I just spent about 10 minutes trying to come up with a name for this cake. In my own head I call it “Mom’s Cheesecake,” but, after Mom’s Salad and Mom’s Lasagna, I didn’t want you thinking I was evilly trying to woo you with homespun delights straight from my Mumma’s wood-burning oven. Quite the contrary. This recipe is actually from my grandma – Safta in Hebrew – who probably made it so much because it was the only thing my mother would eat. But back to the name. After much grappling, I decided, despite the lack of actual cheese, to call it cheesecake because yogurtcake, sourcreamcake and whateveryouhaveinthefridgecake just don’t have the same ring.
Literal nomenclature or not, this cake is nothing if not delicious. You could even call it Israeli Cheesecake, since it comes from one of my Safta’s Hebrew cookbooks that always tempt me with their secret recipes. Or you could call it Versatile Cake. Versatile because you can make it with Greek yogurt, regular yogurt, sour cream, white cheese, quark, full fat or non fat or anything in the middle. You can make it plain, with just a little lemon rind for flavor; or swirl in some strawberry jam; or line the baking tin with cookies, graham crackers, banana or apple or peach slices, or chocolate chips; or plop some chocolate ganache or lemon curd on top before baking…however you do it, it will be light and airy and probably gone in a second.
That’s the real danger in this cake. It’s not the usual New York style cheesecake: you won’t need to lay down or start fanning yourself after half a slice because you feel like you just ate an entire package of cream cheese washed down with heavy cream. This cheesecake is truly super light and fluffy (especially because there’s no crust), and goes down a dream. We’ve been known to eat it for dessert, breakfast, 5 o’clock snack, midnight snack and sometimes in between. I’m pretty sure my petite mother can down an entire cake in one sitting, one tiny sliver at a time. So the real danger is that it will be gone before you know it. But that won’t be a problem once you see how easy it is to make.
The lightest, bestest, most adaptable cheesecake in the whole world, courtesy of my Safta. One cake serves 6 – 8 but, let me remind you, it’s really, really, light, so seconds will probably be had. In terms of adapting this cake, as long as you follow the base recipe, you’ll be golden. My mom loves to swirl chocolate ganache on top before baking, and the classic Israeli cheesecake definitely has sultanas in the mix. My favorite way (and possibly the easiest thing next to doing nothing) is to line the bottom of the cake pan with cookies – usually ginger snaps, but anything would work – which meld into the cake and form a sort of effortless crust. I’ve been known to line the bottom with slices of black bananas, which turn into a layer of sweet goo. I also love to top the cake with all sorts of things, from macerated strawberries to chocolate sauce. Be creative. And enjoy.
1 cup sugar, divided in half
2 cups white cheese (or yogurt or sour cream or a mixure)
1 teaspoon vanilla
zest from one lemon
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup milk
Preheat the oven to 425F/220C and grease a springform cake pan.
Separate the egg yolks from the whites. In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer, gradually adding half of the sugar (1/2 cup) until foamy, about 3 minutes. In a large bowl, use the beaters to mix the egg yolks with the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, cheese, vanilla and zest. In a third, small bowl, use a fork to whisk together the flour and milk, then add this to the cheese mixture. Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the rest of the batter until combined.
If you want, line the tin with whatever you feel like, from cookies to fruit slices, or just leave it plain. Pour the batter into the prepared tin. You can add things now, too, like melted chocolate or berries. Bake for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 325F/160C and bake for an additional 40 – 45 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let the cake rest in the warm oven (just prop the door open a tad) to prevent cracking.