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There are all sorts of cheesecakes, from chocolate to raspberry to peanut butter to pumpkin, but when it comes to cheesecake for Shavuot, in our family tradition rules. Tradition means pure cheese flavor without unusual distractions.
Polish cheesecakes have a special appeal for me, because my mother, Pauline Kahn Luria, who made wonderful cheesecakes to celebrate Shavuot, was born in Warsaw. My mother preferred subtle flavors that did not distract from the pure pleasure of the sweet cheese. She would have agreed with Dana Bovbjerg and Jeremy Iggers, authors of The Joy of Cheesecake, who flavored their Polish cheesecake solely with vanilla. Along with the vanilla (and it has to be real vanilla), I like a hint of freshly grated lemon or orange rind. I haven't yet tried chopped candied orange rind, the flavoring suggested by Alina Zeranska, author of The Art of Polish Cooking, but I think it might be a good addition as long as the candied rind is of fine quality.
Fruit on top might be pretty but makes a cheesecake harder to cut neatly and is impractical if you are planning to eat the dessert over several days instead of finishing it all in a day or two. After a day, the fruit begins to look tired and, as a consequence, so does the cheesecake. I do like fruit with cheesecake but I prefer the fruit on the side, as an accompaniment or as a sauce rather than on top of the cheesecake.
One topping I do love is a streusel, or crumble topping, which sometimes garnishes the surface of Polish cheesecakes. Made of sugar, butter and flour, the pastry-like crumbs melt in your mouth and delicately accent the cheesecake in a delightful way.
Polish cheesecakes often feature a pastry base or a bottom layer of yeast dough. I opt for a sweet cookie-dough pastry that can be used to make both the base and the crumble topping. For the filling, a combination of cottage cheese, cream cheese and whipping cream yields a pleasing result, rich yet not heavy or sticky.
I like to add nuts to my crumble topping. Almonds or pistachios are ideal for Shavuot, because they grew in Israel during biblical times and serve as a reminder that Shavuot is Hag Habikurim, the holiday of first fruits.
ALMOND STREUSEL CHEESECAKE
This scrumptious cheesecake has a creamy lemon-scented filling, a wonderful almond crumble topping and a rich pastry base. Instead of almonds, you can use pistachios, unsalted macadamia nuts, walnuts or pecans.
Pushing the cottage cheese through a strainer gives the smoothest result, but you can skip this step if you don't mind a slightly coarser texture.
450 gr. cottage cheese
450 gr. cream cheese, softened
3â„4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1â„2 cup whipping cream
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. grated lemon rind
1â„3 cup chopped blanched almonds
Prepare Sweet Pastry Base and Streusel (see recipe below). Preheat oven to 175 .
Push cottage cheese through a strainer. Beat cream cheese with sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs one by one. Beat in egg yolks. Stir in cottage cheese, cream, vanilla and grated rind.
Pour filling into lined pan. Crumble reserved pastry crumb mixture (from streusel recipe below) between your fingers and sprinkle on top of filling. Sprinkle almonds over crumbs. Pat gently so topping adheres to filling.
Set springform pan on a baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until set; check after 1 hour. If topping is not brown, broil for 30 seconds, checking very often, until golden brown. Cool completely. Refrigerate cake for at least 2 hours before serving. Serve cold.
Makes 10 servings.
SWEET PASTRY BASE AND STREUSEL
This two-in-one recipe includes both a rich, sweet pastry and a delectable buttery crumble topping. Both are made from a pastry dough resembling French p t sucree that can be easily made in the food processor.
21â„2 cups all-purpose flour
1â„2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
225 gr. cold butter, cut in small pieces
1 large egg, beaten
2 tsp. grated lemon rind
Lightly butter a 23-cm. springform pan. Combine flour, sugar and salt in food processor. Process briefly to blend. Scatter butter pieces over mixture. Mix using on/off turns until mixture resembles coarse meal. Pour egg evenly over mixture.
Sprinkle with grated lemon rind. Process with on/off turns, scraping down occasionally, until dough forms sticky crumbs; do not allow them to come together in a ball.
To prepare pastry base, sprinkle 3 cups of crumbs evenly in prepared springform pan. Put rest of crumbs in a bowl in freezer. With floured hands press crumbs in pan together and pat them 5 cm. up side of pan. Chill lined pan in freezer while preparing filling.
Makes a base for a 23-cm. cheesecake.
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.