OK, folks. If there are a million cheesecake recipes out there, this is the best of all.
Forget your custardy, New York-style cheesecake recipes. Dense, fluffy German cheesecake is the way to go—and my recipe is the one you should be using to figure that out.
But first, some brief background information on German cheesecakes, or Käsekuchen.
I grew up visiting a German bakery in Sierra Vista, Arizona, called The Bread Basket. Run by a Bavarian family, the bakery purveyed a variety of pastries that my German mother would get super excited about for their authenticity.
After we moved away from Sierra Vista, we had to stop by that bakery every time we were in town. My dad still goes there whenever he can. In fact, he went in to pick out a mother lode of baked goods to celebrate his birthday earlier this month.
So before I ever got to visit my mom’s native homeland, I got to taste our native cheesecake (at The Bread Basket, of course). My mom had her own recipe, too, and hers was quite similar to the bakery’s.
Whereas most American renditions of cheesecake are custardy, creamy, and very smooth, German cheesecakes are dense, heavy, and fluffy. I think there are two main reasons for this difference.
First of all, all things American are cloyingly sweet, cheesecake included, and it’s hard to taste anything beyond the massive amounts of sugar, corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners added in many American pastries. (No offense intended! This is just something that most of the rest of the world seems to agree on.) The German cheesecakes I’ve had are usually less sweet, rendering them more complex and milky tasting.
Quark is ubiquitous in Germany (and throughout Central Europe). It’s hard to come by in the US, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get it. Essentially, it is a fresh cheese that is made from curdled and strained milk. It is heavy and creamy, and very similar in consistency to yogurt.
In German grocery stores, you find it everywhere you find yogurt—and in a hundred different versions of unflavored, sweetened, and savory. It is both an ingredient and a stand-alone food item. You can eat it with a spoon, spread it on bread, or bake it into your cheesecake recipe.
Very recently I got a hankering to make a German cheesecake. I couldn’t find a good quark at the store that wasn’t RBST-free, and I didn’t want to use sour cream. My problem was solved when our shop received a shipment of a new product, a Russian farmer’s cheese made in Berkeley, California.
Before I even opened the box, I knew it was exactly what I needed.
The packaging advertised the cheese as “a healthy substitute for cream cheese,” but the slightly-grainy, spreadable consistency inside looked an awful lot like quark. I got my German cheesecake recipe, added it in, and success!
If you can get your hands on quark or Russian farmer’s cheese, definitely give this recipe a shot. It is so good.
For the dough:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 tbsp caster sugar (if you don’t have this, you can grind cane sugar in a coffee grinder until it is finer—but not until it becomes a powder)
- 1/2 lemon rind, grated
- 1 egg, beaten
Note: last time I made this cake, I used a pâte brisée (double butter) crust instead. It didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped. But if you have a go-to pastry crust recipe, I encourage you to try yours here.
For the filling:
- 3 cups quark or Russian farmer’s cheese
- 4 eggs, separated
- 3/4 cup caster sugar
- 3 tbsp corn starch
- 2/3 cup sour cream
- 1/2 lemon, juice and grated rind
- 1 tsp vanilla
For the pastry dough, start out by sifting the flour into a bowl. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Then stir in the caster sugar and lemon rind. Add in the egg and mix until it is all constituted into a dough. If you have a food processor, you can add all the ingredients in there and allow the blade to do the work for you. Chill for at least 15 minutes.
Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface and then lay it onto the base and sides of a 9- or 10-inch loose-bottomed cake form. (I lined my form with parchment paper first, but you don’t have to line or grease the form.) Chill for one hour.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. When it comes to temperature, pull your cake form out of the fridge and prick the chilled dough with a fork. Fill the dough with crumpled aluminum foil or line it with parchment paper and stabilize the paper with pastry weights (or something oven-proof and heavy to keep the parchment paper in place). Bake the dough for 5 to 10 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes.
Remove the cake form from the oven, and reduce the heat to 350 degrees.
For the cake filling, measure the quark or Russian farmer’s cheese into a bowl with the egg yolks and caster sugar, and mix.
In a separate bowl, blend the corn starch with the sour cream. Add this to the quark mixture, along with the lemon juice, grated lemon rind, and vanilla. Mix well.
Preferably in a stainless steel bowl, whisk the egg whites until they are stiff. (If you have an electric hand mixture or stand mixture, use that.) Fold the whites into the quark mixture in thirds.
Pour the filling into the cake form and bake for 60 to 75 minutes, or until the cake is golden and firm. It may crack if the heat is too high, and it may still be a bit jiggly.
Turn off the oven and leave the door open, allowing the cheesecake to remain in the oven to cool, for about two hours. This is actually really important! The cake continues to set as the oven cools down, and it won’t set as well if you keep on baking the cake or if you take it out of the oven to cool.