Fiddler on the Roof. And Cheesecake.

Hey you,

I feel like I have been MIA, but work has been nuts and we've been sustaining on bread and cheese for about two weeks.  But as we head into the holiday season, I am realizing how important it is to try and slow down and take stock of each day.  Plus, Tygh's birthday was this weekend so I had the perfect excuse to do nothing but eat.

Tygh and I have never been a huge “tradition” couple.  This isn’t to say we don’t like traditions – we do.  But after ten years of training, where one of us was always on-call or at the hospital for nearly every holiday and/or birthday, we’ve learned to make our tradition one of flexibility.  In fact, one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories was coming home after an 8a-10p shift and sharing store-bought lasagne and cheap wine.


But, since having kids, suddenly the passage of time seems accelerated.  And I am realizing how easy it is to forget the little moments as I rush through the days, hoping I’ll have time to stop at the grocery store after work or that tonight is the night one of them sleeps for more than 5 hours at a stretch (ahem, Harvey). The old adage of the days being long, but the years short suddenly rings so true.

Of course, some things you don’t need a tradition to remember, even if it’s not a national holiday.  For instance, up until recently, June’s “Rs” still had the “W” sound, so words like “Harvey” came out “Haaawvey” (think Boston meets Long Island).  About a month ago, in the middle of breakfast, June spilled her cup of water and it got all over her silverware.  Once all cleaned up, I forget to replace her fork so she had to ask me for a dry one, but with her funny little “r” it came out “Mommy, I want a dry fuck, please.”  Won’t forget that anytime soon. 

But, other things seem to quickly fade from my memory if I don’t make a point of remembering (and I feel like this isn’t something you realize until you are old enough to start forgetting things). So, the idea of tradition has taken on new meaning as a way of remembering, both for us and our kids: “We always had breakfast for dinner when Dad worked late” or “My dad always made us drive out to some cold remote tree farm, a la National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, to get the perfect Christmas tree.”  Tradition allows us to punctuate what might otherwise be the run-on sentence of work, school and the general craziness of life.

That being said, the last thing I or anyone else needs in their life is another obligation – so Tygh and I have tried to incorporate some traditions while maintaining our “tradition of flexibility.”  We have found, not surprisingly, that this is most easily accomplished with food.  Edible traditions seem to be the biggest crowd pleaser and the easiest to adhere to.  They can be enjoyed in any location (like, if you have to bounce between families) and at any time of day. And frankly, isn’t it good food what people always remember most?  (Damn - is that just me?)

There IS a point here. Tygh’s 35th birthday was this weekend.  And, though we have officially celebrated differently nearly every year since I have known him, at some point in the birth-week, we have always celebrated, the two of us, the same: with a slice of vanilla bean cheesecake.  This was his favorite dessert when we first got married and, while his tastes have changed over the years, for some reason, we have never varied on this.  And so, when my nearly 4-year-old cake lover asked me what kind of cake we were making Daddy for his “birfday,” I didn’t have to think twice.


Of course, in the past, Tygh and I would enjoy the cheesecake with the lights dimmed, then head to bed early for, well, not for sleep.  This year we ate it with the lights blaring, June dropping pieces on the floor and Harvey staring at us jealously from his highchair.  Two hours and 5 bedtime stories later, we realized that the only way we were going to be able to continue our tradition to its fullest would be to set the alarm for extra early the next morning to…well….you know.  Tough sell to two sleep-deprived parents.  I hate to tell you what won out.  All I can say is, at least the cheesecake hasn’t changed.


Vanilla Bean Cheesecake

What makes this cheesecake really lovely is the mascarpone.  If you can't find it, go ahead and use another 8 oz of cream cheese.  But if you can, its worth it. Also, with respect to the superfine sugar, I use this almost exclusively in my baked goods because it blends so easily.  If you don't have access to this, regular white sugar will do just fine.

Oven at 350.  Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 9" springform pan.  Then, cover the outside with three (yes, three!!!) layers of heavy duty foil, making sure each piece is large enough to come up the sides to the top of the pan (see pic above of unbaked cheesecake).  This is done to protect the cheesecake from water during the cooking, which is done in a bain-marie, or water bath.

For the filling:

3 x 8oz containers Philadelphia Cream Cheese

1 x 8oz container mascarpone

1 C (200 g) superfine bakers sugar

5 large eggs, room temp

2 T (1 oz) unsalted butter, melted

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 vanilla beans, split

For the crust:

1 1/2 C (150 g) graham cracker crumbs*

6 T (3 oz) unsalted butter, melted

2 T white sugar


Make the crust:

Combine the crumbs, butter and sugar and mix with a fork.  Dump contents into prepared springform pan and using the bottom of a measuring cup, a spoon or your fingers, press the crumb mixture lightly into the pan.  Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes, until just starting to darken and fill the room with that yummy cooking graham cracker smell.  Take out and LET COOL COMPLETELY before adding filling.  This is KEY if you want your crust to be as crispy as possible come days 2 and 3.

While the crust is baking, make the filling:

Combine cream cheese, mascarpone (if using), and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle.  Beat together until well combined and the mixture is smooth.  Add the melted butter and mix, scraping down the sides of the bowl.  Scrape out the vanilla bean seeds and add, along with vanilla extract, mixing well.  Now, add the eggs, one at a time, beating each until just combined and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl between each addition.  Pour into cooled crust.

Place the prepared cheesecake into a larger pan (I use my good ol' turkey roaster) and fill that pan about half way up with hot water - this is your bain-marie.  Place in oven.

Cook about 65-70 minutes.  Cheesecake is done when set along the sides, but still kinda jiggly in the middle.  Remove from oven and water bath and let cool for 10 minutes on the counter. Then, refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.

Serve with raspberry coulis (recipe below).  Really best the day after it is made, but keeps in the fridge for about 5 days.  Just remember that inevitably, the crust will get softer with time. 

*This cake can be gluten free if made with GF graham crackers

Raspberry Coulis

Since I have always made this recipe during the fall when raspberries are not in season, I usually use frozen ones I have saved from the summer.  But any frozen brand of plain raspberries will do!

8 oz frozen raspberries, thawed

1 T Simple syrup, or to taste

1-2 tsp lemon juice, or to taste

Puree raspberries in blender or cuisinart.  Strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove any seeds (this is optional - you can keep the seeds if they don't bother you!).  Add lemon juice and simple syrup to taste, remembering that the cheesecake is fairly sweet, so a little tartness in the coulis provides a refreshing contrast.