The Krakow Cheesecake
by Marta Bradshaw
This has been, for me, The Year of Cheesecake. I baked over a hundred of them in 2019, so I thought it was high time that I share with you a simple recipe that works out perfectly almost every time and when it does... it's incredible! As you may know, in Krakow I regularly run cooking classes at my home, and often serve this cheesecake to my guests. One nice American lady who joined us said that she travels and eats cheesecake whenever she can during her travels around the world, and declared that this one was the best one of them all. One often hears nice words about one's cooking from people, but this time it sounded truly heartfelt! Some weeks later, she sent me pictures of cheesecakes from various places across the globe with interesting descriptions and recipes. Brilliant!
Anyway, there is no perfect recipe – so many elements come together to make up the final result. My one main warning before starting cooking is this - don't make a cheesecake if you are pissed off, sad or tired because, frankly, it just won't turn out right. So make sure you are in a positive and happy frame of mind, and here goes...
Good ingredients are, as always the most important starting point.
70 grams of melted butter (melted until a little brown so it gets a beautiful nutty flavour)
A packet of broken/crushed digestive or petit biscuits
150 grams of crushed, roasted hazelnuts (with no skin)
The Cheesecake Filling:
2 kg of cottage cheese
350 grams of white sugar
Grated zest of 2 oranges and 2 lemons
9 eggs and 4 yolks
1 stick of vanilla or two drops of extract
2 tablespoons of potato starch
The recipe for my cheesecake begins with a hunt for the best country cheese (Twaróg). If you are in Krakow, then first, you will need to find the young 'Góral' (Polish Highlander) at Plac na Stawach and buy from him 1 kg of ‘półtłusty twaróg’ (semi-fat white cheese, not full fat). If there is no real highlander... then in front of his stand there is a dairy stall and there they have very nice cheese in a bucket from Limanowa with a highlander in the picture :) Okay. So, I know that you might not be in Poland with access to a highlander’s fresh cheese. Easy to fix. Just find the nearest farmer, get some fresh milk from him and make your own country cheese with my recipe!
However, if you're far away from Poland, don't despair! You can find similar cheese in many farmer's markets.The white cheese we need is called Twaróg in Poland and sometimes known as farmer’s cheese or cottage cheese in other countries… but be careful to get the right one! OR as a last case resort, you can use Philadelphia cream cheese.
Some call this is a New York Cheesecake, however, I believe this is a truly traditional Cracovian cheesecake, and I'm sticking with this name!
- Preheat the oven to 180 C. Take a 28 cm round butter cake pan (size matters), line with baking paper and grease with butter.
- Knead/crush the biscuits and mix with the melted butter. You can also add some walnuts or two tablespoons of almond flour for an extra nutty tang. Spread the mix evenly across the bottom of your cake pan (this will be the cheesecake base) and bake for 15 minutes. Take out of the oven.
- Turn up the oven temperature to 220 C. Mix the cheese and remaining ingredients in a blender until it becomes a smooth paste. You can start by combining eggs with sugar, vanilla and citrus before slowly adding the cheese.
- Pour the cheese mixture carefully on top of the biscuit base and it put back in the oven for about 12 minutes at 220 (if it browns too quickly, cover it from the top with baking paper). Gradually reduce the temperature to 150C over 10 minutes and over the next ten minutes, down to 100 C and bake for another hour.
- When it’s ready, leave your cheesecake to cool in the oven for a few hours, or overnight. Then, enjoy a slice on its own or with salted caramel sauce. Delicious!