I was a traditionalist in terms of how a cheesecake should taste right up until my mum brought home our copy of How To Be A Domestic Goddess. Before that, barring the luscious no-baked variety that we’d rustle up at home, cheesecakes that we would order at cafés either tasted like stodgy cream pies with fancy compote or a flat baked version that always left me wondering if there was more to this rather expensive confection.
For me, Nigella’s baked New York Cheesecake recipe was the one that spoiled all other cheesecakes for me. It was lighter than most because of the stiff-beaten egg whites, and that puffy, golden brown top was a revelation. Mum on the other hand, complained that it took longer to make than the closer-to-custard version in the same book (London Cheesecake), and because two tubs of cream cheese is still a luxury in our house, we always opted out of making it too often. A special occasion that could use a dash of decadence would warrant a cheesecake, but on a whim? Never.
All of that has changed now with my new favourite cheesecake recipe. There’s no crust involved here, the pud is ready to eat in less than two hours, and it’s a lot lower on fat than your regular cheesecake.
The light and airy Japanese Cheesecake marries the playful bounce of an Angel Food Cake with the smoothness of a cheesecake. It’s also called Soufflé Cheesecake and Cotton Cheesecake if you’re googling recipes, but rest assured, you won’t have to. I zeroed in on three recipes in early June and made all three cheesecakes in different moulds, before I decided to pen down this one. Since the wobble test is not a tell-tale sign that your Japanese cheesecake is done, it’s just a wee bit complicated.
A good Japanese cheesecake must rise slowly and hold its shape after it rises. There should be minimal shrinkage as the cheesecake cools, and it must not be too dense and chewy. It should feel like biting into an oddly creamy sponge cake that tastes like a less-sweet cheesecake.
The following recipe yields one cheesecake, baked in a 15×15 cm round aluminium cake tin that has been lined, greased and floured. Double this recipe to make this in a 17.5 x 17.5 cm/18×18 cm cake tin.
Cream Cheese 125g
Dairy Cream or Full Fat Whipping Cream 110g (I used the one from Pakeezah on the corner of 15th road, but Parsi Dairy Cream works just as well)
Egg Yolks 3, at room temperature
Caster sugar 20g
Vanilla Extract 1/2 tsp
Orange zest of one orange
Cake flour 50g (to make a good substitute for cake flour, measure 1 cup of all-purpose flour, then remove 2 tbsp from it and sub with 2 tbsp of corn flour. This makes 1 cup)
Corn Flour 2 tbsp
For The Meringue
Egg whites 3, at room temperature
Salt two pinches
Cream Of Tartar 1/4 tsp
Caster sugar 60g
Grease the sides of the cake tin and dust it with flour. Shake out the excess flour by tapping the tin and proceed to line the base.
Bring some water to a boil in a pan and set another bowl on top with the sugar, cream cheese and dairy cream (double-boiler) and gently whisk until all the ingredients have dissolved and are well incorporated. Remove from the heat and let it cool a little.
Once partially cooled, add the egg yolks, vanilla extract and the orange zest and mix until everything is well incorporated.
Sift together the cake flour and the cornflour once, then sift it again over the mixture of cream cheese and eggs. Stir to combine till smooth. Then, pass it through a sieve to ensure that there are no lumps in the batter.
Next up, heat some water in a pan for your bain-marie. When it’s ready to pour, it should feel like it has been recently heated. If not, gently bring over a sim again.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius (no-fan with upper and lower heat).
Get started on your egg whites. Place the egg whites in a clean bowl together with two pinches of salt and start whisking on a low speed. Add in the cream of tartare after a minute of whisking when it starts to form bubbles and whisk on low for a minute more. Start adding your sugar bit by bit to the mixture once the egg white mixture begins to look foamy. Whisk on medium till all the sugar has been incorporated. When all the sugar has been added, raise to high speed and watch the egg white mixture closely. Continue whisking till egg whites turn firm and glossy. It must reach the stiff peaks stage. Do not over beat.
Scoop out 1/3 of your egg white mixture and add to your yolk and cream cheese mixture and stir briskly with a whisk to help aerate the batter. Add the second half of the egg white mixture and whisk gently. For the third, change to a rubber spatula and fold gently. If you did it right, you won’t be left with any large air bubbles.
Pour the batter into the cake pan and place in the centre of a large baking tray. Put it into the oven and pour in the hot water for the bain-marie till it is about 1 inch high or halfway up the sides of the pan.
Close the oven door and turn the temperature down to 155-160 degrees celsius. The cake should rise slowly. Bake for about 40 minutes or until the cake top is golden brown. The cake’s surface will turn a dark yellow colour. If you feel the cake is changing colour too quickly, prick a few small holes in an aluminium foil and place it over the cheesecake. After the initial 40 minutes, reduce the temperature to 140 degrees celsius and bake for 15 to 20 minutes more. The cake is baked completely if it has risen properly and springs back to the touch when you press it with your finger.
Once the cake is baked, turn off the oven and leave the oven door slightly ajar to let it cool inside the oven first. I just stick a wooden ladle in and it works well. Let it stay inside for at least 30 minutes. It should shrink a bit, but not too much. Brush the surface with jam or honey mixed together with some milk. Store the cake in the fridge and consume within 2 days.