Despite the plethora of cheese that is produced and sold in this country, cheesecake is lacking in France. It has creeped its way onto that little list of homesick foods that the American expatriate begins to cherish. You might think that with the wide variety of creamy French desserts, you could just forget about cheesecake. This is scientifically impossible. You may be distracted for a little while, but one day you will wake up and ask yourself, “Mais, où est le cheesecake!?” It happened to me not so long ago.
There were two factors that had to be overcome in order to attack… 1. the graham cracker crust, (no crackers of this sort here) and 2. the cheese! (400+ choices).
For the crust, the choice was not too difficult. I opted for the cookie that is closest to graham crackers in color and texture: the famous speculoos cookie. It is richer in oil and sugar than the graham cracker, so the end result was likewise, heavier. But they worked out well. Maybe next time I’ll try to make my own graham.
Pressing the speculoos crust into my springform.
I was very happy with this recipe that I found on Simply Recipes, but it did not come without a warning. It’s difficult to make a good aluminum foil water barrier for cooking in a water bath. Mine leaked of course. Amazingly, it did not make the crust soggy. I have no idea how the cake managed, because when I took it out, water leaked everywhere. Perhaps the fat content of the speculoos coated in butter renders them water-resistant in and of themselves!
On to the cheese. Philadelphia cream cheese can sometimes be found at the supermarket, but the price seems too high and I prefer cooking with local stuff when I can. Finding some sort of creamy cheese had to be possible. One lucky day, Bastien, aficionado of fresh cheeses, came home from the market with a fresh cow milk cheese. Textured like a fresh goat cheese, but creamier and lighter in taste, as cow’s milk is, I knew that I had found a contestant.
The next week I was standing in front of a hearty large-handed farmer at his market stand. I didn’t tell him that I was going to make cheesecake as he wrapped them one by one in little squares of parchment paper.
My vintage moulinex. I’m not a good thrift shopper, but Bastien found this for one euro at an antique sale. It didn’t work well at first, but he opened it up and found a wire that was hardly attached. A pair of scissors and a little screwdriver fixed the problem. It has only two speeds: really fast and super-duper fast, great for cake making and incorporating air into things!
One of my favorite things to buy when I’m back in the states: cooking extracts. I like to use whole vanilla bean pods when vanilla is the main taste of the dessert. But when it is there for support I go for extract. This is great for when you want to quickly add vanilla with its little black specs.
Ready for the oven
As you can see, my aluminum foil wrapping was half-hearted. If it had not been for the miraculous property of water resistance that butter and other oils from the speculoos share, I would have had to pay the price of a, gulp, soggy crust! Sometimes the cooking gods seem to be on my side.
Two and a half hours later
You can see that edges of the cake rose and didn’t fall back down! I was a little bit disappointed, but it would have been perfect for putting a topping in the middle, strawberries for example. This was probably a temperature issue. Maybe my water bath was not high enough to protect the edges from heating too fast? Needless to say, there were no complaints. This cheesecake was among the best that I’ve ever had.
Cheesecake based on recipe from Simply Recipes :
- 2 cups (475 ml) speculoos or crumbled Graham crackers
- 5 tbsp (70 g) melted unsalted butter
- Pinch of salt
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 900 g fresh cow’s milk cheese at room temperature, you might find this at a local farmer’s shop, and cream cheese is fine if you can’t get your hands on the fresh stuff
- 1 1/3 cup (270 g) sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
- 4 eggs
- 2/3 cup (160 ml) crème fraîche or sour cream
- 2/3 cup (160 ml) heavy whipping cream
- 9-inch, 2 3/4-inch high springform pan
- Heavy-duty, 18-inch wide aluminum foil, or thin, cheap aluminum foil if you’re feeling lucky (there must be a better way!)
- A high-sided roasting pan, big enough for your springform
1 With the aluminum foil, make the springform waterproof. Good luck! If you don’t use a couple of sheets of very wide aluminum foil and plenty of care during this operation, leakage will be guaranteed.
2 Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C), with rack in lower third of the oven. Pulse the speculoos in a food processor until finely ground. Pour into a bowl and stir in the sugar and salt. With your immaculate hands, knead in the melted butter.
3 Press the speculoos – butter mixture into the bottom of the springform using your fingers. You want to create a perfectly even layer over the bottom of the pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on cooling rack. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F (160°C).
Now for the filling
4 In the bowl of an electric mixer equipped with the paddle attachment, or an old-fashioned handheld Moulinex, whip the fresh cheese or cream cheese on medium speed until smooth, soft and creamy. Add the sugar and continue beating for about 4 minutes. Add the salt and vanilla and beat. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for one minute after each addition. Add the crème fraîche or sour cream, and ditto, beat until incorporated. Add the heavy whipping cream, beat until you have a smooth filling ready to join the cooled speculoos crust-in-waiting.
Assemble and cook
5 Place the foil-wrapped springform pan in the roasting pan. Boil 2 quarts of water. Pour the cheesecake filling over the speculoos layer. Smooth the top if needed, or just tap the springform against the counter top a few times. Carefully pour the hot water into the roasting pan about half way up the sides of the springform, creating a water bath for the cheesecake. Place in the oven and cook at 325°F (160°C) for 1 1/2 hours.
6 When ready, turn off the heat, crack open the oven door and let the cake cool in the oven for another hour. This gentle cooling will help prevent the cheesecake surface from cracking.
7 Chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, or overnight.