Cheesecake is a beloved dessert enjoyed around the world. It typically consists of a thick, creamy filling made with cheese, eggs, and sugar baked in a crust. The creamy filling is rich, smooth, and decadent. The crust can be made from ingredients like graham crackers, cookie crumbs, pastry dough, or sponge cake. Cheesecake can be topped with fruit, chocolate, caramel, nuts, whipped cream, or other delicious toppings.
While cheesecake is often associated with New York, it actually has a very long history spanning thousands of years! Cheesecake originated in ancient Greece and was served to athletes at the first Olympic games in 776 BCE. Let's take a closer look at the history of cheesecake and the many delicious varieties enjoyed today.
A Brief History of Cheesecake
Cheesecake dates back over 4000 years to ancient Greece. Evidence of cheese molds dating back to 2000 BCE were found on the Greek island of Samos, suggesting cheesemaking was already underway. Cheesecake was likely invented soon after as a way to use up leftover cheese.
The earliest recorded cheesecake recipe comes from Greek writer Athenaeus in 230 CE, who mentioned an even earlier cookbook on cheesecakes written by Greek poet Callimachus around 300 BCE. The ingredients were simple - cheese, wheat flour, honey, and spring wheat. The cheese and honey were pounded together, mixed with flour, baked into a cake, and served warm.
When the Romans conquered Greece around 100 BCE, they adopted cheesecake as their own. The Roman politician Cato wrote about several cheesecake recipes in his book On Farming around 160 BCE. The Roman version was more egg-based and baked under a hot brick.
As the Romans expanded their empire, cheesecake spread throughout Europe. Each country put their own spin on it with local ingredients. England and Eastern Europe started experimenting with cheesecake recipes using flour, eggs, and their own varieties of cheese.
It wasn't until the 1700s that cheesecake started to resemble modern versions. Europeans removed yeast from the recipe and started using beaten eggs instead to make the cake rise. This resulted in a lighter, more dessert-like texture and flavor.
Cheesecake was brought to America by European immigrants in the late 1700s and early 1800s. New York dairy farmer William Lawrence invented a richer, creamier version in 1872 using cream cheese. This became the basis for New York-style cheesecake.
Key Takeaway: Cheesecake originated in ancient Greece over 2000 years ago as a way to use leftover cheese.
Types of Cheesecake
Today there are many delicious varieties of cheesecake from around the world:
New York Style
This style uses extra egg yolks and cream cheese for a rich, smooth, and creamy texture. It has a flat top and no toppings. New York cheesecake is best known for its signature flavor and silky texture.
Uses a lighter cream cheese base and can be topped with fruit or chocolate. It has a lighter, fluffier texture compared to New York style.
Includes sour cream for extra moisture and a fluffy texture. Chicago cheesecakes are firm on the outside with a soft, creamy middle.
Japanese cheesecake has a jiggly, souffle-like texture. It uses cream cheese, butter, flour, and egg whites beaten into a light meringue to achieve the unique tender texture.
As the name suggests, no-bake cheesecake does not require baking. The filling sets up in the fridge overnight using gelatin as a thickener. Great for quick and easy cheesecake.
Baked cheesecake uses eggs as the main leavener to make the filling puff up when baked. Baking gives it a firmer, dense texture compared to no-bake versions.
|Extra egg yolks, cream cheese, dense and rich
|Light, creamy, can be topped with fruit or chocolate
|Includes sour cream, firm outside and soft inside
|Light and jiggly texture, uses meringue
|Thickens in the fridge, uses gelatin
|Eggs make it puff up when baked, firm texture
|Uses quark or ricotta cheese, delicate flavor
There are also many flavor variations like lemon, chocolate, pumpkin spice, maple, red velvet cheesecake and more! The possibilities are endless when it comes to cheesecake flavors.
How to Make Cheesecake
Making perfect cheesecake does take some care, but following a few tips will ensure success:
- Use room temperature ingredients - This helps everything blend smoothly. Beat cold ingredients at room temp first.
- Mix gently - Overbeating incorporates too much air which can cause cracks. Gently mix just until blended.
- Bake in a water bath - The steam from hot water prevents cracks and helps it bake gently.
- Cool slowly - Cool in the oven with door ajar, then at room temp to prevent cracks.
- Chill thoroughly - Chill for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. This allows the cheesecake to set completely.
The basic ingredients for cheesecake filling include cream cheese, sugar, eggs, and flavorings like lemon juice or vanilla. Sour cream is often added for moisture and tang.
For the crust, graham cracker and cookie crumb crusts are most common. These are mixed with sugar and butter then packed into the pan. Pre-baking helps keep the crust from getting soggy.
Toppings like fruit, chocolate, caramel, nuts, whipped cream or others can add even more delicious flavors! New York style cheesecake is traditionally unadorned, but other varieties often feature toppings.
Serving and Storing Cheesecake
Cheesecake is best served chilled straight from the fridge. Allow it to sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes before slicing if the filling is very firm.
Use a hot, dry knife to slice cheesecake cleanly. Wipe and reheat the knife between slices.
Leftover cheesecake will keep well in the fridge for 3-5 days. Cover it tightly with plastic wrap or a cake dome.
For longer storage, cheesecake freezes beautifully for 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge before serving.
History and Pop Culture
Cheesecake has a long history of being considered a luxurious, decadent dessert. A few fun facts:
- Roman cheesecakes were thought to be offerings to the gods and served on special occasions.
- King Henry VIII's chef had a cheesecake recipe that involved soaking cheese in milk for 3 hours!
- Philadelphia brand cream cheese was invented in 1872 and helped popularize cream cheese cheesecake.
- The famous "stolen cheesecake" scene in TV show Friends highlighted cravings for delicious cheesecake.
No matter how you slice it, cheesecake remains one of the most beloved desserts in the world. From its origins in ancient Greece to today's endless flavor variations, cheesecake is the ultimate creamy and satisfying treat!
What is the difference between regular and New York style cheesecake?
New York style cheesecake uses extra egg yolks and cream cheese for a super rich, dense, and smooth texture. Regular cheesecake is often lighter and fluffier in texture.
Do you have to bake cheesecake?
No - no-bake cheesecake sets up in the fridge overnight using gelatin as a thickener instead of eggs. But baking gives cheesecake a nice rise and firmer texture.
What can I use instead of graham crackers for the crust?
Common substitutions are vanilla wafer cookies, Oreo cookie crumbs, ginger snap cookies, shortbread, or other cookies. You can also use pie dough.
What is the white stuff on top of baked cheesecake?
This is usually sour cream, which helps prevent the top of cheesecake from cracking during baking. It adds a nice tangy flavor and creamy texture.
Why does my cheesecake crack on top?
Overbaking is the most common cause of cracks. Also rapid temperature changes, not baking in a water bath, or over-beating the batter. See tips above to prevent cracks.
Can I freeze cheesecake?
Yes! First let the cheesecake cool completely at room temperature. Then wrap tightly in plastic wrap and foil and freeze for up to 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge before serving.
What is the difference between cheesecake and regular cake?
Cheesecake uses cheese as the main ingredient instead of flour. It has a rich, dense, and creamy texture compared to the light and fluffy crumb of flour-based cakes. The high egg content also gives it a custard-like texture.
What kind of cheese is used in cheesecake?
The most common is cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese. Other cheeses like ricotta, mascarpone, quark, and cottage cheese are used in some recipes. The cheese gives cheesecake its distinctive tangy flavor and smooth texture.
Is cheesecake bad for you?
Cheesecake is high in calories, fat, and cholesterol due to the large amounts of cheese, eggs, butter and heavy cream typically used. Enjoy in moderation as an occasional treat. Make healthier versions with reduced fat cream cheese, low fat sour cream, etc.
What is the difference between cheesecake and cheese pie?
Cheesecake uses eggs as the main leavening agent for structure, while cheese pie uses gelatin and does not require baking. Cheese pie fillings are also less dense and thick than cheesecake. But they are very similar desserts overall.
What drink pairs well with cheesecake?
Try coffee, tea, sparkling wine, Riesling, Moscato, or a fruit juice that complements the cheesecake flavor. Avoid very sweet drinks that will overpower the subtle flavors. Drinks with some acidity help cut the richness.
From its origins in ancient Greece to the many varieties worldwide today, cheesecake remains one of the most beloved and indulgent desserts.
Its evolution over thousands of years speaks to its lasting popularity and versatility across cultures. With its rich creaminess and decadent flavor, cheesecake continues to be a quintessential celebratory dessert for special occasions.
Whether enjoyed in its simplicity or with elaborate toppings, cheesecake is the ultimate symbol of indulgence that satisfies sweet cravings around the world.