Last weekend I inhaled my new library book, My Berlin Kitchen, by Luisa Weiss. Those of you who spent a few years of your childhood in Germany, as I did, might recognize some familiar details. (Like a reference to the ubiquitous textured white wallpaper.) The book is a memoir with recipes, and the recipe that lodged itself in my brain was that for Käsekuchen, or German cheesecake. As a child, whenever offered a choice at a German bakery, I most often chose Käsekuchen. I spent the better part of Wednesday lamenting the high price of Quark cheese at the local specialty grocery ($4.99 for 8 ounces!), and then researching how to make homemade Quark and acceptable substitutions for Quark.
But back to yesterday. After reading a comment on another Käsekuchen recipe I dug up on the ‘net, I dashed over to our regular market that carries a wide selection of international foods. Sure enough, they had Swiss-style Twarog (apparently a Polish version of Quark) at only $3.99 a pound. Sold! I raced back home, mixed up the cake (I did contemplate the other recipe, because I’m fairly certain I used to eat Käsekuchen with a crust, but in the end, I went with Luisa’s simple crustless recipe–turns out, the farina in the pan magically creates a little crust), slid it into the oven, and then dashed off to the preschool carpool line. When we returned home, the warm, vanilla custardy aroma about knocked me over. People need to start baking cheesecake instead of burning scented candles.
I think it must have been that aroma that spurred me to stay in the kitchen and mix up a batch of buttermilk bread dough (that, and realizing that there is but a single slice of bread left in the cupboard), and some chocolate granola (which I fully intend to hoard). Little Four kept himself busy in the basement all afternoon with playdough and some vintage Muppet Show (especially the Joel Grey episode). It was late in the day before I got to the dirty dishes, but by that time I was scraping every last cake crumb and drop of cherry preserves off my plate.
A few recipe notes, especially if you’ve read the book (go read it!). I had to adapt the instructions a bit from the original, perhaps because the cheese I used may not be as creamy as Quark. I first mixed the batter with the paddle attachment on my stand mixer, but the batter seemed lumpy with noticeable curds (see the first photo below), and the recipe said to beat until “smooth and creamy.” I switched to the whisk attachment, which didn’t help. Since I had seen recipes that used a mixture of cottage cheese with a little sour cream blended smooth in the food processor (after tasting the twarog, I think the cottage cheese/sour cream combo would be a fair substitute), I got out the immersion blender and it smoothed out the batter considerably (second photo). Maybe those curds would melt and smooth out on their own during baking, but I didn’t want to take the chance. So I recommend you use a food processor to mix the batter–it’s one step, and the batter will be smooth from the start.
Even with those hiccups, it didn’t take long to put the cake together. It did take significantly longer to bake than the recommended 45 minutes. The center didn’t puff and turn golden brown until 75 minutes in, but this left the bottom of my cake just this side of burnt. I used a dark nonstick springform pan, which unmolded perfectly, but probably contributed to the overly-browned bottom. If your pan is dark, go ahead and put the cake in the middle of the oven (not the lower third), and remove it as soon as it puffs up and gets a little color on the top.
But despite those tweaks, this Käsekuchen satisfied my longing. The kids liked it, too, and I didn’t feel guilty giving them a slice as an afternoon snack. I think it’s even better eaten cold the second day (I tested this theory just for you, dear readers). You don’t even need a plate.
Käsekuchen in America
2 lbs. Quark, or Swiss-style Twarog fresh cheese
2/3 cup sugar
1 T. vanilla extract
3 T. cornstarch
8 T. melted butter
2 T. farina (regular Cream of Wheat, not instant)
2 tsp. baking powder
Grated peel and juice of 1 lemon
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch springform pan (I used baking spray) and sprinkle a few extra tablespoons of farina to lightly but thoroughly coat the pan.
Put the cheese in the food processor and blend until smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients and process until you have smooth batter, scraping down the bowl several times. Spread the batter into the prepared pan, careful not to smear the farina coating.
Bake for 60-80 minutes, or until the cake has puffed in the center and turned a golden brown. Let cake cool completely in the pan on a rack before releasing the latch and unmolding. Serve at immediately or chill for later. Some people like a little fruit preserves or puree alongside.