Do you have to be Jewish to love cheesecake?
But it helps.
Shavuot is coming up next Tuesday night. We have reasons – religious reasons – for eating dairy on Shavuot. For many, that’s cheesecake.
And what, you might ask, rolling your eyes, does cheesecake have to do with receiving the word of G-d on Mt. Sinai?
The custom is to eat dairy. Cheesecake is modern tradition, based on the indisputable fact that it’s delicious.
Two commonly accepted reasons for dairy on Shavuot. The gematria, or numerical value of chalav – milk – is 40. We eat milk to remember the 40 days that the Jewish people waited while Moses received the Torah on Mt. Sinai. (Moses was fasting the whole time, by the way). Another reason is that the laws of ritual slaughter and kashrut were unknown till the Torah was received: to avoid eating un-kosher foods while spiritually preparing ourselves, we refrained from meat entirely and got our protein from dairy.
I’m afraid that if cheesecake had been around while we were waiting, our minds would not have lingered long on things spiritual. But – we are also commanded to rejoice on our holidays. Is cheesecake a cause for rejoicing, or one of many ways to rejoice?
This recipe takes a certain amount of focus. And two or three mixing bowls. And some time. But it’s worth the effort because it’s one of the best I’ve ever made. Rich and dense, with a tart-sweet marbling of puréed fresh apricots – a melting mouthful.
If you use a springform pan and grease it well with butter, you will have a smooth-edged cake. I was chicken about its being hard to remove so I placed baking paper in a pan with a removable bottom and got bumpy edges all around.
But when I served the cake to the ladies of the book club, nobody refused to eat the bumpy edges and got up from the table enraged. In fact they loved it.
The cake goes in four stages: bake the cake bottom, pureé the apricots, mix the filling and bake. It needs at least 3 mixing bowls. But don’t be daunted. Read the recipe through and follow my tips for a seamless baking session.
Apricot Swirl Cheesecake
adapted from Junior’s Cheesecakes by Fine Cooking, The Taunton Press
1 9-inch cake – 12 slices
The Cake Base
1/3 cup flour, sifted
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs, separated
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Zest of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons melted, unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Preheat oven to 350° F, 180°
If using a springform pan, grease all inner surfaces very well with butter. If using a pan with a removable bottom, place a sheet of baking paper inside.
Wrap the entire outside with tin foil. This is necessary because at the second stage of baking, the cake will bake inside a water bath.
Have ready a pan into which your baking pan will fit easily, for the water bath.
Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together into a small bowl.
Zest the lemon.
Melt the butter.
Separate the eggs, with the yolks in a large bowl and the whites in a bowl big enough to contain them whipped.
Measure the sugar, leave it in its measuring cup, and put a measuring spoon on top of the measured sugar. This spares last-second hunting for the spoon when you’ll need to remove a little of the sugar.
Beat the yolks for 3 minutes, using an electric mixer set on high. Keep the mixer running and add 2 tablespoons of the sugar from the 1/3 measured cupful. Beat another 5 minutes.
Beat in the lemon zest and vanilla.
Sift the dry ingredients over the egg yolk/sugar mix and beat in on low, just to blend lightly. Blend the melted butter in.
Wash the beaters absolutely clean. In the second bowl, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar till stiff. With a spatula, remove about 1/3 of the whites and fold them into the batter. Then add the remaining whites, mixing lightly. Stop when the whites are evenly distributed throughout the batter.
Spread the batter evenly in the pan. No water bath yet – that’s for when the whole cake is assembled. Bake 10-12 minutes or until just set and the center springs back when touched. It shouldn’t be baked till brown.
Keep the oven on. Leave the crust in the pan – you will bake the cheese filling on top of it. Put the pan on a rack to cool while you’re preparing the filling.
Ingredients for Purée:
3-5 fresh apricots: enough to make 3/4 cup puréed.
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1-2 tablespoons sugar
Blend apricots and cornstarch and add sugar to taste. The amount of sugar will depend on the sweetness of the apricots. The purée should still be tart.
Ingredients for Cheese Filling:
3 cups full-fat cream cheese at room temperature. If using American cream cheese, use three 8-oz. packages. Israelis: I used Ski.
1/4 cup cornstarch
1-1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 large eggs
2/3 cup whipping cream
In a large bowl, mix 1 cup (1 package) of the cream cheese, 1/3 cup sugar, and the cornstarch. Beat on low for 3 minutes or until all is creamy. Beat in second cup (package) of cream cheese, then the third.
Increase the speed to medium and beat in 1 cup sugar, vanilla, and eggs, one at a time. Beat in the cream. Mix thoroughly but stop when everything is mixed; don’t overmix.
Spread the batter over the prepared crust.
Spread the apricot purée over the cheese filling, pushing it down with the back of the spoon here and there. Cut through the purée and batter in a figure of 8, going deep enough to just feel the cake on the bottom. Do this three times, but no more or the cake will will be yellow instead of marbled.
Put the cake in the second pan. Carefully pour hot water between the two pans, up to an inch from the top of the cake pan. Bake for 1 to 1-1/4 hours or until completely set.
Remove the cake from the water bath and put it to cool on a wire rack. Don’t move it for 2 hours lest it fall. When it’s totally cool, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours to overnight.
Leftovers stay delicious if wrapped well and kept cold, for 4 days.