Käsekuchen in America

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

4 eggs

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.

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No-knead overnight orange rolls

I probably read too many food blogs, magazines and cookbooks, because every day I see delicious recipes that I have no time to make. Just last week I bookmarked these decadent orange rolls and I wanted to make them right away. But once I sat down and really read the recipe, the three cups of confectioner’s sugar and over two sticks of butter scared me off a little. It’s not that I didn’t think they would be delicious, it’s just that I went to the freezer and realized that we were on the last pound of the four-pound pack of butter from Costco that we bought at Easter. Wasn’t Easter just a little more than a week ago? Just where did all that butter go?

But I couldn’t get those orange rolls off my mind. After a little browsing through the archives of Artisan Bread in Five, I decided to make a batch of no-knead challah dough, and then turn that into orange rolls. Granted, I still used two sticks of butter, but since I only used half of the dough…well, you do the math. There wasn’t too much effort involved (five minutes here, ten minutes there–maybe 30 minutes total), and the results were spectacular. SPECTACULAR, I tell you. Tender, fluffy and gooey, with a distinct orange perfume. I still have the other half of the challah dough, and I’m sorely tempted to make another pan of orange rolls. Instead I’ll try to be practical and make little ham and cheese buns–something to pop into lunch boxes.

You, however, should go make orange rolls immediately. You can either make a whole batch of challah dough (four pounds) and use half for the orange rolls, or cut the dough recipe in half and use all of it. If you don’t have enough people around to eat a whole pan of orange rolls, freeze the extra baked rolls individually (well-wrapped) and enjoy them whenever. They reheat very nicely.

No-Knead Overnight Orange Rolls

1/2 batch of no-knead challah dough (about 2 lbs. of dough–ignore the topping)

zest of 2 large oranges

8 ounces unsalted butter, melted

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

Glaze:

juice of 1/2 orange (about 1/3 cup)

1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar

1/2 tsp. vanilla

The day before you want to serve the orange rolls, mix up the challah dough and let it rise for 2 hours at room temperature. Refrigerate the dough. Before you go to bed, sprinkle plenty of flour on the top of the cold dough and scoop out half–or all of it if you only made half a batch–onto a well-floured silicone mat. Roll the dough out into a 10″x18″ rectangle, or about the size of the silicone mat. Let it rest while you mix the orange zest, butter, brown sugar and vanilla together in a small bowl. Spread the mixture onto the dough all the way to the edges. Roll the dough into a log from the longer side, lifting the silicone mat to help push it along (like rolling sushi). Cut the log into 12 equal slices with a piece of dental floss, and place each roll into a well-greased 9″x13″ baking pan. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the pan from the refrigerator and let rest for at least 20 minutes on top of the warming oven. Bake the rolls, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes, or until a deep golden brown.

While the rolls bake, mix up the glaze. Whisk the orange juice, confectioner’s sugar and vanilla together in a small bowl. Let the rolls cool slightly (5-10 minutes), and then spoon the glaze over the top. Serve warm.