This week we celebrated Shavuot, the feast of first fruits and giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. Shavuot has only two solid traditions I can remember from childhood: studying all night (three ultra-dedicated guys from my congregation would hang out and do it for the rest of us, kind of like the Jewish Scholarship Marathon), and eating cheesecake. Which is a pretty good tradition, actually.
I go for the serious New York-style tall, lemon-tinged cheesecakes that are rich and just dry enough to have a fluffy crumb to them. The only one of these I ever made myself was the glorious one from (once again) Joan Nathan’s The Jewish Holiday Kitchen. It was huge, it was beautiful, it took two whole hours of baking with the oven on and off, and I was just barely smart enough to wrap it tight in a double layer of heavy-duty tinfoil right before carrying it out to the car for a brunch setup. Because of course it took a nosedive onto the parking lot pavement–but the foil held up! And the cheesecake was only a little bashed! And we covered it pretty liberally in sour cherry jam, and everyone ate it happily, and no one kvetched. A miracle!
The story of how G-d gave the Torah law to the Jewish people on Mt. Sinai, is kind of hard to picture. Supposedly it was all so shockingly loud and bright people started to hear colors and see sounds (or else the lightning was so close it started to short out their neural circuits). But what is clear is that everyone was so awed and shocked they stopped arguing, at least for a few minutes.
So of course it has everything to do with today’s topic, which is still cheesecake. It’s an established fact–feed cheesecake to your people and you’ll get a few minutes of blessed silence. It’s quicker and cheaper than group electroshock therapy, too, and it tastes better.
So I’d wanted to make a cheesecake for Shavuot, but not take two hours about it, especially in May in Los Angeles. Also, cheesecake is a traditionally loaded food–one look and you can hear your gallbladder calling you. But it’s a real challenge to make a decent-tasting, genuinely low-fat version that isn’t just “use neufchâtel and cut out 3 calories!” Or else hideously tough or gelatinous or watery or flavorless or grainy or otherwise weird.
Drained nonfat yogurt–no. Tough, tangy AND watery after baking. Ricotta–not bad, especially for Roman-style cheesecake, but bland and a bit grainy. Gelatin’s out for me because it’s not a kosher ingredient. Fat-free cream cheese–I’m just not a fan, it’s too salty and processed-tasting somehow. Not fresh. And on the web I’ve seen everything from tofu to tehina (sesame paste)–I can’t imagine, but to each his or her own.
Still, I think with the microwave I’ve got the time thing solved in a way that will work for a number of different versions. A while back I discovered you can take pretty much any standard New York-style cheesecake recipe (eggs, flour, cream- or other suitable cheese, vanilla, lemon juice), put it in a microwaveable baking dish, cover and nuke it through in a couple of minutes without ruining the texture. It’s probably better without a crust, but if you prebake the crust then pour the filling, cover, and nuke while it’s still hot, it might prevent sogginess.
The only versions that might be really troublesome would be ones with yogurt, which is usually too thin and watery even when drained, or else cottage cheese, which works in a conventional oven but not the microwave. For some strange reason cottage cheese curd liquefies into a buttermilk-like mess in the microwave rather than setting up. Frustrating. But ricotta works pretty well, cream cheese–of course, labaneh–astoundingly perfect, and even…nonfat powdered dry milk (NFPD) with buttermilk. Odd but true. So it will work with a range of adaptations from full-fat to ultra-lean, and the rest is up to your tastebuds.
Whichever version you decide on, bake the crust if you have one in a conventional oven for about 10 minutes, pour in the filling while it’s hot, cover gently with a ceramic or corningware dinner plate, center the baking dish on an overturned soup bowl in the microwave to raise it up, and bake it for about 5 minutes or so at 70% power (for an 1100W or better microwave oven). The times vary with the amount of batter, the height of the baking dish, and the fat content–higher fat may need another minute or so in 30-second increments for the quantities given below.
The cake should be set through and just starting to puff in the center and maybe near the edge. The top should be just dry and set, so when you jiggle it it shouldn’t jiggle a lot under the surface, and it shouldn’t be wet or very shiny on top. To finish, if you don’t mind cracks (I’ve never understood people who fuss about cracks when there’s cheesecake at hand), transfer it uncovered to a fairly hot oven (350F) for 10-15 minutes. But you don’t really have to.
So finally, here are a couple of cheesecakes that have worked well for me in the microwave. The NFPD/buttermilk one is genuinely low-low-fat and surprisingly decent for what it is; the other one I made last night for dinner and still got dinner on the table at a reasonable time.
The pie plate makes a relatively shallow cake once it cools–about 3/4″ thick, but you could make a deeper cake in a smaller-diameter microwaveable baking dish (a soufflé dish, maybe) and just check the times. Both are less fluffy and less rich than the traditional cheesecakes I yearn for, but good enough to call cheesecake and not get laughed at, especially if you eat them with fresh sliced strawberries, which are just coming into full ripeness in Los Angeles.
Ricotta/Neufchâtel or Labaneh Cheesecake
- 15 oz fat-free or lowfat ricotta
- 8 oz neufchâtel (33% reduced-fat, not “fat-free”, cream cheese made without gelatin) OR 1 c (240 g) Armenian-style labaneh
- 1/2 c sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 heaping soupspoon flour
- 1 t vanilla
- 2-3 T fresh lemon juice and/or a little grated zest if it’s organic and washed (zest-only is probably better if using labaneh, which may break with lemon juice)
Chocolate Marble Option: 3.5 oz bar dark chocolate, 2 T half-and-half or milk, sour cherry jam for serving/topping
1. If you’re going to finish this in the conventional oven, preheat it to 350 F. Blend the cheeses, flour and sugar in a food processor until smooth, pulse in the eggs, vanilla and lemon juice/zest. Chocolate marble option: Pour all but about 1/3 c. into a pyrex deep-dish pie plate and go to step 2. Otherwise pour the whole thing into the pie plate.
2. If you’re doing the chocolate marble version, microwave the milk or half-and-half 10-15 seconds in a soup bowl, break the chocolate bar into it to let it melt, stir until it becomes dark and glossy, pour in the reserved cheesecake batter and stir until smooth. Pour this chocolate batter in a spiral over the pie plate and swirl very lightly with a fork to marble it a bit.
3. Cover the baking dish with a microwaveable ceramic or corelle-type dinner plate, set on an overturned soup bowl in the center of the microwave, and microwave 5 minutes on 70% power (for an 1100W or stronger microwave). It should be cooked most or all of the way through and starting to puff up near the center and the edge. If not, give it another 30 seconds once or twice and check again. If you uncover the hot pie plate (carefully) and put it in a 350F oven for 10-15 minutes, it should puff up nicely (it will crack, but I’m not a caterer so I don’t have to care). Let it cool before topping with jam, fruit, etc.
Ultra-lowfat Microwave Cheesecake
- 2 c. semi-drained lowfat buttermilk (i.e., don’t shake the carton, pour off any whey before measuring)
- 2 1-qt. packets nonfat powdered dry milk
- juice of 1 lemon
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2-5/8 c. sugar
- 1 t vanilla
- 1 heaping soupspoon or 2T flour
1. (Optional–preheat conventional oven to 350F). Whiz the NFPD, flour and sugar to a fine dust in a food processor. Blend in the buttermilk and lemon juice and let sit 5 minutes or so (it will thicken).
2. Beat eggs and vanilla in a bowl, stir in the milk mixture. Pour into a pyrex deep-dish pie plate, cover with a ceramic or corelle dinner plate, and set on top of an overturned soupbowl as a pedestal in the center of the microwave.
3. Microwave 4 1/2 min on 70% power for an 1100W or better oven, or until it just begins to come up to the edge of the pie plate. Uncover and place pie plate in conventional oven 10-15 min to finish–it will puff up and brown a little.
Filed under: baking, cooking, Dairy, Desserts, holiday cooking, Microwave tricks, nutrition, Revised recipes | Tagged: baking, cheesecake, dairy dishes, holiday recipes, Jewish cooking, low-fat desserts, microwave cooking, Shavuot |