re going for a base, there are several different options. I grew up with a version of the Eastern European cheesecake (now considered a New York cheesecake), a lemony baked cheesecake with a sour cream topping and no biscuit base. In Australia however, the biscuit base is an essential part of the cheesecake ensemble and is commonly made using digestive wheat biscuits. I prefer to pre-bake the base to increase its crispness and add a pinch of cinnamon to complement the sweetness. A sponge base (and top) is another alternative as is a nut crumble base and top.
* Beat cheese with a paddle attachment to remove lumps before adding other ingredients. In fact, never blend any two ingredients of different consistencies together without first softening the firmer ingredient to the consistency of the other. The exception is mascarpone which will turn lumpy if overbeaten.
* Beat ingredients slowly and only until evenly mixed. Overbeating incorporates too much air and will cause the cake to rise too high too quickly whilst baking. As a precaution, tap the prepared cake tin on a bench top to remove any air bubbles before placing it in the oven.
* To avoid overbeating, have your ingredients at room temperature before starting. This reduces the risk of overbeating to reach the right consistency.
* If you prefer a lighter version, separate the eggs in your recipe, whipping up the whites with a bit of sugar then fold through the cheese mix.
* Bake cheesecakes slowly at a low temperature. This will allow steam to release gradually and evenly.
* Don’t overbake cheesecakes. Overbaking dries them out causing the cake to shrink and crack.
* Cheesecakes prefer the even temperature of conventional ovens. If using a fan forced oven, reduce the temperature.
* Leave cheesecakes to cool in a switched off oven to allow for gradual cooling and less shrinkage. If you can’t leave the cake in the oven to cool down, take it cake out while its still quite wobbly in the centre as cream based cakes tend to continue cooking as they cool down.
* Always serve cakes at room temperature. Depending on the weather, take your cheesecake out of fridge with enough time to give the ingredients time to relax and release the flavours.
* Use a wet knife to de-mould cheesecakes and to cut into slices. Preferably, dip the knife in warm water and wipe clean between each cut.
If you have a question for our baker, email us at [email protected] Yael Shohat is the Executive Director of Yael’s Cakes of Distinction, 23 Clevedon Street, Botany, 02 9695 1695