Whether Hamburg, New York, Paris, Athens or Cape Town, cheesecake is one of the most popular cake varieties worldwide. Everyone claims to have invented the cheesecake, everyone claims to know how to bake the best cheesecake. You can order it in gourmet restaurants, in-cafes, the business class of renowned airlines but also in motorway service areas and in the US, the Cheesecake Factory has become a sort of Disneyland for cheesecake disciples with over 50 cheesecake varieties in over 100 locations. But what is the reason for the fascination with this popular calorie bomb?
The oldest recipe of a cheesecake made from quark or sour cream is handed down from the Greek physicist Aimigos and the recipes from the collection of Cato the Elder prove that the Romans have taken over the preparation of cheesecake from the Greeks. From ancient Rome, the cheesecake then went on its triumphal procession over the whole Occident. A 14th-century recipe stems from the French chef Taillevent and the oldest German cheesecake recipe is handed down in Anna Kocher's 1598 cookbook. The ingredients are quark, eggs, sugar, butter and cinnamon.
About 100 years later, the "Complete Nuremberg Cookbook" will already include several recipes for the "Eyer-Käs-Dorten". The European emigrants have taken their recipes to the land of opportunity, and so the cheesecake, as it's called there, began its triumphal procession in America.
But how is the ultimate cheesecake made? The answer to this question divides the fans of cheesecake already at the base and varies radically depending on country and region. For the typical American cheesecake, it requires a cake base with biscuit crumbs. In Switzerland and Germany, on the other hand, shortcrust pastry, regionally also yeast dough is used, while in a Silesian cheesecake the based consists of yeast dough and crumbles. And of course, there are also fans who proclaim cheesecake without cake base as the best.
The basic ingredient for filling a classic German cheesecake is a kilo of quark. Depending on how rich the cake is supposed to be, choose low or full-fat quark, add 300 g of sugar, 6 egg yolks, the pulp of a vanilla pod and let the mixture set. Thereafter add 2 sachets of custard powder or 4 tablespoons of semolina. Finally, add 6 stiffly beaten egg whites to this well-combined mixture and pour it onto shortcrust pastry in a baking pan. Then the cake is baked at 175 degrees for about an hour. By adding raspberry cherries, blackberries, blueberries or even raisins in rum, you can easily vary the taste of the cheesecake.
Over time, typical cheesecake variations and names have evolved in several countries. In Austria, the cheesecake is called “Topfen” or cheese strudel, the Swedes call their cheesecake - which is more like a casserole - Ostkaka. In Russia, the Russian flake cake, a mixture of cheese and chocolate cake - has developed. For this, a cacao dough base is prepared, filled with quark mass, and finally, small pieces of the cocoa dough are placed on the quark mass.
Cheesecake fans must be careful in Switzerland. Be sure to order a quark pie, because if you order a cheesecake, you will be served with a savoury tart of cheese, which only has the word "cheese" in common with the cheesecake.
The Corsicans appreciate their Fiadone. This variation is baked traditionally, however, ten minutes before the end of the baking time a meringue layer is added. The baking is then continued. Once it cools, the moisture of the cheese mixture forms small droplets on the top of the meringue, which look like tears and gave the Fiadone the name tear cake.
But not only the language makes a difference
Cheesecake lovers make subtle distinctions when it comes to naming their favourite cake. For them, Käsekuchen is a Käsekuchen and a cheesecake is a cheesecake. Contrary to what a layman might think, cheesecake is not the English / American name for Käsekuchen. Cheesecake differs significantly from the ingredients as well as in the preparation of a Käsekuchen.
The basis of an original New York cheesecake is an airy wafer-thin sponge cake, which is pre-baked for about 10 minutes. Onto it, the creamy mixture of frothy whipped cream cheese is spooned, which was mixed with sugar, starch, sour cream and vanilla extract and the eggs are added last. If you like it even richer, you can revert to the American cheesecake. What sets the American cheesecake apart from the original cheesecake you ask? So many things ... crème fraiche is added to the filling instead of cream. For the cake base, butter biscuits are crumbled and mixed with butter, placed on the bottom of a baking pan and squeezed tight. For the chocolate cheesecake, the Americans add melted dark, light or white chocolate to the cream cheese before baking, depending on preference.
All cheesecake variations are always baked in a water bath, which means that the baking pan is placed in the oven in a deep tin filled with water.