Cheesecake is super popular in Israel, not just for Shavuot but year-round. You’ll find it on dairy dessert menus, at hotel breakfasts, and served Shabbos morning in Israeli homes. It’s one of the two to three cakes that most every homemaker knows by heart and has in regular rotation. I asked my friends, some of Israel’s most famous celebrity chefs, TV stars, bestselling cookbook authors, editors, and food writers, for their perfect cheesecake-baking tips and exciting twists on my favorite dairy dessert. Last night I ate TWO cheesecakes in preparation for this article. I don’t want anyone claiming I didn’t do my homework!
First, What Is The Difference between Israeli and American Cheesecakes?
Chef Tom Franz, Israel's Master Chef explains:
American cheesecakes are made mostly with cream cheese. The famous New York Cheesecake features mounds of that goodness, resulting in a dense, heavy cake.
The Israeli cheesecake culture was born from the European bakery culture, in addition to being reliant upon the products that are readily available in Israel, mostly soft white cheese, Gvina Levana, which is 5%-9% fat.
The most loved and common cheesecakes in Israel are variations of a baked cheesecake, using 5-9% cheese, sugar, cornstarch or instant pudding, eggs, and vanilla extract. Sometimes with a crust, sometimes topped with sour cream, you will find it in most every home.
The other all-time favorite Israeli cheesecake is a crumb cheesecake, Gvina Perurim; this along with chocolate soufflé is a café bestseller. Gvina Perurim has a crust (either baked or crushed Petit Beurre mixed with melted butter) topped with a very thick layer of cake (an unbaked mixture of soft white cheese, whipped cream, sugar, and gelatin) and topped with crispy crumbs. This cake is an Israeli development of the Austro-Hungarian famous bakery tradition of a streusel cake, which was made there with layers of torte cake. When done well it’s like biting into a cloud, and I love it.
These are, of course, the two most common cheesecakes in Israel, but with so many creative bakers here in the Promised Land, we have so many new iterations like cold cheesecakes with blueberry or cherry topping, chocolate cheesecake (I love this combination), tiramisu cheesecake, streusel cheesecake, and more.
7 Israeli Cheesecake Recipes
Here are 12 tips for successful Cheesecake baking from my favorite bakers.
1 Only use fresh cheese. –Chef Shaily Lipa
2 Room temperature ingredients - Do not use cheese that has been taken directly from the fridge. The same rule applies to eggs. –Raheli Kurt
3 Use cheese with a minimum 5% fat content, and always remove the liquid before adding it to the batter, especially with low-fat cheeses. This can be done with a cheesecloth or simply by draining the liquid out of the container. –Raheli Kurt
4 The higher the fat content, the creamier the cake, but 9% cheese is a good choice for a more healthful, balanced option. –Chef Claude Bensimon
5 To avoid lumps in your batter, make sure all your ingredients are at room temperature before preparing the cake. If it’s still lumpy, pass it through a sieve; I know it’s crazy but that’s what will make your cake patisserie quality. –Chef Tom Franz
6 Don't over-mix the batter; it will cause air to enter and later make cracks on the surface of your cake. –Chef Tom Franz
7 I recommend putting the cake in the oven when it’s cold, and then turning it on. The temperature will rise slowly and the cake won’t be traumatized and collapse or crack. –Chef Tom Franz
8 To ensure a moist cake, place hot water in a pan at the bottom of the oven while it’s baking. –Chef Shaily Lipa
9 Don't open the oven door while baking! –Chef Claude Bensimon
10 When your cheesecake is done, let it cool in the oven; this will ensure your cake is high and without cracks. –Chef Tom Franz
11 If your cheesecake cracks, or collapses, so what? —it's still amazing. Dust it with powdered sugar, or coat it with sweetened sour cream, fresh fruit, or chocolate ganache—whatever you have available; no one has to know, it’ll be our little secret! –Chef Tom Franz
12 Do not cut the cake until completely cooled. In fact, cheesecake tastes even better a day or two after baking. –Raheli Kurt