Cheesecake Sweetens Torah Study on Shavuot

By: BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

Shavuot begins on the evening of May 28. Because Jews abstain from meat on this day, a variety of dairy dishes like blintzes and cheese kugel have become the traditional holiday fare. A healthy serving of cheesecake usually caps off the festive meal.

It is common for people to stay up all night to study Torah on Shavuot. Cheesecake often provides them with sustenance for this endeavour.

With the social distancing necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the configuration of Torah study groups may be different for Shavuot 2020, but the consumption of cheesecake need not change.

However, over the course of this pandemic, there has been a lot of chatter about people growing wider around the middle and developing what has come to be known as the COVID-19 Bulge. Perhaps for some people a low-calorie cheesecake may be a good option for Shavuot this year.

In her last cookbook, The Brain Boosting Diet: Feed Your Memory, the late Norene Gilletz offered a calorie-reduced cheesecake recipe, “Basic Mini-Cheesecakes,” with variations that could “expand your repertoire,” she wrote, “without expanding your hips!”

Another more calorie-laden option is Anna Olson’s recipe for key lime cheesecake.  Olson is a Canadian celebrity pastry chef, and Food Network personality. This cheesecake recipe is delicious but there are quite a few steps. I used a food processor to make the cheesecake base.

Find the recipe here:

https://www.foodnetwork.ca/recipe/key-lime-cheesecake/12532/

One of my favourite Gilletz desserts is the chocolate cheesecake recipe from her classic cookbook, The Food Processor Bible. The cake looks and tastes great, with or without the whipped cream and chocolate curl garnish.

Basic Mini-Cheesecakes (Norene Gilletz)

1/3 cup (80 ml) finely chopped almonds or pecans

2 cups (500 ml) light cream cheese (1 b/500 g)

Sweetener equivalent to 2/3 cup (160 ml) sugar

2 large eggs

1 tbsp (15 ml) lemon juice (preferably fresh)

12 large whole strawberries, hulled

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line each compartment of a muffin pan with a paper liner and sprinkle some chopped nuts in the bottom of each.

In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, process the cheese with sweetener until blended, about 15 seconds. Add the eggs and lemon juice. Process for 20 to 30 seconds, until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pan compartments.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until set. Once cooled, top each cheesecake with a whole strawberry. Refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours, or overnight. Serve chilled.

Variation 1

Replace half the cream cheese with pressed cottage cheese. Increase the processing time to 1 minute until the mixture is very smooth.

Variation 2: Praline Mini-Cheesecakes:

Replace the sweetener with brown sugar sweetener. Instead of strawberries, top each cheesecake with a pecan half.

KEY LIME CHEESECAKE (Anna Olson)

Coconut Crust

1½ cup (375 ml) sweetened flaked coconut
¼ cup (60 ml) sugar
¼ cup (60 ml) all-purpose flour
1 large egg white, at room temperature

Cheesecake Base

3 250 g packages of cream cheese, at room temperature
1 300 ml tin sweetened condensed milk
1 tbsp (15 ml) freshly grated lime zest
2 tsp (10 ml) vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
** ½ cup (125 ml) fresh lime juice

Lime Curd

2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
½ cup (125 ml) sugar
**1 tbsp (15 ml) finely grated lime zest
**½ cup (125 ml) fresh lime juice
½ cup (125 ml) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
¼ cup (60 ml) sour cream

Topping

1 cup (250 ml) whipping cream
1 tbsp (15 ml) instant skim milk powder
2 tbsp (30 ml) sugar
½ tsp (3 ml) vanilla extract
½ cup (125 ml) fresh blueberries, for garnish

**NB Lemon can be substituted for lime

Preheat the oven to 350° (180°C). Lightly grease a 9-inch (23 cm) springform pan and place it onto a baking tray.

Crust: Stir the coconut, sugar and flour together. Whisk the egg white until frothy and then stir it into the coconut. Press this mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan (if you are finding it sticky, wet your fingers with water before pressing). Bake the crust for about 18 minutes, until lightly browned around the edges and then cool before filling.

Cheesecake: Lower the oven temperature to 300°F (150°C). Beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Beat in the condensed milk, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl well. Beat in the zest and vanilla, then on a lower speed; beat in each egg and the yolk one at a time. Still on low speed, beat in the lime juice. Pour this over the cooled crust and bake for about 40 minutes, until the outside of the cheesecake is set, but the centre still has a little jiggle to it. Prepare the lime curd as the cheesecake cools.

Lime Curd: Whisk the whole eggs, egg yolks, sugar, lime zest and juice in a metal bowl. Whisk in the butter and sour cream and place the bowl over a pot of gently simmering water, whisking often, until the lime curd has thickened, about 10 to15 minutes. Strain the curd and spread this gently over the cheesecake. Once fully cooled to room temperature, chill the cheesecake for at least 6 hours (do not cover with plastic wrap).

Topping: Whip the cream and skim milk powder to a soft peak. Stir in the sugar and vanilla and spread this over the cheesecake, leaving two inches of the lime curd visible around the outside. Top the cream with blueberries and chill until ready to serve.

The cheesecake will keep, refrigerated, for up to 3 days. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

 Anna Olson’s key lime cheesecake (photo: Barbara Silverstein)

CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKE (Norene Gilletz)

Crust

1 3/4 cups (430 ml) chocolate wafer crumbs
½ cup (125 ml) butter or margarine, melted
2 tbsp (30 ml) granulated or brown sugar
½ tsp (3 ml) ground cinnamon

Cheesecake base

2 cups (500 ml) chocolate chips
2 cups (500 ml) or 500 g (1 lb) light or cream cheese cut in chunks
3/4 cup (185 ml) granulated sugar
4 eggs
½ cup (125 ml) sour cream, light or regular

Whipped cream Topping (optional)

½ cup (125 ml) chilled whipping cream
1 tbsp (15 ml) icing sugar
Chocolate curls for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C)

Grease a 9-inch (23-cm) spring-form pan with non-stick spray

Prepare the crust: Break the wafers into chunks. In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, drop the wafers through the feed tube until fine crumbs form. Add the butter, 2 tbsp (30 ml) sugar and cinnamon into the bowl of your food processor. Process a few seconds longer to blend. Press 2/3 of the crumb mixture into the prepared springform pan. Reserve 1/3 of the mixture for the topping.

Clean & dry the processor bowl & blade. You will need it for the filling.

Melt the chocolate chips (2 to 3 minutes on medium (50%) in the microwave, stirring once or twice.

In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, process the cream cheese and 3/4 cup sugar (185 ml) for 30 seconds. Add the eggs and process until well blended. Stop the machine once in awhile and scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Add the melted chocolate and sour cream and process 20 seconds longer.

Pour the chocolate cheese mixture over the crust and sprinkle with the reserved wafer crumbs.

To bake, place a pie plate half filled with water on the bottom rack of the oven. Place the cheesecake on the middle rack. Bake in the preheated oven for 50 to 55 minutes. When done, the edges of the cake will be set, but the centre will be somewhat soft. Turn off the oven, but let the cake cool inside for half an hour with oven door partly open.

When completely cooled, place the cake on a plate and remove the sides of the pan.

Optional: Whip the heavy cream until thick. Add the icing sugar and whip until the cream stiffens.

Pipe rosettes of whipped cream around the edges and garnish with chocolate curls. Refrigerate the cake until serving time. Makes 12 to 16 servings.