Several months ago, while discussing my Unbaked Cheesecake with Vanilla with Charles (5 Euro Food), I promised that one day I would write about my baked version too. First, I must confess I grew up hating baked cheesecakes. I found them heavy, dry and so filling that they almost felt as a second main course. To make matters worse, they often contained raisins (which for me spoil most soft cakes). I also hated the ubiquitous crust, which made the whole thing even heavier. I don’t even mention chocolate glazing or other awful additions such as candied orange zest.
My grandmother made the only cheesecake I loved. It was simple, light, extremely moist, without any crust or raisins and there was something I couldn’t identify, which made it simply addictive. One day, I realised the cake was slightly worse than usually. When asked what was the modification, my grandmother answered in a very natural way: “My doctor told me to stop using pork lard, so I greased the pan with butter instead”. Can you imagine my shock? I love pork, but I would never imagine it could improve a cheesecake’s flavours. In fact, she had been using generous amount of pork fat to grease the pan for years and no one suspected it. Even though I haven’t tested this method yet (but one day I certainly will), I have been trying to copy my grandmother’s recipe for many years and this cheesecake is as close as I have ever got to hers. I shouldn’t boast, but since my grandmother died, this is the only baked cheesecake I like. It is soft, moist, light and perfect for an afternoon tea on a rainy, Autumn day.
The preparation is very easy, but the particular consistency and taste are impossible to obtain without the crucial ingredient, namely curd cheese. Sometimes called cottage cheese (meaning the non-industrial natural version, not the one with huge artificial grains) or farmer’s/farm cheese, it has a grainy texture, somewhere between ricotta and feta and is very easily obtained by souring milk and discarding the whey. Curd cheese is widely used for example in Poland (biały ser, twaróg), Russia (творог) or Hungary (turó) and used in both sweet and savoury dishes. It has a slightly tart, vibrant taste, which has nothing to do with the rather bland, heavy and cream cheese (also very fat in comparison). When crushed with a fork, curd cheese looks like this:
I am conscious many of you might have problems with getting this important ingredient. I buy it in a Russian shop here, but Polish grocers always carry it (luckily the world is full of Polish immigrants). If you cannot get it, write to me and I’ll explain how you can make (very easily) your own curd cheese. /Update: if you find only quark (very smooth, mixed fresh cheese), you can use it instead, but add 1 tablespoon semolina and 1 tablespoon starch/ If you hate heavy, high-calorie, bland cheesecakes, trying this light, fluffy and moist version will completely change your view of this international dessert.
Other recipes I have posted which call for curd cheese:
Ingredients (for a 20 x 20 cm baking dish):
400 g curd cheese (do not use the light one; it should have at least 15% fat)
4 big eggs
4 flat tablespoons semolina
2 tablespoons potato starch or cornstarch
8 flat tablespoons white sugar (add 5 tablespoons if you like very sweet cakes)
50 g butter
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Melt the butter.
Put the cheese in a food processor and mix until smooth.
Add the remaining ingredients and mix once more.
Line a pan with baking paper and bake until it’s golden.
Let the cake cool down and then put into the fridge (wrapped in cling film) for a couple of hours.
It taste improves after it’s chilled.