This is a post about cheesecake. Not any cheesecake, but the one you’ve always wanted to make. The one your granny or aunt made for you when you were little, but when you asked how they did it they just told you not to bother, it was too difficult. And that was it.
When Marta from PlateduJour suggested a bake-off in the style of Dana’s of I’ve Got Cake’s ‘Friendly Fire‘ – one dish, two versions, made simultaneously to often surprising effects – we decided on cheesecake simply because Marta had mentioned a family recipe that included an insane amount of eggs and that she had therefore never dared to make. I was intrigued. In my house, the no-go recipe was a strudel: the delicate, paper-thin dough which needed to be stretched out on an old bedsheet was usually filled with apples; my mum took years to perfect it, and it took me years to come up with the courage to not only make the pastry, but to fill it with quark, to recreate a classic Austrian cake, the ‘Topfenstrudel’.
Topfenstrudel is a cheesecake that seems to defy physics: a rich and creamy cheese filling, with hints of vanilla and lemon zest, is held together by flaky, paper-thin pastry. It is a combination to die for.
Needless to say, there are reasons why I never attempted to bake this: for a start the pastry is incredibly delicate and thin, it needs to be pulled into shape without breaking up, and you then need to wrap it around a filling that is quite heavy and desperate to get out. Unsurprisingly, my fist attempt ended in what could be described either as an ‘interesting traybake’, or as a ‘complete disaster’:
24 hours later, equipped with a new pot of quark and enough determination to singlehandedly climb the Eiger north face, blindfolded and on stilts, I tried again. And hey presto, this time the finished cake resembled -at least partially – the original.
The following recipe comes from a fantastic Austrian blog called ‘Prostmahlzeit‘, which translates as ‘Cheers and enjoy your meal!’, a very appropriate title. Thank you, ‘Turbohausfrau’, for the brilliant introduction to strudelmaking! As for the filling, I experimented first with a classic mix based on a Viennese cookbook from the 1950, which Hiwwelhubber uses for his Topfenstrudel recipe. I blamed the traybake-experience only partially on my assistant, and mostly on making a filling that was simply too wet and heavy. After a few adjustments (including a babysitter), this is the final recipe.
Needless to say, if you like the idea of it, but not the heartache of the strudel pastry, use ready-made filo instead. Nobody but an Austrian would notice 😉
Classic Viennese Cheesecake: Topfenstrudel
Strudel pastry (following Turbohausfrau):
- 200g plain flour
- 100ml lukewarm water
- 40g vegetable oil
- pinch of salt
Brush with a little oil and set aside to rest for one hour at room temperature.
- 500g quark, or fromage frais, at 20% fat
- 2 tbs of soured cream
- 4 eggs, separated
- 100g soft, unsalted butter
- 80g sugar
- 20g vanilla sugar
- grated peel of 1 lemon
- 50g corn flour
From my traybake experience I learned that it makes sense to strain the quark or fromage frais and the soured cream thoroughly beforehand: simply turn the whole pot of quark into a fine sieve, add the soured cream and leave it in it until needed. About ten minutes before the end of the resting period of your dough you can heat the oven to 200C and slightly grease a large oven sheet.
Beat the egg whites until they form firm peaks and set aside. In a second bowl, beat the yolks with the sugar, the vanilla sugar and the soft butter until creamy:
Now it is time to pull the strudel into shape. This is definitely the trickiest bit, especially when you try to do it for the first time. But no worries, you can always keep a roll of ready-made filo in your fridge, just in case it doesn’t work … At home we used part of an old linen bed sheet, ca. 1 m x 1 m big, as a basis, whereas in Austria you can buy proper ‘Strudel sheets’, just for this purpose. I started out with a cloth nappy, which I found too flimsy. For the second attempt I used a half-apron: the size and the thickness of the material proved to be perfect for the task. Whatever you use, make sure you liberally sprinkle flour all over it to make sure the pastry comes off easily! Unfortunately I have to use the pictures from the first round, which shows some of my mistakes (too wobbly filling and the use of a brush … more of this later). My photographer, who did a brilliant job in this first fisrt but ultimately unsucessful round, was not available the next day due contractual obligations as resident teenager (consisting of, mainly, moping around in his room, or hiding dirty socks to cover up dusty corners). The technique that I am trying to demonstrate, however, is the same!
Now the pulling begins: don’t worry too much about holes, you can always try to stick them together by pulling into another direction.
The next step is the rolling up: working from the end with the filling, fold in the pastry (and the filling!) by lifting the sheet. You might need to fiold in the sides a little bit to prevent the filling from spilling. It shouldn’t look quite as flat and runny as mine, but I hope you can see how it works in theory 😉
It pays off to have your sheet dusted liberally with flour, especially along the edges. Repeat the process until you’re almost finished, then lift the whole lot into your baking tray. By lifting the sheet, you can roll the cake into your baking tray: usually it ends up in some sort of an u-shape:
Here you can see the much more compact roll I achieved the second time round. Drizzle a little oil on the top and bake for 45 minutes, or until golden brown.
Don’t be taken aback by its looks: an old Austrian proverb I just invented states ‘Never judge an ugly dough sausage by its looks’. This cake is later on sprinkled with icing sugar, which covers up most sins, and is served cut into slices. In Austria, you always eat it warm, and sometimes eat with custard, but I thought I’d better not overdo it.
At this point, coffee in hand, I would like to thank Marta for this challenge – it’s been a real pleasure baking with you and I am dying to find out how your cheesecake went! As you had asked to see the fancy bag I was given a few weeks back at the dumpling-making class, I will leave you with these pictures, as part of my disclosure policy 😉
Well, having faced my demons, at least the cake ones, I wonder what cakes or dishes have eluded you so far: a family recipe that just sounded too daunting, or too unhealthy, perhaps? Or a dish that seemed just a step too far? I’d love to hear your stories! And perhaps you, too, might like to team up with someone for a bake-along? I hope you do! I’m off over to Marta’s now, to check up on the result of her egg-fest 😉