CLASSIC CHEESECAKE W/ SOUR CREAM TOPPING

IMG_2830.jpg

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.

Americanos and cheesecake at Five Elephant in Kreuzberg, Berlin

Americanos and cheesecake at Five Elephant in Kreuzberg, Berlin

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.

IMG_2585-3.jpg

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.

IMG_2753.jpg

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.

IMG_2773.jpg

Classic Cheesecake with Sour Cream Topping

Makes (1) 9in. or 10 in. cheesecake

Recipe adapted from my Babi and aunt!

Ingredients

IMG_2738.jpg

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

Directions

Make the crust:

  1. Move the oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 350°F.

  2. 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.

  3. 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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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:

  1. 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.

  2. Place the cheesecake bake in the oven and bake for 8-10 more minutes.

  3. Allow the cheesecake to cool completely before transferring it to the refrigerator. Refrigerate the cake overnight/at least 8 hours before slicing into it.

PALACINKY (CZECH CRÊPES)

IMG_3341 2.jpg

I'm a bit sad today. Just a couple of hours ago, my mom and I dropped off my family member, Tereza, at the airport. After staying with my mom for two and a half weeks, Tereza's first trip to the West Coast/California is over, and she's heading back to Prague. Growing up, I always wanted to have girl (first) cousins - I only have four cousins (4 on my mom's side, 0 on my dad's), and they are all boys. Don't get me wrong, I love them all, but I just always wished to have the relationship that my friends had with their girl cousins: not so much a sister, but more like a best friend. 

IMG_3072.jpg

Hanging out with Tereza, who is technically my fourth cousin, for the past couple of weeks has been honestly so much fun. She is so sweet, so smart (her English is probably better than mine), and has the greatest sense of humor. I introduced her to margaritas, the film It Follows, s'mores, reality television (all of which she LOVED), as well as other random American things. She and I could talk for hours on end about anything and nothing, and still just genuinely enjoy each other's company. I am going to seriously miss this relationship that I've built with her, and I cannot wait until I visit her again in Prague, hopefully soon. 

So the recipe that I am bringing you today is one that has been in my and Tereza's family for over 75 years: palacinky. A very well-known dish throughout Central and Eastern Europe with different names depending on which country you are in, palacinky is something that not only I grew up eating, but my mother and her parents did as well. Like I've mentioned before, my mom's side of the family is fully Czech (both of my grandparents emigrated to the States in the 1950s) and with them, they brought a handful of dishes that I still crave and eat today (Řízek and goulash being my two favorites).

IMG_3079.jpg

Palacinky, a crêpe-like dish that can be eaten at any time of day, is one of the recipes that my grandma and grandpa would make for me when I was little. But after they passed away when I was fairly young, I didn't even think about making them for myself until this past weekend when my aunt decided to make them for a dinner party we were attending. Tasting them again after all these years brought back a flood of memories, and so I immediately asked for the recipe and had my aunt show me how to make them (spoiler alert: it's super easy).

IMG_3275.jpg

A big part of palacinky is the filling that you choose, which is traditionally some type of preserve or jam. I personally chose strawberry and apricot preserves that I found at my local Trader Joe's, and I also made some with Nutella which were insanely delicious. For the topping, it is common for palacinky to be sprinkled with powdered sugar, but I also made fresh whipped cream which I thought was a great addition. My aunt actually made her own preserves (nectarine and mixed berry) when she made the dish, so feel free to do this yourself with any fruit that is in season. If you wish to go the savory route which isn't as popular but still an option, just eliminate the sugar, vanilla extract, and lemon zest from the recipe. Then, you can fill it with whatever ingredients you'd like: ham, mushrooms, spinach, etc. Treat it as if you were choosing your favorite ingredients for an omelette. I want to add that my mom mentioned how growing up they would eat palacinky (the sweet way with jams and powdered sugar) for dinner, and this just makes me more proud to be Czech than ever before (who doesn't like eating sweets for dinner). 

IMG_3186.jpg

Unlike crêpes, I feel like palacinky are much more forgiving: they aren't as thin as crêpes so flipping them in the pan is much easier, and if you tear a piece of the palacinky or brown a side too much, it can easily be covered up with toppings (whipped cream, powdered sugar, etc.).

A trick that my aunt taught me in making palacinky is to preheat your nonstick pan on medium heat for about 3-5 minutes. This ensures that even your first crêpe will come out perfectly (this is also a useful tip for making pancakes, another scenario where the first batch is usually a 'throwaway'). 

IMG_3318.jpg

Palacinky

Yields about 15 "crêpes", depending on size of pan

Recipe from my grandparents!

Ingredients

IMG_3163.jpg
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled, plus 2-3 tbsp. more of melted butter for cooking
  • 2 cups milk, preferably whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest (optional, but recommended)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • Filling suggestions: fruit preserves/jam (strawberry, apricot, etc.), Nutella
  • Topping suggestions: powdered sugar, whipped cream, fresh fruit 

Directions

  1. In a blender, mix all ingredients (eggs, sugar, melted butter, milk, vanilla, lemon zest) except for the flour. Add in the flour, in 1/2 cup increments, and blend until smooth. 
  2. Let the batter sit for about 15 minutes. After this time, check the consistency of the batter: you are looking for a consistency similar to heavy cream - not thick like pancake batter, and not too runny. If it's too thick, add a splash of milk and mix. If it's too runny, add more flour, a tablespoon or two at a time, and mix. (Note: I followed the recipe as written, and the consistency was good enough for me to not add anything, in case you're worried).
  3. Preheat a nonstick pan or skillet for about 5 minutes on medium heat. 
  4. Using a basting brush, spread a layer of the additional melted butter over the pan. Ladle some batter into the bottom of the pan, while twirling the pan, making sure that the batter spreads evenly. How much batter you add at a time is up to the size of your pan, but it will be between 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup per crêpe.
  5. Let it cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until the edges begin to turn golden brown. Using a thin spatula, flip the crêpe and cook the other side for about 2 minutes more. 
  6. Continue steps 4 and 5 until all batter is used up (brush the pan with butter before each new addition of batter - trust me, it makes it taste much better!).
  7. Spread your desired filling on one side of the crêpe, leaving about 1 inch of a border, then simply roll it up. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, and top with whipped cream and/or fresh fruit, if desired.
  8. Palacinky can be stored in the refrigerator and/or freezer, just allow them to defrost and heat them up in the microwave before adding the filling. Enjoy!