Critiques, Cravings and Conundrums From the Madison Food and Dining Scene
Feb 7, 2010
02:05 PM
Small Dishes



Seemingly it’s been around forever—even the ancient Greeks enjoyed it.  Virtually every culture that makes cheese makes some kind of cheesecake.  I remember my own first encounter with what I was sure would be a yucky dessert.  It was at Sam’s Subway, a delicatessen in Indianapolis and I was in second grade.  Cheese here to for was something I was only accustomed to seeing on a sandwich. I only tried it because my mother told me I wouldn’t like it.

Of course, she was wrong.


In this country, cheesecake is most often made with cream cheese.  This product came about in 1872 when William Lawrence in Chester, New York came up with a process to make a creamy, un-ripened cheese. It was distributed wrapped in foil under the brand name “Philadelphia.”  Kraft bought the trademark in 1928.  In Italy cheesecakes are more commonly made from ricotta, and in Germany and Eastern Europe, quark.


Cheesecake became synonymous with delicatessens, especially in New York.  In the 1980s, they became a menu staple at most American restaurants, appearing in every flavor and form imaginable.  For whatever reason, home bakers often fear their execution even though they are quite simple to make. The biggest phobia is that the top will crack. This happen due to the coagulation of the eggs in the batter. Several solutions include adding a little cornstarch, baking at a low temperate, placing the baking pan in a water bath, or cooling slowly in a turned-off oven with the door cracked


Indubitably, it is the most sensual of all desserts; smooth and creamy; sinfully rich.  Cooks are always trying to improve on it, but just plain it can be quite delicious. The only cheesecake I’ve ever eaten that I didn’t like was a no-bake variety that contained no cheese whatsoever.   I’ve included a recipe for one of my favorites: my sister’s cheesecake.


The art of cheesecakery still flourishes at area restaurants and here are a few place to go to and satisfy your appetite.


Bluephies. One of their unorthodox desserts is the cheesecake burrito:  chocolate and vanilla swirled cheesecake, rolled in a flour tortilla and deep fried.  


Brocach.  Not surprisingly, the cheesecake here has an Irish brogue, laced with Bailey’s Irish Cream and just a wee bit of caramel.


Bunky’s .  This Eastside café is rightly proud of their over-the-top desserts and cheesecake is always on the menu, made many ways and fully loaded.


The Continental Fitchburg.  The pumpkin cheesecake with caramel sauce is co-owner Jenny Schiavo’s own recipe and made on the premises so you know it has to be good. 


Grace’s Cheesecake.  A popular vender at the Dane County Farmers’ Market, Lori Christilaw now sells her creations all year long out of her commercial kitchen.  Call ahead for special orders or what’s available that day.


Smoky’s.  Just like the restaurant, their cheesecake is more about substance than being fancy and nonetheless satisfying. 


Betty’s  Cheesecake


Crumb Crust:

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

3 tablespoons sugar

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted


Combine all the ingredients and press into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan.  Chill while preparing the filling.



3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes and softened

14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

4 eggs, separated

1 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt


Preheat oven 275 degrees.


In a mixer with the paddle attachment, beat together the cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk until very smooth.  Add each egg yolk on at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the sour cream, confectioner’s sugar, lemon juice and vanilla extract.  Continue to beat until absolutely smooth.


In a separate bowl, beat the egg white with the salt until they form stiff but soft peaks.  Fold the beaten egg whites into the cheesecake batter.  Pour the mixture into the chilled, prepared crust.


Bake at 275 degrees for 1 hour undisturbed—do not open the oven door!  Then, turn off the oven but keep the oven door shut for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, crack the oven door and cool completely in the oven.  Cover the cooled cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.  (Do not remove from the pan until thoroughly cold.)


12 servings.

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About This Blog

Dan CurdI found my interest in writing by accident. My training and first job was as a graphic designer. Unemployed, the only employment I could find in advertising at that time was as a copywriter. Somehow, I convinced Richard Newman & Associates to hire me. Later I learned they were desperate. Madison has been my home off and on since 1957 (nonstop for the past 31 years). I write about food, which I love. – Dan Curd

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