Seven cheesecakes from around the world
Few desserts have travelled as well as the cheesecake, with beloved versions found all over the globe, from Germany to Japan.
1. New York cheesecake
The creation of this baked American version is credited to Arnold Reuben — who was owner of Reuben’s Restaurant and Deli in Manhattan, and creator of the eponymous sandwich — in the 1920s. Its chief component is cream cheese (industrially produced, spreadable soft cheese was a 19th-century US invention), while the base is usually made from graham cracker crumbs, with eggs, sugar, double cream and soured cream the other classic elements. The results are smooth and rich.
Where to find it: Head to Junior’s, founded in Brooklyn in 1950, for a slice of its famous version.
2. Smaland ostkaka
While there are plenty of regional variations of Sweden’s beloved cheesecake, Smaland ostkaka, from the south, is the best known. Traditionally, the first step is to curdle large quantities of fresh milk with rennet to produce curd cheese, with great care taken to source good milk from a reputable farm. The curds are drained and mixed with ground and chopped almonds, eggs, cream and a little sugar, and then baked until golden. It’s served with whipped cream and a fruit jam, such as cloudberry or sour cherry.
Where to find it: Asens Culture Village in Smaland is a preserved traditional settlement, showcasing life between 1900 and 1920. Its cafe is an idyllic spot for a slice of Smaland ostkaka.
In Poland, sernik is a celebratory cheesecake, and very much a Christmas treat. It’s made from twarog or biały ser, a traditional fresh white cheese made from cow’s milk, which has a delicate sour tang that’s crucial to the dish’s flavour. It’s baked on a shortcrust pastry base rather than a biscuit base, and sometimes raisins or chopped candied peel are added to enrich the cheese filling.
Where to find it: Warsaw’s Café Bristol is a civilised spot for a slice of sernik.
4. Peynirli künefe
This Turkish cheesecake offers a distinctive combination of textures and flavours. It comprises a layer of unsalted cheese, sometimes enriched with kaymak (Turkish clotted cream), sandwiched between two layers of fine pastry strands called tel kadayıf, which have been coated in melted butter so that they stick together. It’s baked until golden brown, covered with lemony syrup and a sprinkle of pistachios, and served hot, so the cheese between the pastry layers is gooey and stretchy.
Where to find it: Try one of Turkish chef CZN Burak’s Hatay Civilizations Table restaurants, which all serve this traditional dessert.
5. Japanese cheesecake
Also known as ‘cotton cheesecake’ or ‘souffle cheesecake’, Japan’s version is famous for its ethereal, fluffy texture. Its origins lie in a trip to Germany in the 1960s, taken by Japanese chef Tomotaro Kuzuno. Having become a fan of cheesecake while in Berlin, he started working on his own version, which was less sweet and far lighter. Its distinctive airy texture is created by separating the eggs and whipping the egg whites to incorporate air into the mixture. It’s then baked in a bain-marie, which helps retain the delicate texture.
Where to find it: In 1990, Tetsushi Mizokami opened his first specialist cheesecake shop in Hakata-Fu, Fukuoka. This grew into the Uncle Tetsu chain.
6. Basque cheesecake
With its striking appearance when baked to a burnished, dark brown colour — hence its full name, ‘Basque burnt cheesecake’ — and elegant, silky-smooth texture, this truly stylish cheesecake has plenty of fans around the globe, not least Nigella Lawson. Made from a mixture of full-fat cream cheese, eggs, sour cream, sugar and cornflour, it’s baked at a high temperature until set but soft in the middle. The cheesecake rises, but then sinks as it cools, a process that gives it such a distinct dip and cracked exterior, while the ‘burnt’ surface takes on a caramel flavour.
Where to find it: La Viña in Donostia, San Sebastián, where it was invented by chef-patron Santiago Rivera in the early 1990s.
Quark, a fresh cheese made from cultured milk (buttermilk), is a much-loved ingredient in the German kitchen, where it’s transformed into dips and spread on bread. It’s also the key ingredient in this traditional cheesecake, its dense texture and tangy flavour adding a distinctive character when mixed with eggs, sugar and baked on a pastry base.
Where to find it: Elegant Princess Cheesecake, in the Mitte district of Berlin.
Four creative cheesecakes to try
1. Valdeon Cheesecake, NOPI
In his stylish London restaurant, ever-inventive chef Yotam Ottolenghi offers a memorable savoury cheesecake made from a Spanish blue cheese, served with beetroot and honey. Offering an appealing combination of soft-textured salty-sweetness, this has become a NOPI signature dish. £15.50. ottolenghi.co.uk/restaurants/nopi
2. Blood Orange Cheesecake, Ârtisserie
At his chic patisserie in Tenterden in Kent, acclaimed pastry chef Chris Underwood has created an exquisite, intricate version of cheesecake. A fine white chocolate shell contains a light mousse-like mixture of cream cheese and yoghurt, while in the centre is a ball of intensely flavoured, marmaladey, blood orange compote. £5. artisserie.uk
3. Feta & Honey Cheesecake, Honey & Co
This characteristically clever reworking of a classic kunefe from husband-and-wife team Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer has acquired a cult following — with good reason. The crisp, butter-soaked kadaif pastry, together with the smooth rich, salty-sweet cheese topping, make it irresistible. £9.75. honeyandco.co.uk
4. Yorkshire Curd Tart, Bettys
This traditional version of cheesecake is a historic, regional delicacy. It’s made from a mixture of curd cheese, eggs, butter and currants, flavoured with lemon zest and nutmeg, and baked in a pastry case. Bettys in Harrogate offers an exemplary version. £5. bettys.co.uk
Published in Issue 18 (winter 2022/23) of Food by National Geographic Traveller (UK)
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