Not only is cheesecake delicious, but it also has an interesting history. It was not a single invention, but rather the result of development of the culinary scene and an example of the man’s devotion to taste.
I am happy to reveal – completely chauvinistically –that cheesecake has ancient Greek roots and that one of the well-known Athenian gastronomes referred to Samos cheese cakes, even including the recipe: «Take some cheese and crumble it, put it in a bronze sieve to drain, then add honey and spring wheat flour, and heat the mixture together «. It might seem odd, but it seems that back then, the fashion in wedding cakes didn’t focus so much on how many layers there were, but if it was cheese cake or not! Indeed, in Argos, it was customary for the bride to bring small cheese cakes covered in honey and serve them to the bridegroom’s friends (The Cheese Book, Vivienne Marquis & Patricia Haskell [Leslie Frewin:London] 1966, σελ. 18-19). It is also believed that cheese cake was served to the athletes at the first Olympic Games in 776 BC.
In contrast, Apikios, the greatest Roman gastronome, included in his recipes, a sophisticated cold dish in which cheese was mixed with honey, mint, watermelon, vinegar and various other ingredients (Cheese: A Guide to the World of Cheese and Cheesemaking, Battistotti, Botazzi et al.).The Romans were the ones who spread the cheesecake from Greece to Europe, while in the U.S., the sweet appeared a few hundred years later, with the recipes brought to them by immigrants.
Cream cheese was invented by mistake! In 1872, an American dairyman, William Lawrence of Chester, N.Y., accidentally developed a method of producing cream cheese while trying to reproduce a French cheese called Neufchatel. He started distributing his cream cheese in foil wrappers from 1880 onwards, under the name Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Later, in 1912, James Kraft pasteurised it and it is now a famous trademark and still the most popular cheese used for making cheesecake today.
American cheesecakes are often baked, whereas in United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, the non-baked, lighter styles are favoured more. This recipe is for a non-baked version which I was given by an Australian friend. It is completely fool-proof and an ideal summer dessert as it tastes light, fresh and tangy. The biscuit base can be made with ginger biscuits to add a slight “kick” as contrast to the lemon-lime topping, or with digestives to give a crumblier texture and more traditional flavour. You could also substitute the Philadelphia Cream Cheese with mascarpone or ricotta cheese, but then again as the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, why fix it”!
Ingredients (for 6 people)
For the base
1,5 pkt (330 g) biscuits (digestive or ginger)
110 g butter
For the filling
150 ml evaporated milk or fresh cream
* 10 g powdered gelatine
**2 large egg yolks
180 g sugar
225 g cream cheese (Philadelphia)
Juice and grated rind of 1 lemon and 1 lime
1 vanilla sugar
Preheat the oven at 200 degrees C.
Make the base: Melt the butter and pour into a bowl. Crush the biscuits by putting them into a nylon bag and bashing them with a rolling pin until crumbed. Add to the melted butter and mix well. Put the mixture into a shallow round tin (approx 20 cm) and press into the base, allowing the mixture to cover the sides too.
Bake in the preheated oven 8–10 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool to room temperature.
Make the cream: Put the gelatine with 3 tablespoons of cold water, into a small cup and stand in a saucepan of water that is only just simmering. Leave for about 10 minutes, when the gelatine will have become clear. Strain the gelatine into another cup. Put to one side. Cream sugar and cheese together, add the egg yolks and put in the blender for about 1 minute. Add the lemon juice, rind and gelatine and blend until the mixture is completely smooth. Whip the milk or cream in a separate bowl until frothy. Stir into the cheese mixture and then pour the final mixture into the tin, over the base.
Refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving.
Note: *An alternative to using gelatine is to use 1 packet of lemon jelly dissolved into 2/3 cup of boiling water.
**In this case the egg yolks are not needed.
A decorating suggestion: Whisk an egg white and dip small clusters of seedless grapes first into the egg, and then into a bowl of sugar. Leave to dry on a sheet of greaseproof paper for a couple of hours before using them to decorate the cheesecake.