There’s nothing more sinfully delicious than a New York style cheesecake from the Carnegie Deli, with its most popular topping being a strawberry sauce. And since both the original Carnegie Deli and indeed the whole of America is closed, I’ll have to make it at home.
Although there are claims that cheesecake can be found in English recipes dating back to the 1300s, or even ancient Greek recipes, the typical cheesecake we enjoy today is a purely American invention, depending on graham crackers and cream cheese for its unique characteristics. One thing we can be sure of: it is not a cake. If anything, it is closer to a custard pie that a torte or a flan.
Graham flour is a type of coarse-ground whole wheat flour named after Sylvester Graham, who was part of the 19th-century temperance movement and an early advocate for dietary reform. He despised discarding nutrients such as germ and bran when making flour for white bread. He believed that using all the grain in flour and bread was a remedy for the poor health of his fellow Americans during changes in diet brought on by the Industrial Revolution. Since 1898, the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) has mass produced graham crackers, using a recipe of graham flour, shortening and molasses. Graham cracker crust is a style of pie crust made from crushed graham crackers, credited to Monroe Boston Strause in 1926, who was known in Los Angeles, California, as the Pie King.
Modern commercial American cream cheese was developed in 1872, when William Lawrence, from Chester, New York, accidentally came up with a way of making a heavy creamy unripened cheese, while looking for a way to recreate the soft, French Neufchâtel cheese.
On many visits to New York I would regularly visit the Carnegie Deli, founded in 1937, and home to enormous portions of smoked meats, giant dill pickles, slices of creamy cheesecake weighing one pound and grumpy waiters. They used to say: “You’re nobody ’til somebody buys you lunch at the Carnegie Deli.” Sadly, the original spot near Carnegie Hall was closed by owner Marian Harper Levine at the end of 2016, but you can still get the same Jewish fare at their Madison Square Garden location. I once took a film crew in for lunch and the server refused to bring more than one portion of cheesecake for the five of us!
The following is not the Carnegie Deli recipe. The one that used to be posted on their website did not come out like the one in the deli! So if the real thing remains a secret, this is as close as I can get. Although the recipe involves some work, there’s very little that can actually go wrong, and I can promise that your family or dinner guests will be glad you tried. Here then is my tribute to all the calories consumed at the Carnegie Deli.
New York style cheesecake
- 1 1/2 cups / 5 oz / 150 g graham cracker crumbs
- 5 TBSP unsalted butter, melted
- 2 TBSP fine white sugar
- 1/8 tsp salt
- Vegetable oil spray
- 1,000 g (35 1/4 oz) cream cheese, at room temperature
- 2 cups fine white sugar
- 3 TBSP cake and pastry flour
- 4 tsp vanilla extract
- lemon zest, from 1 lemon
- 2 tsp fresh lemon juice, from 1 lemon
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 6 large eggs
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- Strawberry compote (optional)
- 1 cup washed, husked and halved strawberries
- A few perfect berries for decoration
- ¼ cup fine white sugar
- 1 TBSP lemon juice
Preparation and cooking
- You will need a 10 in round springform cake pan, a roll of 18 in wide heavy duty aluminum foil and another pan big and deep enough to fit the first, so as to make a bain marie, such as a roasting pan. The foil is to wrap securely around the springform pan without seams, so that it won’t leak when the cheesecake is slowly cooking in water in the bain marie.
- An electric stand mixer is also useful; although you can use a handheld electric mixer, it will be harder work. If that’s the case, you might want to buy softer cream cheese in a tub from your local cheese shop or deli (mine came from the inestimable duo of Alex and Geoff at Chris’ Cheesemongers in the St. lawrence Market) rather than hard blocks of commercial cream cheese.
- Preheat the oven to 190°C / 375°F with an oven rack in the lower middle position. Cover the bottom of the pan with foil, to more than 1 in on the sides. Spray the inside of the cake pan with nonstick cooking spray.
- Crust: Combine the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Stir until well combined. Press the crumbs into an even layer over the bottom of the cake pan. Bake the crust for 10 mins, until set. Remove the cake pan from the oven and set aside.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 160°C / 325°F and boil some water in a kettle.
- Filling: In a large bowl beat cream cheese, sugar, salt and flour together until just smooth and evenly combined. Add vanilla, lemon zest and lemon juice and mix in well. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until fully incorporated. It will get easier to mix with each egg until it looks like a batter. Finally add sour cream. Make sure the entire mixture is uniform but do not over-mix.
- Once the oven has cooled to 160°C / 325°F, put the foil wrapped springform pan into a larger pan. Pour the filling on top of the baked crust. Pour boiling water into the large roasting pan to come about 1 in up the side of the springform pan. Bake until the cake is just set, 90 to 105 mins.
- Carefully remove everything from the oven. Cool the cheesecake in the bain marie until the water is just warm, about 45 mins. Remove the cake pan from the bain marie and discard the foil. If necessary, run a warm spatula around the edge of the cake to make sure it’s not sticking to the sides (which can cause cracks as it cools). Cover with plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator to cool for at least 8 hrs or up to two days ahead of serving.
- Topping: In a small pan, warm washed, husked and halved fresh strawberries with a splash of lemon juice and sugar to make a compote. Bring to a boil and cook for about 10 mins until soft. Set aside to cool. TIP: If your compote looks lumpy, run it through a blender.
- To serve: Best served at room temperature, so remove from the fridge in plenty of time. Unclip the sides of the springform pan, lift off carefully, then slide the cheesecake off the base onto a platter. If it sticks, slide a warm spatula underneath to release it, or just place it on the platter on the base of the cake pan. Pour the strawberry compote over the middle and spread it around. Garnish with a few perfect fresh strawberries, one per slice. Cut into generous slices with a warm knife and lift out with a spatula or special cake knife. TIP: Don’t overload the compote or it will run over the sides and onto the table, so keep some in reserve and add an extra spoonful after cutting each slice.
Serves 8 to 12. TIP: A slice might be too much for some appetites, so decorate with 12 berries and slice accordingly.
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This is Nigel’s 286th blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The SEARCH function at the top works really well, if you want to look back and see some of his previous stories. Here is the link to Market to Table: The Cookbook, a bargain at $11.50. The link to Gentleman’s Portion: The Cookbook is now live, even better priced at $9.99 or £9.99.
Categories: Simply food