Cheesecake the Common Way

Katie Maxwell, Visitor Services Coordinator

I believe I made a mistake. I tried out this recipe earlier in the year, before discussing a certain ingredient with Dr. William Woys Weaver, author of 35 Receipts from “The Larder Invaded.” You can view our discussion here, titled “Philadelphia at the Table: Misadventures in Culinary Sleuthing.” 

Now why would it be called that…

I quite like cheesecake, but I’ve never made it before. It usually seems to require equipment I don’t have, but this particular cheesecake can be made in a pie dish. I have a pie dish! You can find this 1791 recipe, “Cheesecake the Common Way” (translated from the original German) on pages 18-20 of 35 Receipts from “The Larder Invaded.” The entry also includes an interesting looking “Crumb Paste” to use as the crust. I’ll make that first. (You could also use store bought puff pastry, but I wanted to give this unusual-looking crust a try.)

Ingredients for cheesecake crust

The Ingredients:

1 cup ground almonds

2 egg yolks

4 oz. butter

1 ¾ cups cake flour *

1 tsp. salt

3 tblsp. rum or brandy

*I don’t have cake flour, so I’m replacing a little bit of flour with cornstarch, as per internet recommendation.

Rub the butter, flour, and salt to a fine crumb; then combine with the  ground almonds.

Combining ingredients for cheesecake crust

I wasn’t entirely sure how fine the ground almonds should be, so I threw them in a blender for maybe 10 seconds on high.

Make a hole in the center and add the egg yolks.

Nesting egg yolk in crust ingredients

Add the rum or brandy and stir until the yolk/rum mixture is smooth;

Rum/brandy added to the egg yolk

Smooth may be a relative term.

Then gradually work this into the crumbs until a soft dough is formed. Roll out

Working the dough out

I’m not sure if my kitchen is too cold, or if I didn’t grind the almonds fine enough, but this “dough” steadfastly refuses to roll out in any meaningful way.

and line the baking dish.

Plan B. Maybe I can treat this like a graham-cracker crust and mush it into shape.

Rough dough in baking dish

Prick the bottom and fill the shell as directed above.

I’ll get to filling it later.

Almond dough spread in baking dish and ready to fill

I think this looks crust-like. Time to make the filling

First, the ingredients:

1 lb. sharp soft cheese

3 tblsp. Flour

2 eggs

4 oz. melted butter

2 tblsp. Rosewater

3 heaping tblsp. currants*

Ingredients for cheesecake filling

*Nope. They aren’t terrible in an oatmeal cookie, but I’m not interested in having fancy raisins in my cheesecake. It won’t make a difference to the dish’s structural integrity. 

NOTE: To recreate the type of aged soft cheese used by the Pennsylvania Germans in the 18th century, combine 4 oz. of French Boucheron (without rind) with 12 oz. natural cream cheese. For the latter, we recommend the cream cheese available from Fleur de Lait Foods, New Holland, Pennsylvania 17557 sold under the brand name “Quaker” cream cheese or a similar product.

I could not find either of these products. Since I’m not sure what “natural cream cheese” means, I’m settling for the fanciest organic cream cheese I could find at the grocery store and some nice, soft goat cheese. It will just have to do.

Work the two cheeses together until smooth;

Combining and smoothing the two cheeses

I think this is so far so good.

Then beat the eggs to a froth and work them into the cheese.

Eggs, whipped until frothy

I took the liberty of using a whisk rather than a fork. Trust me, always go for the whisk.

Add the flour and melted butter

and beat smooth.

Filling ingredients, smoothed

I think this looks smooth.

Fold in the currants, and lastly, add the rosewater.

When I’ve used rosewater before, the flavor was completely overwhelming (and two tablespoons seems like a lot). However, the cheese mixture has a pretty strong flavor itself. It should be able to  stand up to the rosewater, right?


It’s possible you see where this is going.

Spread the mixture evenly in a prepared 10 inch pie shell of puff pastry or crumb paste.

Ready to bake

Sure, I could have used store-bought puff pastry, but what fun would that be?

Press the filling down gently to be certain it has completely filled the shell. Bake at 350°F for one hour.

You may have noticed there is no sugar in this recipe. This treat is meant to be eaten with a sweet topping. I’m not too worried about this aspect since that method worked quite well for Blackberry Pudding.

Cheesecake served with cranberry jam

Now I just have to eat it. The good news is: the lack of sugar isn’t a problem; I topped it with some cranberry jam to make it sweet. The texture is smooth and not too heavy. The crust is fine. The problem was not my little substitutions or the omission of the raisins. The rosewater is just too much and has a rather unpleasant bitter aftertaste. 

I’m attempting to rescue it.

Cheesecake served with additional toppings

I poured honey over the whole thing, and I’m trying one sliver with just honey and one with honey plus defrosted berries for extra tartness. While the bitter rosewater is diminished by this combination, it is still ever present.

Here’s what happened. I ordered rosewater over the internet. The bottle in the picture said rosewater, and the description said rosewater. The website did not say extract. It turned out to be  an extract, something usually measured in teaspoons, not tablespoons.