Friday, December 10, 2010

A Little Cheesecake

Betty Neels heroines gobble down rich desserts by the cartload. Given. In spite of that, I have yet to come across one that eats cheesecake. Why do you think? Is it because cheesecake is more 'American'? Because The Great Betty didn't care for it? Is it less common in Europe? I don't know the answer to that. Maybe it's just an oversight.

The folks here at the van der Stevejinck household do love their cheesecake - in fact, cheesecake is often chosen over more traditional cakes for birthday celebrations. Just last week I made one for Dr. van der Stevejinck's 52nd birthday (and just like a proper Neels hero, he is aging quite well).
I've been making this particular recipe for several years now. It results in a smooth, creamy cheesecake - not hard or dry. I topped Dr. van der Stevejinck's birthday cheesecake with cherries (from our trees) that I thawed, added about 1/2 cup water, a little lemon juice and a little sugar, then thickened with a cornstarch slurry.

33 graham cracker squares, crumbled
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus additional, for brushing the pan
1 tablespoon sugar

20 ounces cream cheese
1 1/4 cups sour cream
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
3 yolks
1/3 cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Brush some of the melted butter around a 9 by 3-inch cake pan. Adhere parchment to the bottom and the sides.
In a small bowl, combine crumbled graham crackers, the remaining melted butter, and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Press 2/3 of the mixture into the bottom of the parchment-lined pan. Place remaining crumbs on a sheet pan and bake both the crust and the remaining mixture for 10 minutes. Cool. Reserve additional crumb mixture for sides.
In a mixer with a paddle attachment, beat sour cream for 10 seconds. Add the cream cheese and sugar and mix on low for 30 seconds and then turn up to medium. Scrape the bowl.
In a separate container, combine vanilla, eggs, yolks, and heavy cream. With the mixer on medium, slowly pour the liquid mixture in. When half of it is incorporated, stop and scrape. Continue adding the mixture until the rest of the ingredients are incorporated. Once completely combined, pour into the cooled crust.
Lower oven temperature to 250 degrees F. Place cheesecake into a preheated water bath, in the oven for 1 hour. Turn the oven off and open the door for one minute. Close the door for one more hour. Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and place in the refrigerator for 6 hours to completely cool before serving.
When ready to serve, place the entire cake pan into a hot water bath for about 15 seconds. Unmold onto a cake round or serving dish. Take the remaining graham cracker mixture and press into the sides of the cake.
To slice, place your knife into a hot water bath and wipe dry each time you make a pass through the cake.

Verdict: Don't turn your back on's liable to disappear when you're not looking.


  1. My guess is yes, it is more American. I think of cream cheese as being American. I believe what we think of as cheesecake was invented in New York City. Not sure. . .
    I have a recipe for Italian "cheese pie" but it's nothing like cheesecake. It's made with ricotta.
    Also, I know when I was in Europe (oh so many years ago now) "brownies" were very exotic to most people I met.

  2. I'm with Jill on this. Cream cheese -- marketed as Philadelphia-style cheese -- wasn't available in British supermarkets until very recently. My guess is, Betty never had cheesecake.

    What's really sad is that this would suggest she never came to the U.S. Not entirely surprising, but sad. We're not *all* fat, wealthy & bald.

  3. Betty Barbara here---
    With thanks for the cheesecake, Clint Walker version.
    And, yum, that recipe sounds sooo good.

  4. Recipe looks amazing. I think it may be more American, but a close friend in England just asked for and baked my pumpkin cheese cake recipe and it went over very well!

  5. Thanks for the recipe - it looks yummy, but my question is what did Dear Betty have against Chinese food? I and Betty Cliff eat out Chinese at least once a month! Perhaps, it is so different from typical English fare, that she couldn't adapt to it. Often, a Chinese restaurant turned out to be the last straw in an already shaky relationship - followed quickly by the break-up. Do you remember a heroine liking Italian fare?

  6. Bettyellen:
    The only positive comment about Italian food that I can remember is in The Convenient Wife - he takes her out for lasagna!

    It's a shame about Betty not liking Chinese food (I love it)- but it might be that she had had some bad experiences with it in England. Perhaps the Brits didn't do Chinese food any better than they did pizza?

  7. Ethnic foods as takeaway (what we call take out) is a bit spotty even now, and back then it was definitely an iffy proposition.

    Betty Henry says in London there would have been decent Chinese takeaway although possibly in dodgy neighborhoods. Pizza was definitely substandard by U.S. standards even as late as the 1980s.

    Betty Neels lived in a relatively small town in Devonshire after they moved back from The Netherlands -- it's unlikely she would have access to Chinese food. Plus, she might not have liked the sauces -- all conspicuously cream & butter-free!