I recently demonstrated how to make mini cheesecakes in my PCC Desserts class. Cheesecake sometimes lands on dessert tables in the U.S. during this time of year and for holidays. My petite cheesecakes are especially awesome because they are pre-portioned, can be baked and frozen ahead of time, and are versatile.
As I prepare for holiday get-togethers, I'm reminded of the ways cooking and baking intersect with what I consider to be some of the most fascinating parts of life: history, culture, science, ongoing learning, connecting with people--and, of course, good food! Cheesecake is a prime example of all this.
History: It's believed that a type of "cheese cake" was first made 4,000 years ago on the Greek Island of Samos. Recipes eventually adapted and spread to different parts of the world after Roman conquests and immigration. What's more commonly known as cheesecake here in the U.S. didn't come around until after 1872, when a New York dairy farmer accidentally made cream cheese. Learn more about the history of cheesecake at Cheesecake.com (yes, there's a magical place on the internet devoted to cheesecake).
Culture: There are lots of varieties of "cheesecake" throughout the world, and I want to dig into a bit of the Portuguese variety (ya know, since that's my heritage). In Portuguese, the word "queijada" translates to "cheesecake." But, if you order a "queijada" in the Azores, it's not going to look like an American-style cheesecake. In fact, there are many desserts in the Lusophone world that are called "queijadas," but they can look and taste very differently. Some queijadas have no cheese at all!
I personally make two varieties of queijadas (featured in my Portuguese children's books about baking, of course!): one that is a custard-like pastry and another that is more cake-like.
Science: Speaking of custard: did you know cheesecake is a type of custard? Like pumpkin pie, cheesecakes need to be removed from the oven when there's still a slight wobble in the center to prevent overbaking. Basically, cracks happen when the eggs get cooked too quickly or for too long. If you need some support with perfecting your own cheesecake recipe (or other holiday treat), hit me up for a private baking class.
Connection: This fall, I was able to share demonstration bakes from my classes with my family, friends, and some of Justin's work colleagues. Students in my PCC class said the petite cheesecakes were delicious--and, in some cases, the best cheesecakes they'd had! It was awesome to see my students sharing ideas and tips with each other and bonding because of their shared interest in baking. My heart leaps when I can help great people connect with great food.