My Mother’s (and Lindy’s) Cheesecake

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“New York deli man Arnold Reuben claimed he was the first to serve cheesecake. But it was his competitor, Leo Lindemann, who hired away Reuben’s pastry chef to re-create the dessert at his place, Lindy’s, and made it an icon. Lindy’s is gone now, but the cheesecake recipe remains. —Arthur Schwartz, from “Cream of New York”

Lindy’s opened on August 20, 1921 by Leo “Lindy” Lindermann and his wife Clara. The restaurant, and especially the quintessential New York cheesecake, became legendary over the decades. Judy’s Kitchen sums the recipe history up well. “This recipe has been around a long time. Lindy’s is the daddy of all cheesecakes. The restaurant went out of business in the 70’s without ever having given out the recipe for their world famous cheesecake. Gourmet Magazine published what they called the authentic recipe in a 1951 publication and it made the rounds like all good recipes. I have it in several old cookbooks and it’s all over the internet. I don’t know why I never made it. Always wanted to. The thought of making a real cookie crust rolled onto the spring form pan intimidated me, as did working with the insane temperatures.”

Now, most importantly, far more than Lindy’s or Saveur or all of New York, this is my mother’s cheesecake. The handwritten recipe is from the Gourmet 1991 reprint of the recipe and it’s the one she’s been making for special occasions as long as I can remember. Even though I love to bake and this is really simply the most pure and exquisite cheesecake you’ll ever have, I hadn’t made it until now because it’s an intimating recipe. But now that I’ve done it, the steps don’t seem daunting anymore and I hope I keep making it for special occasions through Aurelia’s life.

The cheesecake most of us see these days has an easy graham cracker crust and a light and fluffy filling. This cheesecake eats that cheesecake for breakfast. This has a true, rich cookie crust, two and a half pounds of cream cheese (that’s 5 – 8 ounce packages), and has to bake very high briefly and then very low for an hour. No water baths, no coddling.  It’s a dense, serious and unique cheesecake, but obviously one that has stood the test of time around the nation and in my mother’s kitchen.

A few notes: The original recipe is either plain or with a pineapple glaze, made with canned crushed pineapple. My mother makes it both ways. I don’t care for the pineapple glaze much and like the cake plain, but having some sort of fruit topping does add a lovely contrast and presentation. I made a simple blackberry topping for this one. Also, my pictures are deceiving. I had two people that I wanted to give the cake to and a whole recipe makes such a huge (albeit gorgeous and authentic) cake, I decided to double the crust recipe, make it in two spring form pans, and divide one recipe of batter into the two pans. It made two wonderful cheesecakes, each with 6-8 large servings. But if you have a crowd of 10-15, make the whole, high cake and keep the legend going. Also, my mother would mention that it’s crucial that the cream cheese and eggs be room temperature to get the batter as smooth as possible.

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My Mother’s Cheesecake
Slightly adapted from the original recipe for Lindy’s Cheesecake via Saveur

Ingredients:
FOR THE CRUST:
1 cup flour
8 Tbs (1 stick) unsalted butter, cubed
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg yolk

FOR THE FILLING:
2 1/2 lb (40 oz) cream cheese, softened (nearly room temperature)
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 Tbs flour
1 1/2 tsp orange zest
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
5 whole eggs, plus 2 yolks (room temperature)
¼ cup heavy cream

FOR THE OPTIONAL TOPPING:
3 cups blackberries (or any other berry, fresh or frozen)
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tbs unsalted butter
2 Tbs lemon juice
1 Tbs cornstarch

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Instructions:
For the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, butter, sugar, zest, salt, and yolk in a bowl; rub with fingers until dough forms. Form dough into 2 rounds, one a bit bigger than the other; wrap each in plastic wrap. Chill for 1 hour. Roll the larger dough round on lightly floured wax paper to about 1/8 thickness and place on bottom of a 9″ spring form pan. (Alternately, you can just press the dough onto the pan, conforming to fit.) Trim edges to fit and bake in preheated oven 7-10 minutes. Remove when dough is a light golden brown. Cool. Place the springform sides over the baked base. Roll the remaining dough about 1/8 inch thick and cut to fit sides of pan. Be sure you seal the base. Just lightly press the new dough to overlap slightly on the base. When you are all done, take a plastic knife and trim the dough so that it comes a generous 3/4 of the way up the sides of the pan. Set aside.

For the filling: Turn the oven up to 500 degrees. Beat cream cheese, sugar, flour, zests, and vanilla in a large bowl on medium-high speed of a hand mixer until smooth. Add eggs and yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition, until smooth; stir in cream. Pour filling into pan, and bake until top begins to brown, about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 200°, and bake until just set, about 1 hour more. Transfer to a rack, and let cool completely. Cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight. Run a butter knife around the edges before removing the sides of the pan. Remove cake from pan, top with filling if using, and cut into slices to serve.

For the totally optional topping: Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer, and cook until berries break down, about 4 minutes. Let cool, then refrigerate, covered, until cold.

Cheesecake (without the topping) will keep wrapped up tight in the refrigerator for two weeks or frozen for 6 months. Seriously.

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