There’s a lot to say about cheesecake but very little that’s really necessary. I was surprised to find this fairly traditional style cheesecake recipe in “The Art of Fine Baking.” It’s not one of my grandmothers well-known recipes and seemed a bit out of place amongst the fancy tortes and cakes. As summer approached, I decided I would try this basic recipe and top it with the fresh strawberries that are now in season and grown locally. My only issue was that the original recipe called for “Zwieback” crackers in the crust. I had no idea what these were and not only did they sound a bit ancient to me, I almost thought they were made up (my grandmother’s maiden name was Zweier, an unlikely coincidence). After a little research, I discovered that Zwieback crackers was a cracker toast often marketed by Gerber and Nabisco as a baby biscuit. It appears that these were discontinued about 4-5 years ago. There are a few homemade recipe versions available online but I opted to replace the Zwieback crackers with good old graham crackers. Since ground pecans or walnuts make up half the crust, the graham crackers don’t take away from the crust’s integrity. That unique rich nutty flavor still gives this cheesecake that little special Paula Peck spin.
Note: The baking instructions below have been modified from the original recipe. If a crack-free cheesecake is preferred, bake the cheesecake in a water bath which will allow it to bake more slowly. Simply place the spring-form pan in tin foil and ensure foil is folded up the sides (this protects the cake from any water that could leak through). Pour hot water around the foil lined cheesecake.
1 package Graham Crackers, made into crumbs (or Zwieback!)
1 cup finely grated walnuts or pecans
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 lbs soft cream cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
4 eggs, separated
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
1/2 cup sifted flour
1 lb strawberries, hulled and sliced
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch spring-form pan. Combine graham cracker crumbs, grated nuts, melted butter, and 2 tablespoons sugar. Mix with fingertips until ingredients are blended. Spread the crumb mixture on the bottom of the spring-form pan. Press down firmly.
Mix the cream cheese with half the remaining sugar, salt, vanilla, and lemon zest. Beat in egg yolks. Beat egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Add the remaining sugar a tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat until very firm. Pour whipped cream on top of stiffly beaten egg whites. Add cream cheese mixture and sprinkle flour on top. Fold together gently.
Pour in prepared pan and back for 45-60 minutes or until cheesecake is firm but still slightly jiggly in the center. Remove from oven and allow to cool 30-60 minutes before chilling fully in the refrigerator.
While cheesecake is chilling, make strawberry topping by combining sugar with the strawberries. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour.
Spoon strawberry topping over chilled cheesecake right before serving.
Adapted from “The Art of Fine Baking”