The United States of Desserts: New York Cheesecake
Photo by James Yu Cheesecake from the Carnegie Deli in New York
In this series, we examine the history and origins of famous sweets, confections and desserts associated with American states.
Cheesecake, like everything else of merit in this world, was invented in America, specifically, New York City.
NOT. (I bet I had you there for a second. Relax (for now) and read on.)
Cheesecake, though not the modern form many of us have come to love, can be traced back to ancient Greece where renowned physician Aegimus wrote a book about proper cheesecake cookery. His confections made use of soft cheeses, were less sweet, and did not always contain a crust.
Later, European versions of cheesecake emerged in Italy and France, which often use ricotta and neufchâtel cheese, respectively to construct the cake's hallmark dense, soft dairy interior. A German variation, also still produced today, uses dough for a crust and quark in the filling--no, the elementary matter particle but rather the sour milk spread.
Photo by Joanna O'Leary Baklava Cheesecake at Cafe Pita
The most popular, albeit potentially apocryphal, account of the invention of American cheesecake involves William Lawrence, a late nineteenth-century food enthusiast from Chester, NY who derived a form of soft "cream cheese" to use instead of neufchâtel in cheesecakes. Hence why cheesecake is traditionally associated with New York even though virtually all American recipes call for "Philadelphia-style" cream cheese, so-called because James Craft, who developed his own version of spreadable unripened cheese, patented it as such in 1928.
While, cheesecake may be the darling of New York, with many delectable varieties available at famous establishments such as the Carnegie Deli and Eileen's, there's no need to make a trip north of the Mason-Dixon line for a premium slice.
My absolute favorite in Houston, however, takes the best of Greece and America: check out the the baklava cheesecake at Cafe Pita.