I didn't know a lot about Eleanor's taste in food before I started this project, but one glance through the recipe box and it's hard not to notice that she had a hell of a sweet tooth. I found dozens of recipes for cookies, cakes, and frostings (most annotated with her own revisions), and, my personal favourite, TWELVE cheesecake recipes. Twelve! What does anyone need twelve cheesecake recipes for at all? Considering they are ALL for plain cheesecake, I can't imagine any of them are really THAT different, but... here we are.
When I told my mom that I had found a dozen recipes for cheesecake, her exact response was “you know, it would be just like Eleanor to save those recipes from her friends and test 'em all out, just to prove hers was the best.” I don't know if that was her rationale, but I do know I've only made one cheesecake in my life (an ill-fated, too heavy, bourbon pumpkin pecan monstrosity for my 25th birthday), and it wasn't even particularly good. Now faced with a dozen recipes I have to try, I'm going to do one each month in hopes that by the end I'll have at least one reliably decent version.
This month's cheesecake is a crustless one, made with nothing but a plethora of dairy products plus sugar. The card, which (importantly) is entitled “Cheese Cake,” notes that the recipe comes “from Louise Bloom, via June,” Eleanor's sister-in-law. It cracks me up that, in an era without the internet, etiquette required a two-stage citation of the source of a recipe. As a former grad student, this appeals to me on a lot of levels.
This cheesecake is airy and light, making it an easy sell for those who (like my poor husband, doomed to taste-test eleven more varieties) have no palate for heavy, wet-cement style cheesecakes. But beware: if your oven runs hot, you're going to have a cheesecake with a dark brown hat, as the thing cooks for TWO HOURS. Plus, the batter fills a standard mixing bowl so full that I couldn't properly fold in the egg whites at the end, so mine ended up craggy and almost meringue-like on top instead of smooth and custard-y like it's probably supposed to be.
That said, it's hard to believe this recipe has no flour in it. It's featherlight, despite having nearly three pounds of dairy in it. The egg whites make it rise like crazy and the cornstarch gives it a texture almost like angel food cake, far removed from the brick-of-cream-cheese style desserts usually called cheesecake today. Plus, the butter that lines the pan melts together with the sugar to make an amazing dulce-de-leche type sticky “crust” around the rim, which is worth the price of admission alone. All things considered, it's tasty and simple but not pretty, so I don't know that I'd make it for a dinner party or to impress anyone, unless I had some kind of awesome fruit compote to top it with... though I'm sure Eleanor would frown on adding anything like that to a perfectly good cheesecake.
2 spoons out of five. The flavour is perfect and the texture is unique, but unfortunately it's just too ugly to make for anyone I'm not married to.
Airy, Crustless Cheesecake
5 medium eggs
16 oz cream cheese
16 oz sour cream
15 oz ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp vanilla
Bring all ingredients except eggs to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 350F/177C.
Grease a springform pan.
Separate eggs, reserving both parts.
Beat whites until stiff then refrigerate.*
Beat together yolks and cream cheese until thoroughly mixed.
Add sour cream and ricotta, one at a time, and mix well.
Add sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla, mixing constantly.
Turn mixer to low and fold in egg white gently until just combined.
Pour mixture into greased springform pan and bake 1 hour at 350F/177C, then WITHOUT OPENING OVEN DOOR** turn heat off and let cook for an additional hour.
*If you, like me, only have one bowl that attaches to your mixer, beat the whites until they are stiff, scoop them into a smaller bowl and refrigerate them. Wipe the mixing bowl out with a paper towel and put the yolks in before continuing.
**June's caps, not mine!