Yesterday was a fulfilling day which ended with the huge surprise of how fabulous a Quark based cheesecake can be, so please read on. Our super new Neff oven (to replace the rust bucket I had turned our old one into from bread steaming) was fitted on Saturday morning, and I then started what was quite an enjoyable baking marathon, especially as the darling husband sprang on me that he wanted to serve mushrooms on Brioche for the starter at the dinner for our friends Iain, Annie and Stephen. I wasn’t really expecting a quick hop across the border from Germany to France, and I wasn’t sure how successful it was going to be given normally Brioche dough should be proved in the fridge overnight – but the husband asketh, so the husband getteth. The only issue was that I was supposed to be staying in Germany for this challenge, so I have decided to pretend it is the late 19th Century and I am in that much disputed (well not any more) bit of Franco German territory, Alsace Lorraine (or Elsass Lothringen to a 19th Century German) and make Brioche a German thing too.
Now back to the challenge that I actually set myself. The plan was for 2 things: a genuine German Käsekuchen (cheesecake in English) made from Quark in a pastry case, and a Heidebrot (Heath Bread). Both had their inevitable baking dramas, but turned out quite well in the end. I will focus this post on the Cheesecake and return to the bread in another post.
The Classic German Käsekuchen
The Käsekuchen had me in a state of high panic. I had found a recipe in my german baking bible “German Baking Today”, only to find when it came to buying the ingredients that I had left the cookbook at work. Added to this, the local Waitrose had run out of Quark which entailed a trail round other supermarkets. I was working from memory at this point so bought sour cream and cream on spec and had to hope I had the quantities I needed. Glass of wine in hand on Friday night, the googling started only to find recipes which needed double the amount of quark, and hardly any in the english internet sites that involved baking a pastry case. Initially the german ones were not much help either. German baking recipes tend to refer to Päckchen (little packets) of Dr Oetker condiments with little guidance on what the real ingredient actually is – Vanilla Sugar, Baking Powder, Vanilla Pudding Powder. A bit like the Sahnesteif crisis last week, I faced the same problem – what on earth do I replace them with? Finally just before bed time Youtube came up trumps with a lovely Swabian lady called Sally whose website may mean I take up permanent residence in Germany during this challenge.
Her recipe was perfect. Quark (pronounced k-v-ah-k in German), Cream and Sour Cream in a shortcrust pastry case, and not a Päckchen in sight – in fact she is quite condemning of them. Quark is a very Northern European thing, and has a tangy taste similar to sour cream. Added to this it is much lower in fat and higher in protein than cream cheese, the normal Anglo Saxon ingredient for cheesecake. That is why it is so perfect for cheesecake.
The result was light as a feather. This was a huge surprise and it received much oohing from our guests. It has the cheesecake flavour I remember from my times in Germany without being cloying or heavy. The pastry case over which I was stressing turned out to be as easy as anything. You just press the pastry into the case and there is no need to blind bake it . Now I am as ever amused by German words. Shortcrust pastry is called Murbeteig – literally Mud Dough. As ever literally descriptive but not very romantic!
Last but not least is the miracle way of stopping the plague of all cheesecakes – cracking. 30 minutes into the bake you make a cut all around the cake, 1 cm from the edge. This provides it with an expansion joint. This then allows the cake to split in a controlled way. This recipe rises like a soufflé anyway so it really is essential you do this step. When it cools it sinks back and if you cut more neatly than me, you will end up with a perfect neat decorative line on your cake.
On the soufflé like behaviour of this recipe, lots of german recipes separate the eggs and whisk the egg whites stiff and then fold in after. This recipe whips the cream instead which is easier. I was tempted to try both (and may experiment at a later date), but having seen how it rose I think it may have exploded if I had.
All in all this cheesecake is a revelation. I will never be going back to cream cheese (sorry Philadelphia). Here is the recipe.
Quark Cheesecake with Blueberries
You need a 23cm or 26cm springform tin and baking parchment. The pictures here are of a 23cm cake.
- 300 g Plain Flour
- 75 g Icing Sugar
- 200 g Butter
- 1 Egg
- 1 tsp Baking Powder
- Zest of one Lime or Lemon
For the Filling
- 125 g Unsalted Butter softened
- 200 g Caster Sugar
- 5 Eggs (Medium)
- 500 g Quark
- 200 g Sour Cream
- 200 g Double Cream
- Zest and Juice of 1 Lime
- Seeds from a vanilla pod
- 40 g Cornflour
For the Blueberry topping
- 400 g blueberries
- 30 g sugar
Make the Shortcrust Pastry
The trick with pastry is as little handling as possible, and as little kneading as possible to stop the gluten in the flour developing (otherwise you get a chewy pastry)
- Sift the flour and baking powder together, and then add the sugar, zest, and butter (cut in to small pieces).
- Rub in the butter until you get fine crumbs. I do this in a stand mixer with the beating attachment, others like to use a food processor, otherwise it is your fingers.
- Finally add the egg, mix it in, and knead lighty until it forms a ball.
- Wrap in clingfilm and chill.
Prepare your Tin
Line the bottom of 23 cm spring form tin with baking parchment. Do it bigger than the bottom (by about 3cm) and then clip the spring form side back on over the paper. Grease the side of the tin with butter and dust wth flour.
Prepare your Insulating Band
Now this is a trick I picked up from Lindy Smith when making cakes that need to bake evenly and you want to stop the outside cooking too quickly, like Christmas cakes or any large cakes. The classic method with a cheesecake is baking in a bain marie (in short put the tin in a a bath of water), but with springform tin it is hard to stop the water leaking in even when you wrap assiduously with foil. This acts in the same way and can be re-used by adding in fresh paper each time.
- Take a piece of foil long enough to wrap your tin
- Get kitchen paper, folded in half and lay along it -3 or 4 layers are needed
- Spray the paper with water
- Wrap the paper in foil
Make the Pastry Case
I did this by hand, but you can also roll it. You do the sides first and then the bottom, and then chill the case for at least 30 minutes
- take a small sausage of dough, lay in the tin and squeeze up the sides
- carry on until the side of the tin is covered
- now tear off pieces of dough and flatten it in the bottom of the tin
- make sure the sides and base are joined
- chill for 30 minutes
Make the filling
- Whip the cream to stiff peaks and set aside
- Beat the sugar and butter together until pale and fluffy
- Beat in the eggs one at time, adding a spoon of cornflour with each egg to stop the mixture curdling
- add the vanilla, lime, sour cream, quark and any remaining cornflour until the mixture is smooth
- fold in the whipped cream – if need be lightly beat it in the mixture by hand if you can’t get rid of the cream lumps – the mixture should be smooth
Make and bake the cake
Heat the oven to 175C (155C Fan). The cake takes 1 to 1.5 hours to bake. a 23cm cake will take longer because it is deeper.
- pour the mixture into the pastry case
- gently shake the tin to get the mixture flat
- wrap your tin in your insulating blanket
- bake for 30 minutes
- make a small neat and even cut 1 cm in from the edge all around the cake
- take the insulating blanket off
- carry on baking for another 30 mnutes
- the cake will rise like a souffle and will have a slight wobble to it when done
- if it isn’t done, put the blanket back on, raise the temperature by 5C and bake for another 15 minutes checking it as you go with the eye of an eagle
- leave to cool for 20 minutes in the oven
- then take out and cool in the tin on a wire rack
- the cake will sink back as you can see in the photo
- once cool, take out of the tine and carefully place on a plate
Make the blueberry topping
You can leave your cake plain, but fruit and cheesecake go well together. Simply place the blueberries and sugar in a pan, gently simmer for 10 minutes, slow to cool and then spread on top of your cooled cheesecake.
Now serve to your guests either with a lovely cup of coffee – this is a German cake after all, or as a delicious pudding after dinner.