A few weeks ago I had an unexpected ‘first’. I had the opportunity to feel like a real, grown-up Jewish mom. How did this all come about (so late into parenting)? I baked my first cheesecake for my daughter’s sixth birthday.
For me, cheesecake is the quintessential, go-to Jewish mom dish. It’s down to earth and wholesome, whilst also being a little bit fancy and complicated; just like Jewish moms, perhaps? It has a way of being appropriate at every stage of Jewish life. As I write my column this week I have eaten it at a bris welcoming a new life into our community and sent it to mourners to show my sympathy and support. We eat it at birthday parties and we eat it at Shavuot. And now, instead of relying on my mom and mom- in-law to make them for me, I have graduated into a new and exciting world of making them myself.
In 1929, a German-Jewish immigrant who owned a succession of Manhattan restaurants, Arnold Reuben, (yes, Reuben of the well-known sandwich) is said to have come up with the first cream cheese cheesecake, the cake that is now known as the New York style cheesecake. And if I think of how I see cheesecake stateside, New York style — available in proper Jewish delis — definitely comes to mind. New York cheesecake is definitely a model for perfect cheesecake for me. Dense and creamy, not too sweet and just a touch of something tart.
In Jewish Cooking in America, Joan Nathan suggests that the best known of the original deli cheesecakes was made by Lindy’s on Broadway. (Lindy being the nickname of Leo ‘Lindy’ Lindermann who opened the restaurant and made Lindy’s cheesecake a household name) Later the recipe was included by Kraft (another Jewish business) in a promotion for their Philadelphia brand cream cheese. Then, Charlie Lubin, a Jewish businessman from Chicago, made the first line of freezer cheesecakes. He decided to call his company after his daughter, Sara Lee.
But an essential part of the equation is still missing. Behold the cheesecake recipe. A template from which will spring the cheesecakes of my future, the cheesecakes my daughters will come to expect and will make once they become grown- up Jewish moms. A piece of paper as important as any Jewish document in a Jewish home. No pressure.
My family are a biscuit-base people. Ginger, to be precise. And my Great Granny Kate’s cheesecake recipe is legendary (in small, familial circles). My mom still uses it today and that spicy, sweet, unexpected flavour under the cheese is fabulous.
My mom-in-law uses her Bobba Bessie’s recipe. The base is pastry made from scratch. It’s a buttery, floury mix, rolled thin and gently placed into the dish halfway up the sides. Placing the pastry without it breaking is in itself an art. This is the recipe I happened to use for my first time.
I want my family to remember me for my wonderful cheesecake and I want to go forward without having to choose only one of these delicious family recipes.
So, I ask you; Do you have the best cheesecake recipe? And do you have any wonderful memories of baking cheesecakes that you would share with me? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know.