Appetite for Perfection: Shavuot cheesecake mania

With Shavuot on our doorstep I have had a week full of performing cooking demonstrations and workshops. Even though it is milk products that the tradition says we should eat, everyone wants me to teach them how to make cheesecake specifically. I did manage to convince one group to let us make fish tacos with labeneh though! If you search on the Internet, there are quite possibly thousands of different recipes and combinations of flavors. Type into Google your favorite ingredient followed by the word ‘cheesecake’ and I can guarantee a recipe will come up. Its not such a complicated product so everyone tries it as not as exact a science as, for example, a choux pastry.
Why we eat milk products on Shavuot has always interested me. What has milk got to do with the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai? Some say it is because that it is the festival when we received the commandment to go into Israel, whereas before we were going of our own volition, and that Israel is a land of milk and honey. But we received a lot of other commandments as well so this has never sat well for me.
Another explanation is that the Hebrew word for milk, halav, has the numerical value of 40 which is how long Moses was on Mount Sinai for. This is closer to the events that occurred, but I still wanted an understanding that has something to do with the Torah itself and, as a chef, I finally found one I can relate to.
We chefs are always trying to analyze ingredients. To understand their uniqueness in flavor and also beneficial properties, from being higher in a particular vitamin or being an aphrodisiac!?! Milk is the only product that if you consumed only that then you would be sustained fully - nothing else needed. Just as milk has this supreme quality within the physical world, so does the Torah within the spiritual world - with only it you could be completely sustained spiritually. I remember the head of my Yeshivah, Rav Noach Weinberg, asking me how my learning was going in Yeshivah. I said it was going well but he kept asking the question and then kept on asking if it was sweet until I finally asked why he wasn't satisfied with my answer. He told me a quote Song of Songs 4:11, ‘like honey and milk under your tongue.’ Learning and fulfilling the Torah, whilst being challenging at times, has to feel sweet to us and our goal in life is to try to attain this.
With this insight running through my head I was inspired to make a special cheesecake for Shavuot. The two most basic recipes are either baked or refrigerated. The refrigerated kind is often easier as the worry of the cake cracking is removed. It is also a lot fresher and lighter, which is especially good for the heat us Israelis are experiencing at the moment. It can contain whipped cream or gelatine to lighten the cheese, and then whatever flavorings you prefer inside, with a beautiful sauce on top and crunchy base. I make mine with a lotus biscuit base, vanilla and lemon zest in the cheese, and a choice of salted caramel, strawberry and rose, or spicy mango sauces on top.
The baked variety is what I decided to share with you here. It often contains flour, which I find too heavy, or egg whites to lighten it, as well as a myriad of other combinations before we even get to flavoring. Due to what I mentioned above, I decided to produce a recipe with honey, therefore being able to make it sugar free. Once on the health track, and especially as milk and Torah are supposed to be the best thing for us physically and spiritually, I decided to also go gluten free.
For flavorings I decided to use those not often seen in our home. When I met my wife and she found out I liked to cook, her and all her friends and family never failed to tell me how her peanut butter desserts were the talk of Queens. There was just one problem with this. I HATE PEANUT BUTTER. Well, I love it with savory foods like a satay, but in desserts I run a mile - albeit slowly nowadays! However, with the end of the Omer and us trying to change ourselves I tried to see if I could so with myself. Apparently the most popular sandwich in the world is peanut butter and jam (not jelly), and chocolate goes great with both of these so here you are. Enjoy!
Sugar & Gluten-Free Peanut Butter, Chocolate and Strawberry Cheesecake:
  • 140g oats
  • 150ml unsweetened applesauce
  • 1kg cream cheese
  • 300g honey, maple syrup or agave nectar (use less at first and add more if you want sweeter like me)
  • 100g unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract or seeds of 1 vanilla pod
  • 300g hulled and quartered strawberries
  • 190ml creamy sugar-free peanut butter (more if you like it stronger)
  • 100ml milk
Preheat the oven to 160°C, and lightly spray cake tin with nonstick cooking spray.
To prepare the crust, stir together the oats, applesauce and 2 tbsp peanut butter until thoroughly combined. Press into the bottom of the tin and bake for 8 minutes. Allow to slightly cool.
To prepare the filling, beat the cream cheese and honey together until creamy. Mix in the cocoa powder, cornstarch, and vanilla until smooth. Stir in the strawberries and spread on top of the cooled crusts. Drizzle 60ml peanut butter on the mixture as will produce a great swirl when cooked. Bake for around 45 minutes, or until the center is 65.5°C.
Cool completely to room temperature in the pan before laying plastic wrap over the entire surface and chill for at least 3 hours.
Mix 100ml peanut butter, milk, and honey if you like it sweeter, until achieve a runny but thick consistency. Add the milk slowly as don't want it too thin. Pour over the cheesecake and return to the refrigerator until ready to devour.
I served it with a homemade chocolate and caramel frozen yogurt
You can substitute these flavors for whatever you want. Go wild this Shavuot. Remember, your creativity is only limited by your imagination!
Hag sameach!