Last year, I featured a cocktail recipe that was inspired by my trip to Berlin, Germany back in 2016. I won’t go into detail again about the trip (you can quickly read about it here if you’d like), but I spoke about how I had received an issue for Bon Appétit the month before leaving for Berlin, and luckily enough, that particular issue had an article dedicated to Berlin’s coolest neighborhoods and the best places to eat, drink and hang out. Besides taking the amazing advice to hit up an all-day cafe called ORA in Kreuzberg, I made a mental note to partake in the German ritual called “kaffee and kuchen”, translating to coffee and cake, that Bon Appétit mentioned. It essentially means having a meal between meals and simply is an excuse to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee and snack in the afternoon. Bon Appétit said that the best place to partake in this was a spot called Five Elephant, and that you had to get a slice of their cheesecake. So, before Alex and I were heading to a late lunch (at Burgermeister - another spot I strongly suggest visiting) we decided to make the journey to Five Elephant for afternoon Americanos and a slice of cheesecake.
And let me tell you: it was without a doubt one of my favorite meals of the trip. It was a beautiful day with perfect weather and we took our coffees and slice of cheesecake and sat at a table outside surrounded by locals. The cheesecake lived up to its reputation and we tried our hardest not to eat the entire thing before heading to our next meal. I’m pretty sure we failed.
When I came home from the trip, I filled my mom in on everything that we did, including the best cheesecake I had ever had. When I showed her the picture of our cheesecake and coffee (the picture above), she noticed that the cheesecake had a layer of sour cream on top, which she told me was exactly the same way her mother (who was Czech) made it. My Babi (grandmother in Czech) sadly passed away when I was 10, so I don’t always remember the amazing desserts that she made, so her cheesecake had completely slipped my mind. Actually, what I regret most is that my little lazy kid self wasn’t more interested in helping my Babi out in the kitchen - I would have loved to have learned to bake all her Czech desserts. But luckily, I have my aunts and mom to call on when I need a “Babi” recipe, since they saved all of her recipe books and clippings from newspapers and magazines, and it was my aunts who helped me with getting Babi’s cheesecake recipe.
Earlier this week, when I took the first bite of my interpretation of Babi’s cheesecake, I was immediately transported back to Kreuzberg. Babi’s recipe tastes exactly like what I had at Five Elephant, and now every time I’ll bake it in the future, not only will it remind me of my time in Berlin and the wonderful trip I had there, but it also will be a tribute to Babi and will allow me to bring her back to life (in my kitchen at least). When I gave a piece of the cheesecake to my mom, she was ecstatic and quite emotional that she was able to taste that flavor again since she hasn’t had it since Babi passed away. I truly cannot wait to pass these recipes and my own onto my kids and grandkids and I just hope that they develop a passion for baking as I did.
The cheesecake filling itself is extremely simple with only 4 ingredients - cream cheese, granulated sugar, eggs and vanilla extract. I usually recommend doing a water bath but since this is a smaller cheesecake, it only bakes for about 30 minutes, half the time compared to my other recipes. So therefore, I feel like going to the trouble of preparing the water bath isn’t worth the extra time or effort. I also made this cheesecake twice, once with a water bath and once without, and funny enough, I preferred the texture of the cheesecake without the water bath. AND although a water bath also aides in preventing cracks from occurring, there’s no need to worry about that due to the sour cream topping. The topping, consisting of sour cream, granulated sugar and vanilla extract, is poured over the baked and slightly cooled cheesecake, and then popped back into the oven for another 8-10 minutes. So any cracks or imperfections are hidden underneath the topping. And if for some reason your sour cream topping isn’t as smooth as you’d like, cover the top with fruit and you’re good to go.
If you’re not completely sold on the sour cream topping, trust me, it makes the cheesecake SO much better by adding more creaminess and tanginess. If you want, you can use less of the sour cream ( instead of a whole pint, you can use half) and just make a thinner layer.
P.S. interested in another Czech dessert? Here’s a recipe for palacinky aka Czech crêpes.
Classic Cheesecake with Sour Cream Topping
Makes (1) 9in. or 10 in. cheesecake
Recipe adapted from my Babi and aunt!
For the crust:
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tbsp. light brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
2 (8 oz.) packages of full-fat cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temperature
For the sour cream topping
1 pint (16 oz.) sour cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Make the crust:
Move the oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 350°F.
In a bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, ground cinnamon, and melted butter and transfer to a 9 or 10 in. springform pan. Using the back of a measuring cup, firmly press the crust mixture into the bottom of the pan as well as the sides. Try to get the crust as evenly spread as possible. If the sides aren’t perfect, no worries.
Bake in the oven for 9-10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool while preparing the filling. Keep the oven on at 350°F.
Make the filling:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer) beat the cream cheese on medium speed for 2 minutes, and then add in the sugar and cream together for a few more minutes until no lumps remain. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add the eggs one at a time on low speed, making sure each one is incorporated into the mixture before adding the next. Add the vanilla extract and mix until just combined. Turn off the mixer and finish mixing the filling using a spatula, making sure to get anything that may be down at the bottom of the bowl (this area usually gets left untouched when using a mixer). Pour the cheesecake filling into the pan and spread it evenly.
Bake the cheesecake for 20-25 minutes. The center of the cheesecake will still have a wiggle to it, but the outer edges will be set. Take the cheesecake out of the oven and allow it to cool for about 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, turn the oven temperature up to 450°F.
Make the sour cream topping:
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the sour cream, granulated sugar and vanilla extract together. Slowly pour the mixture over the top of the slightly cooled cheesecake and spread evenly using an offset spatula.
Place the cheesecake bake in the oven and bake for 8-10 more minutes.
Allow the cheesecake to cool completely before transferring it to the refrigerator. Refrigerate the cake overnight/at least 8 hours before slicing into it.