I asked a friend of mine what sort of cake he wanted for his birthday. He said cheesecake. This threw me for a loop as I like cheesecake just fine but it's not something I ever make. And so the research began. I started out wanting to make an Italian-style ricotta one but was put off by the time involved and taste imagined of the rather elaborate pastry that encased it. I then perused my favourite American cooking blogs to see what I could find but was mildly horrified by the massive quantities of cream cheese and sugar cited by nearly every recipe I came across. And so, I did what any cook of my generation in Australia would do. What I should have done in the first place. I asked Stephanie. Or more accurately, googled Stephanie Alexander cheesecake and bingo. Though still containing bricks plural of cream cheese (and sour cream to boot) this was a lighter, significantly sweeter version of the renowned New York cheesecake, that mainstay of deli cabinets not just in Manhattan but the world over. With a base made from shredded wheatmeal biscuits, the subtle tang of lemon, and a creamy, dreamy consistency, this more than fulfilled the birthday brief.
And, as it turns out, it was the perfect cake for the occasion as the celebration was - at the last minute - postponed for a fortnight. After panicking thinking how on earth was I going to get through an entire cheesecake by myself, I remembered Sara Lee. And so the birthday cake lived happily in the freezer til it was finally laid out to eat last Saturday night. With a backdrop of city lights and a balmy almost-summer breeze, looking sunny and simple and a little bit showy it felt somehow very Sydney. And so, Sydney cheesecake.
Adapted from a recipe by Stephanie Alexander as published in the Sydney Morning Herald
Shredded wheatmeal biscuits come in 250g packets, so I threw in a few gingernut biscuits I had lying around to make up the numbers. This added a nice spicy kick. Next time I might even use more! If you want to freeze this after making, as I did, just wrap in two layers of plastic wrap then one of tinfoil and store in the freezer til needed. Defrost in the fridge overnight before serving.
100g butter, melted
300g wheatmeal biscuits
500g cream cheese, at room temperature
200g caster sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp lemon juice
few drops pure vanilla, or vanilla extract to taste
pinch of salt
2 cups sour cream
Preheat oven to 180ºC. Brush the base and sides of a 22cm x 6cm deep springform tin with a little of the melted butter. Remove the base from the tin.
Cut a round of baking paper to fit the base of the tin, brush the paper with a little butter and set aside.
Tear off an 80cm sheet of foil and double it over so it measures 40cm in length. Lay the foil over the base of the tin, then put the buttered round of paper on top. Sit the springform tin over the base and lock the sides into place, leaving excess foil outside the tin. Draw up the excess foil around the tin and fold the top out of the way. You now have a watertight container.
Crush the biscuits in a food processor. Add the remaining butter and process. Press the crumb mixture into the base of the tin, tapping firmly with the base of a glass or similar as you go.
Beat the cream cheese and sugar in an electric mixer until smooth. Beat in the cornflour, then add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating each time just until smooth. Add the lemon juice, vanilla and salt. Add the sour cream and beat briefly to combine. Pour the batter into the tin and stand the tin in a large baking dish. Pour boiling water into the dish to come halfway up the sides of the tin. Bake for 50 minutes, then turn off the oven but do not open the door for a further hour.
Lift the tin from the water bath and flatten the foil away from the sides just in case there is any water trapped inside. Cool completely in the tin on a wire rack and refrigerate for several hours or overnight before serving.