Cheesecake, as compared to other cakes, is not particularly complicated: cheese, eggs, sugar, cornstarch, salt, vanilla. There are no egg whites to whip, no leavening agents, it’s fairly forgiving in the oven, and even if it doesn’t set completely, it still tastes phenomenal. It takes chocolate, fruit, nuts, and caramel with a je ne sais quoi. It even freezes. People love it.
People who move to Israel sometimes lament the things they’ve had to give up. Not that the global supply chain hasn’t beaten a path to the local stores here in Israel, but the cost for getting things here is still somewhat ludicrous. So either we splurge, we forego, or we adapt.
In Israel, they make something that they call cheesecake. Suffice it to say that it’s a mockery of real cheesecake. And when I say real cheesecake, I mean New York Style Cheesecake. Artery-clogging, sugar-rocketing, cholesterol-heightening, dense, creamy cheesecake.
It’s no secret that the secret to cheesecake starts with the cheese. The problem is that good quality New York style cheesecake requires Philadelphia Cream Cheese. And enough Philly cream cheese for a cheesecake recipe requires a home owner’s loan. So the first problem to tackle was how to get dense, creamy cheese with the cheese available in Israel. Fun fact: ‘Philadelphia’ was adopted as the brand name, after the city that was considered at the time to be the home of top quality food; it was always made in New York [source]. Yeah, and we stole their pretzels, too.
At first I started with making my own cheese from milk. Without a souring culture to thicken milk into sour cream, I opted to make an Indian paneer-style cheese. The yield was pitiful. One liter of milk produced less than 250 grams of cheese, and it wasn’t at all creamy. It was good, but not what I was looking for. I blended some whey back in and turned it into ricotta. No loss.
Leben is one of the the most common fresh cheeses on the market in Israel. It’s a soft white cheese, not as dense as sour cream, and a little tangy. It’s also cheap. So I bought 14 containers of 200ml each, 4.5% fat.
I emptied the leben into a cheesecloth bag. A small pillowcase or fine mesh sieve will work as well.
At first I hung the bag over the sink, but it was taking too long. So I opted to press the whey out. From bottom to top, I used a bowl to catch the whey, a fine mesh strainer to hold the bag up out of the whey, the bag with the leben in it, a plate, and my sugar jar to weight it all down. I did it in two batches of 1200ml and 1600ml.
It took a while. The whey leaks out slowly, and if you squeeze the bag, all you’re going to do is force the cheese curds through the mesh. But once you’re all done, you should have 900 grams of thick, creamy cheese.
I spent ₪22.12 at my local makolet on the cheese. That’s the equivalent of ₪80 of Philly.
Welcome to the revolution.