Oscar Soule’s ideal cheesecake is ultra creamy, but simply adorned with a fruit sauce.
Barnett Kalikow’s would contain several layers of interesting flavors.
For Ruby Martin, the flavors should intersect sour and sweet, the cake should have a little extra body and include fruit as an ingredient.
That is precisely the problem with picking cheesecake as the subject for a baking contest.
Nobody — especially not the members of Olympia’s Temple Beth Hatfiloh — can agree on what the ideal cheesecake should taste like or even look like. But Soule said the judges will have a fine time trying to figure that out March 20 at the temple’s contest. He’s created a cheat sheet, as well as a history of cheesecake, for the judges: Congressman Denny Heck, Olympia bakery owner Mohammed El-Sokkary and Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby.
Soule is the resident baking/pastry expert at Beth Hatfiloh, the sponsor of the competition that is part of the temple’s Blintzapalooza festival (read the accompanying stories for details on that).
In years past, the Blintzapalooza festival has featured cooking contests for bagels, challah, kuchen and a number of other European or traditional Jewish foods.
When cheesecake, which has long and deep ties to Jewish delis in New York City, was suggested for the Blintzapalooza competition this year, Soule balked.
“I didn’t like the idea,” he said. “It’s too much work, people won’t do it. I went on and on, but the committee liked it. I slowly came around. … We had the cheesecake class (at the temple) the other night, and the cheesecakes were delicious, and now I’m quite excited about it.”
So are we.
The three temple members — Soule, Kalikow and Martin — have offered their best cheesecake baking tips and recipes. Three local chefs, who are known for their cheesecakes, have offered advice to anyone looking to whip up a competition-worthy cheesecake.
Feel free to use these tips, or your own, to enter the cheesecake competition at Temple Beth Hatfiloh. It’s free and open to anyone. Just drop your cheesecake at the temple between 10-11 a.m. March 20.
Soule’s mother was famous for her creamy cheesecake adorned with a simple three-ingredient fruit topping. “My mother, like a lot of people, thought the cheesecake should be plain. She’d buy a can of berries, a can of sour berries, drain them and save the juice, then thicken the juice.”
Now, Oscar, a retired Evergreen State College ecology professor, and wife Barbara cook that same cheesecake, and they’ve shared that recipe here. It’s an adaptation, they think, from The Joy Of Cooking cookbook.
Their best tips are to keep the cake simple and focus on texture, not size. “Some people have gotten into this thing where bigger is better. That’s not what we have in mind. The idea that someone who will make an 8-inch-tall cheesecake will win isn’t true; more isn’t necessarily better. We’re just looking for the best tasting cheesecake.”
Flavor layering is Kalikow’s strategy for making the perfect cheesecake. The Olympia attorney is known for his desserts. “I want it to not be a one-note dessert,” he explained. “I want to have more than one flavor in there.”
For the orange cheesecake recipe he’s sharing here, he infused tang by swapping some of the cream cheese for sour cream. He created several layers of orange flavoring through zest, juice and orange-flavored wafers used in the crust. Nutmeg complements the citrus flavor. And what is a good companion to sweet? A little sour. Balsamic vinegar added a little pucker. Here’s a quick Kalikow tip: Skip the flour and use instant tapioca as a sauce thickener. “It’s more jelly like and less gluey.”
Here’s his big secret weapon, “The other thing I do in all of this is something often left out of cheesecake recipes. I add a little salt, People forget sweet stuff needs a little salt.”
His final tip is about the zest. In lieu of a microplane zester or fine grater, he prefers a handheld cocktail zester that employs small holes to create larger ribbons of zest. “After it’s baked, you can see the threads in the cheesecake. That’s a visual that’s always nice.”
Martin, a retired nurse midwife and artist, has an ideal flavor profile for desserts: A little sour, a little sweet. She brought back a bottle of key lime concentrate from a Florida Keys vacation and decided that was the pucker she was after for her lime-mango cheesecake recipe shared here.
“I found the recipe in The Gourmet Cookbook. I was looking for something different that wasn’t a New York style cheesecake,” she said.
Why no New York cheesecake? “I think it’s overdone,” she said. “A good cheesecake should be able to stand alone, but I think having fruit with it not only adds to the visual, which is so much a part of what we eat, but also the balance between the sweet and tart.”
For the sweet, she topped the cheesecake with mangoes. For the tart, she added key lime juice to the cheesecake batter.
“I like the texture to be not too creamy. In fact, often times, I like cheesecakes with part ricotta because it has a denser texture; that mixed with the eggs seems to create that texture.”
Mohamed El-Sokkary prefers a dense, but less sugary cheesecake. “I want it to be like a Middle Eastern cheesecake, but not overwhelmingly sweet. People sometimes drizzle it with a whole bunch of chocolate. I want to taste the cheese. The structure is important. You don’t want it to fall apart, but you want it to be moist and soft; yet it has to hold its shape. The taste has to be really nice. The crust can be dense, but the cheese can’t be. It can’t be burned or overcooked,” said El-Sokkary, a cooking teacher and owner of Smiling Mo’s Cookies.
One of the judges at the Blintzapalooza contest, El-Sokkary urges contestants to think beyond the traditional New York-style cheesecake for something more worldly. His favorite cheesecakes, for instance, are Middle Eastern-style cakes using his mother’s favorite spice — cardamom. His other flavor tips: Orange blossom, rose water, pomegranates and apricots.
And the cream cheese? Try supplementing or swapping it with something with tang. “There was a cream cheese we used in Egypt, it’s almost like got a gamey taste to it, compared to the cream cheese you get here. We’d also use a little bit of a goat cheese,” he said. “The goat cheese can add that tang that some people use sour cream for.”
“As someone who does not like the flavor of plain cream cheese, I believe in just adding whatever flavors you like,” said Danelle Bentley, who, despite her dislike of cream cheese, built an entire company around baking with it. She’s the owner of Puyallup-based D’Lectable Desserts, which specializes in cheesecakes and frozen cheesecake bars.
“For something lighter, fruit is always a great option. It also depends on the time of year. In the fall, caramel apple and salted caramel, then pumpkin and sweet potato; springtime brings key lime and lemon.”
Fresh fruit is the ideal topper, but she usually skips one. “Whether it’s whole berries, chopped berries or a puree, I simply love fruit. It can also hide an occasional crack that may occur during the baking process.”
As for baking tips and tricks, Bentley advises to keep an eye on the baking time and feel free to skip the water bath. “Some people swear by a water bath, which I’ve never had luck with. I simply bake at a low temp and am happy with my results.”
“The number one thing is flavor. It has to have great flavor,” said Cindy Pantley, pastry chef of Toscanos Italian Grill in Puyallup.
Pantley suggested a mix-and-match flavor approach. “You could actually make a two-layer cheesecake, making one layer sweeter and one more tart,” she said. Additionally, “the sauce can go either way. You can make a sweet cheesecake with a tart sauce, or the other way around.”
A touch of tang is Pantley’s go-to flavor element. She also prefers sour cream in the cheesecake batter.
And don’t forget the crust. “To me the crust is as important as the overall taste and appearance. It’s taking your fork from the top layer all the way down to the crust. I personally don’t like a crunchy, crunchy crust. I’d rather have a medium textured crust.” Her suggestions? A shortbread crust, an oil-based cookie crumb crust or something like the crushed orange wafers used in Kalikow’s recipe.
Her best tip for knowing when a cheesecake is done is to “do the jiggle test.”You don’t want it to be soupy. It has to be sort of like a Jell-O type dessert, with a jiggle when it’s done. You don’t want the cheesecake to crack because if it does, you’ve baked it too long.”
Like Pantley, Ta’ani Ma’ama, executive chef of Boathouse 19, advises thinking beyond a graham cracker crust. His favorite is ginger snaps. “They have such a unique flavor, but you can tone it down and use partial graham crackers with the gingersnaps, or crushed oatmeal or flour.”
He’s a stickler for texture, something he says can be achieved by “being patient” and “not taking shortcuts.” That means room-temperature, softened cream cheese. No exceptions.
“The temperature of when you add your eggs is one of the key elements for getting the best texture. Once you have the cream cheese in the mixer and your mixture is going; you work out all the lumps until your cream cheese is almost like a ribbon. Once it’s there, it’s going to be a lot easier when you mix in the other ingredients. But if you skip that step, you can’t go back and fix it.”
A combination book, bagel and blintz sale. Bagels and lox will be for sale for immediate dining; blintzes also for on-site or at-home eating and as many books as can be packed home. Plus, there’s a cheesecake baking competition at 10 a.m.
Hiatus? Yes, Blintzapalooza was on hiatus last year; but it’s back this year.
When: 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. March 20 (Book sale begins at 9:30 a.m., food service at 10 a.m.).
Where: Temple Beth Hatfiloh, 201 Eighth Ave., Olympia.
Cost: Admission is free. Books, bagels and blintzes are individually priced.
Donating: Donate used books to the temple’s office from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. Outside of those times, books can be dropped off outside the East Entrance.
Benefiting: All proceeds go to community organizations. More than $140,000 to date has been raised for 50 community organizations in the Olympia area. Three charitable organizations will benefit this year: ROOF Community Services, the Emergency Overnight Shelter and South Sound Parent to Parent.
Information: 360-754-8519 or bethhatfiloh.com.
Ruby’s Mango Special
Source: Ruby Martin; adapted from a recipe from The Gourmet Cookbook.
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 (8-oz) packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
¾ cup strained fresh key lime juice
½ cup sour cream
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 large, firm but ripe mangoes
1 tablespoon strained fresh key lime juice or bottled juice
½ cup very cold heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
Special equipment: A 9- to 9 ½ inch springform pan, a mandolin or other adjustable-blade slicer, such as a Japanese Benriner.
Make the crust: Put a rack in middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Invert bottom of springform pan (to make it easier to slide off cake), then lock on side and butter pan.
Stir together crumbs, sugar and butter until well combined. Press evenly onto bottom and one-third of the way up sides of pan.
Bake crust for 9 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool. Reduce oven temp to 325 degrees
Make the filling: Beat cream cheese in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until fluffy. Beat in sugar. Reduce speed to low, add lime juice, sour cream, and vanilla. Mix until smooth. Mix in flour and salt until just incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl with a spatula as needed. Add eggs and mix just until incorporated
Pour filling into crust. Put cheesecake on a baking sheet with sides and bake until just set in center, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes. Transfer to rack to cool completely. (Cake will continue to set as it cools.) With a large metal spatula, transfer cake to a serving plate.
Make the topping: Peel mangoes. Slice mangoes lengthwise very thinly (slightly less than 1/8 inch thick) with slicer (use caution because mangoes will be slippery). Halve wider slices lengthwise. Gently toss mango slices with lime juice.
Beat cream with sugar in a small bowl with cleaned beaters at medium speed until it just holds stiff peaks. Spread over top of cheesecake. Bending and curling mango slices, arrange them decoratively over cream. Refrigerate. Serve cold or bring to room temperature. Add the topping just before serving.
Barnett’s Orange Cheesecake Pie with Berry Topping
Source: Barnett Kalikow.
2 cups orange wafer crumbs (Anna’s brand thin wafers, about 1 cellophane stack)
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter
2 (8-ounce) blocks cream cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
Zest of one large orange
2 tablespoons squeezed orange juice
1 cup sugar
1 ½ tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
¼ tsp nutmeg
3 cups frozen mixed berries
1 ½ tablespoons instant tapioca
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons sweet wine
2 tablespoons water
For the crust: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine crumbs, butter and sugar until crumbs are completely coated, press into 9-inch pie plate, bottom and sides. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
For the filling: Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees. Beat together cream cheese, sour cream, orange juice, orange zest and sugar until smooth and creamy. Add vanilla, salt and nutmeg and then eggs and beat, scraping the bowl occasionally, until batter is of even consistency and color. Pour into baked crumb crust. Bake for about one hour until center is firm and top is golden brown. Allow to cool. Refrigerate covered for at least two hours.
For the topping: Combine all ingredients in saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally until berries are defrosted. Increase to medium-low and simmer, stirring often, until mixture is reduced and begins to thicken and tapioca chips have disappeared almost entirely. Remove from heat and place in a bowl to cool. Store covered in refrigerator until well chilled.
Spread berry topping over top of chilled pie and garnish with orange slices and fresh berries.
Selma Soule’s Cheesecake
Source: Oscar and Barbara Soule.
18 graham crackers
1/8 or ¼ cup melted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ½ pounds cream cheese, softened
¾ cup sugar
3 eggs, well beaten
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 can blueberries or cherries
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons cornstarch
For the crust: Combine graham crackers, butter and sugar. Press into a springform pan without baking. Turn on oven to 350 degrees.
For the filling: Beat cream cheese well, then add sugar, eggs, salt, lemon juice and vanilla. Beat well after each addition. Pour into springform pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.
For the topping: Strain 1 can of blueberries or cherries. Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to the strained juice from the canned fruit. Add 3 tablespoons of cornstarch. Cook liquid in a pan set over medium heat until mixture has thickened. Fold in berries. Spread on top of cheesecake when ready to serve.