A guide to cheesecake

  • By
    Carol Wilson - Food writer

With its buttery biscuit base and creamy soft topping, cheesecake makes the perfect sweet treat. How do you like yours?

Amaretti and sultana cheesecake

A slice of rich velvety cheesecake served with fresh fruits or berries is one of my favourite summer desserts. Although I enjoy uncooked cheesecakes, which have a cream cheese filling on a biscuit, crumb base, I also love the very different cooked cheesecakes, which are baked in the oven.

Blueberry swirl cheesecakeI'm a keen baker and over the years I've come across some weird and wonderful recipes; some are impossibly rich - one recipe contains six eggs, soured cream, cream cheese and double cream, while another is made with caramel syrup, chopped fudge, roasted peanuts, chopped chocolate, cream cheese and lots of sugar and butter. In contrast Italian cheesecakes made with fresh ricotta and fruit are much lighter and a joy to eat.

In Yorkshire where I grew up, creamy curd tarts remain a favourite speciality and are very much a Yorkshire delicacy sold in bakers' shops throughout the county. I love the moist texture of the filling encased in crisp golden pastry - and the fact that the recipe has hardly changed since its creation in the Middle Ages.

Orange and pomegranate cheesecakeCurd cheese is similar to cream cheese, but has a lower fat content. It's made from pasteurised milk and is available in both low and medium fat versions and has a mild, tangy flavour. If you can't find curd cheese, cottage cheese can be used instead, but it must be sieved first. The result will not be as rich, but will still taste delicious.

As ever, using butter (not margarine), free range farm eggs and fresh curd or cream cheese makes a huge difference to the taste. Curiously, some old English cheesecake recipes omitted cheese completely! One example is a lemon cheesecake created in the late 17th century. The filling consisted of pounded lemon peel, egg yolks, sugar and butter and this mixture is still known today as 'lemon curd' or 'lemon cheese'.

New York cheesecakeWhen it comes to baked cheesecakes, one of the main complaints from cooks is that the top of the filling cracks as it cooks. It still tastes fine, but looks unsightly. Through trial and error I've realised that this can be prevented by mixing the filling ingredients together at medium rather than high speed; don't open the oven door during the first half hour of cooking and when the cheesecake is cooked, turn off the oven but leave the cheesecake in the oven to cool down slowly before removing from the tin. If all else fails and it still cracks you can cover the surface with whipped cream or fresh fruit or drizzle with chocolate.

Feeling hungry? Take a look through our cheesecake recipes. Or do you have a favourite cheesecake recipe of your own?