Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Eating. cheesecake.

When I think of cheesecake, I think of New York, and when I think of New York cheesecake, I think of the Stage Deli. I remember eating dinner there (it has been nearly twenty years now), and being served an immense pale triangle of cake that dwarfed its small plate. It must have been a good four inches high. You can't POSSIBLY eat that all! cried my mother. I probably didn't. But I will always remember the creamy, smooth taste of it, the crunch of the crust, the cheese filling that was somehow rich without being too dense. I have spent the years since trying to recapture that lost memory, but it is gone forever. That New York cheesecake belongs to that moment, that time, to the distant shores of childhood, and it cannot be regained.

There have been many other cheesecakes since, some made by me, or by friends. We have all experimented with different kinds of crusts, made from graham crackers, chocolate wafers, vanilla wafers, or amaretti cookies, some with nuts, others without. I have had cheesecake flavored with orange zest and Grand Marnier, with coffee, with Key limes, with dark chocolate, white chocolate (my friend J.'s specialty, topped with crushed chocolate wafers and curls of shaved chocolate), plain and topped with berries, or just plain. I have loved them all. I even liked the gummy little triangles of cheesecake from my school cafeteria, with noxiously lurid red canned cherries in a sludgily toxic syrup that glowed like radioactive waste (then again, I pretty much liked all cafeteria food, those forbidden American foods I never ate at home).

I have a co-worker, K., who will make any kind of cheesecake you desire for your birthday (each person at my workplace gets a potluck lunch party during the month of their birthday; they choose whatever dishes they want and everyone cooks for them). She has made chocolate ones, pumpkin cheesecake with pecans, orange-poppyseed, and they have all been delicious. Today is my party, and I chose a Chocolate-and-Kahlua cheesecake. I wait all year for the chance to dictate which kind of cheesecake I would like, and I can hardly wait to taste this one.

Possibly the best cheesecake I have ever had (besides the Stage Deli one I remember from childhood) was a lemon cheesecake made by a friend of my mother's, A. She is one of the best chefs I know, and her cooking is relaxed and unfussy and seemingly effortless; everything comes from the market and is of the highest quality, carefully cooked and arranged and unfailingly, incredibly good. For my mother's birthday one year she made a lemon ricotta tart (so...not technically a cheesecake), with a creamy, fluffy, intensely flavored ricotta filling squished between two perfectly scored rounds of shortbread. It was rich but not dense; the tartness and airiness of the filling perfectly contrasted with the creaminess of the ricotta and the buttery sandiness of shortbread. Absolutely spectacular.

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