By Kathleen Daelemans
My favorite cheesecake in the whole wide world is from the Carnegie Deli on 7th Avenue in New York City. Totally worth the airfare. It comes to the table on a very plain, off-white colored plate. Nothing fancy mind you. It's the Ugly Duckling of desserts unless you order it with strawberries on top.
One bite and you're forever changed. A serving about sixth of an entire, extra high, ten-inch cheesecake. Enormous. Huge. You must share. With three of your very best friends. Don't get me wrong, I am diabolically opposed to sharing desserts. Big no no in my book. But I don't know a human being on earth capable of consuming an entire order by themselves.
Why We Love You
Carnegie Deli Cheesecake is served ice cold. Almost frozen in the very center. This is a good thing. A very good thing. The texture is a cross between an extremely smooth gelato and a flourless chocolate cake that's not in the least bit over cooked; rich, creamy, smooth and very dense.
This Seventh Avenue cheesecake is something you save up for. Something you work for. Something you must earn and be worthy of. No, really. I certainly wouldn't share a slice with just any old someone. Everyone knows you always give away the mediocre stuff in life and hoard the really great stuff for yourself. I mean, it's not like you can just stop in every day for a slice of cheesecake and a cup of coffee.
A slice of Carnegie Deli Cheesecake must have...probably around...at least...uh...I'm guessing...hmm...well, I shudder to think! It doesn't really matter anyway. It falls under my Urban Food Rules which clearly state you can only enjoy carefree servings of authentic foods in their city and state of origin, in high season. For instance, the only time I eat sourdough bread is when I'm in San Francisco or when I break down and bake a loaf myself. The only time I enjoy Hawaii Vintage Chocolate is when I'm in Hawaii (I think my last visit was in 2000).
The only time I splurge on Cow Girl Creamery Cheeses is when I'm at the Cow Girl Creamery Cowgirl Creamery at Tomales Bay Foods, 80 4th Street, Point Reyes Station, California 415.663.9335, Open Wednesday thru Sunday (last visit two years ago). The only times I allow myself to eat an entire brownie all by myself without a pang of guilt is either when my mother bakes a batch and I happen to pop in at the right moment or when I'm lucky enough to be standing in line at Recchiuti, a very fancy chocolatier in the Ferry Plaza.
Recchiuti Brownies are by far the absolute best brownie I've tasted outside of my Mom's and my own. Their Fudge Brownies are truly fudgy. Not the playdough kind of fudgy, the culinary kind of fudgy - as in rich and gooey and very, very dense. They're made with the very best chocolate brownie baking ingredients and they're packed with chunks of the finest unsweetened chocolate". I don't know anyone who has an extra $16 bucks laying around in this economy but if you do, and you need a special pick-me-up-gift for someone who is ill, or for their caregiver perhaps, or maybe you're looking for the World's Greatest Valentines Day Brownies to gift, all you have to do is click here. Anyway, the point of the Urban Food Rules is to stick to them! You'll be able to enjoy life's greatest culinary offerings and your great health too.
You, Your Fork and a Big Giant Slice of Cheesecake
Since my copy of How to Feed Friends and Influence People: The Carnegie Deli...A Giant Sandwich, a Little Deli, a Huge Success, hasn't arrived in the mail yet, I went on a mad cheesecake recipe hunt and stumbled upon what I think may be one of the greatest of all time, Ciro Marino's Ricotta Cheesecake. It's an old world Italian Ricotta Cheesecake. Or it feels like it anyway. But afterall, how old world can a Graham Cracker really be? Nevertheless, it ranks number one in the exhaustive search I conducted. It calls for lemon zest and is lightly scented with a hint of rose and orange blossom waters too.
Author Amy Scattergood did a beautiful piece on cheesecakes in the L.A. Times which is how I stumbled upon the recipe in the first place; Old-fashioned cheesecakes without all the trappings.
Marino's cheesecake will set you back 504 calories per serving. Crazy! I recommend that you cut the recipe in half and use a smaller pan. Frankly, I
can't see how 5 pounds of ricotta cheese can fit into a ten-inch springform pan
but then The L.A. Times has a rock solid culinary team so who am I to second guess? I have not tried this recipe yet but when I do, I will cut the recipe in half and skip straight to an 8-inch spring form pan but I'm a huge risk taker. In fact, I'd say I ruin more dessert recipes than I do but you can't fault a girl for trying. And besides, if I didn't take such huge leaps, I woldn't be able to come up with great recipes that won't kill ya.
I highly recommend you watch the video and thoroughly read the recipe notes from L.A. Times Kitchen Manager, Noelle Carter before you head into the kitchen. Noelle and her team tested cheesecakes, including Mr. Marino's for two solid weeks before giving their okay on this version.
Thought: I don't know that I'd go to all the trouble to prepare this recipe if you're going to skip the rose and orange blossom waters. I probably wouldn't go running around for the candied lemon peels though. I would just use more zest.
Cooking Notes: After making this once exactly as is written, I'd probably make the following adjustments:
I would not use the 6 Tablespoons of butter called for to butter the springform pan. Seems gratuitous but then I'm sure it's also part of the soul of this recipe. I might experiment with zero fat Greek Yogurt instead of the sourcream, I might use half skim milk ricotta cheese and half regular, I might cut back on the powdered sugar.
Watch Ciro Marino make his famous Old World Italian Ricotta Cheesecake
Marino's Ricotta Cheesecake
Total time: 1 1/2 hours, plus chilling time
Note: Adapted from Ciro Marino of Marino Ristorante in Hollywood. Rose water and orange blossom water are available at Middle Eastern and specialty food stores.
6 tablespoons ( 3/4 stick) butter, softened
9 1/2 ounces graham crackers (about 17 whole), divided
5 pounds ricotta, preferably Polly-O
4 ounces ( 1/3 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons) sour cream
3 generous cups (12 ounces) powdered sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 1/2 teaspoons finely diced candied lemon peel
1 teaspoon orange zest
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon rose water
1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 large eggs
1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees and place a rack in the lowest part of the oven. With your fingers, butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan. Use all the butter; you will have a fairly thick coating. Finely grind 7 1/2 graham crackers in a food processor, careful not to over-process to a paste. Pour the crumbs into the pan, shaking and turning the pan to coat all surfaces well (the remaining crumbs will form a thicker layer on the bottom of the pan).
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer), combine the ricotta, sour cream, sugar, lemon peel, zests, rose water, orange blossom water and vanilla. On low speed, gradually combine all the ingredients. Switch to high speed and beat until thoroughly combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as you go.
3. Add both eggs and mix, first at low speed and then high speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl, just until the ingredients are combined. Be careful not to over-mix.
4. Using a large spoon, drop the batter into the pan, starting in the center and working your way out to the edges so that the crumbs do not get mixed into the batter. Smooth the batter to the edges of the pan, using the spoon to form an even layer.
5. Finely grind the remaining crackers, and spread the crumbs evenly over the top of the cake.
6. Center the cake pan on a baking sheet. Place the sheet in the oven and bake 8 to 10 minutes until the graham cracker topping is golden brown. Cover the top of the cake with foil and continue to bake until the cake has risen (including the center) about an inch over the sides of the pan, an additional 40 to 55 minutes depending on the oven. Rotate the cake after 20 minutes for even baking. Carefully remove the risen cake and cool (still on the cookie sheet) to room temperature; this will take a few hours.
7. Refrigerate the cake overnight before serving. Just before serving, dust the top of the cake with a light sprinkling of powdered sugar.
Each serving: 504 calories; 18 grams protein; 39 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 31 grams fat; 19 grams saturated fat; 124 mg. cholesterol; 235 mg. sodium.
Recipe by Amy Scattergood, adapted from Ciro Marino of Marino Ristorante in Hollywood. Rose water and orange blossom water are available at Middle Eastern and specialty food stores.
Amy Scattergood is a regular contributor to the L.A. Times and is the author of Old-fashioned cheesecakes without all the trappings. Ms. Scattergood can be reached via email at [email protected]
Noelle Carter is the Kitchen Manager for the L.A. Times. Leave messages for Ms. Carter or Chat with her live at The Daily Dish, her daily blog.