The first custard cake Rose has me make is a cheesecake. Never having baked a cheesecake before, understandably I am eager to try my hand at it. That said, I am more than a bit hesitant. The reason is simple: my mother makes what could possibly be the world's best cream cheesecake. My niece will support me on this claim. True, one could argue that we might be a bit biased in our views. But maybe this will dissuade your skepticism: my niece has traveled to Paris (alongside her auntie) and eaten macarons at Laduree and eclairs at La Maison Angelina, and still -- when asked what her favorite sweet is -- will invariably answer "grandma's cheesecake."
My mother's cheesecake has a sour cream topping and a graham cracker crust. The rich creaminess of the topping contrasts beautifully against the crumbly crunch of the crust. Whenever I'm at my parents' home, I eat cheesecake for breakfast, as a post-lunch snack, and for dessert.
Rose makes a different kind of cheesecake: in her words, "New York Jewish." The Cordon Rose Cream Cheesecake is more a custard than a cake, and the recipe calls for it to be baked in a water bath. I decide to make this cake au naturel, without a crust, as Rose describes it as firm enough to be served without a base.
The results: a dreamy cheesecake -- dense and creamy, with a smooth, silky texture and refreshing notes of lemon and sour cream which get added into the batter. I frost the cake with a thin layer of white chocolate cream cheese buttercream. It is the perfect complement: like the cheesecake, it is ivory in color and creamy in texture. But its taste -- mellower and sweeter -- is an exquisite contrast with the somewhat tartness of the cheesecake. It's not quite my mother's cheesecake, but it sure comes close.
Cordon Rose Cream Cheesecake
Recipe from The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch*
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch, optional
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups sour cream
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar until very smooth (about 3 minutes), preferably with a whisk beater. Beat in the cornstarch. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition until smooth and scraping down the sides. Add the lemon juice, vanilla, and salt and beat until incorporated. Bean in the sour cream until just blended.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan*. Set the pan in the larger pan and surround it with 1 inch of very hot water.
*One 8-inch by 2 1/2-inch or higher springform pan, bottom lined with greased parchment or wax paper; outside of the pan wrapped with a double layer of heavy-duty foil to prevent seepage.
Bake 45 minutes. Turn off the oven without opening the door and let the cake cool for 1 hour.
Remove to a rack and cool to room temperature (about 1 hour). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
To unmold: Place pan on heated burner and move it around for 15 seconds. Wrap sides of pan with a hot, damp towel.
Run a thin metal spatula around the sides of the cake and release the sides of the springform pan. Place a plastic-wrapped plate on top and invert. Remove the bottom of the pan and the the parchment. Reinvert onto a serving plate. Refrigerate until shortly before serving.
White Chocolate Cream Cheese Buttercream
Recipe adapted from The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum
4 ounces white chocolate
6 ounces cream cheese (softened)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened)
2 1/4 teaspoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
Break the chocolate into squares. Melt in microwave oven, stirring every 15 seconds. Remove from microwave before fully melted and stir, using residual heat to complete the melting. Allow to cool.
In a mixing bowl beat the cream cheese until smooth and creamy. Gradually beat in the cooled chocolate until smoothly incorporated. Beat in the butter and lemon juice.