New York City – The Big Cheesecake!

Robin Boyle Cakes & Biscuits, Dessert, North American, Travel

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This continues on from New York – Settling In!

New York may well be called the Big Apple, but if it were to have a signature dish my guess it would be ‘cheesecake’.

This blog post is about a cheesecake, a strawberry blonde one. You hear about my first encounter with it and our experience this trip. And that’s not all, you also get photos, you get a video and you get a recipe!

The 2002 Encounter

In 2002 I was to visit some publishers and academics in the US about some statistical software a colleague and I had developed. I had decided to start with a week in New York before the meetings – intending to just immerse myself in the place.

I booked to stay at the Washington-Jefferson Hotel (see the previous blog post). It seemed like a good location and the hotel was reasonably priced. It was the first time I had used a hotel booking website, the type of site which is very common now, enabling you to compare hotels by price. I had paid some months before travel, but a week or so before departure I became rather nervous about whether or not the payment reached the hotel and whether or not they had a record of my booking. So I rang the hotel and a lady with a charming American accent answered. I didn’t think to give my name and started by explaining that I was from Australia and gave her my arrival date. She immediately replied: “Am I speaking with Robin?” Perfect reassurance that my booking was fine!

By the time I left Australia, I still had some work to do on the computer software, hence, my week of immersion in New York did not work out as planned as I had to spend some hours each day programming in my hotel room. I began a daily routine of breakfast, computer programming, some sightseeing, lunch, more programming, some more sightseeing, a snack, a concert, then a late supper.

That way I managed to see various performances, including an opera at the MET and three concerts at Carnegie Hall. The complementary Carnegie Hall programs included advertisements for nearby restaurants. During the interval I would decide where to have supper. At the performance by the violinist, Anne-Sophie Mutter, I decided to eat at the Brooklyn Diner, just 100 metres away.

So after the concert I headed along 57th Street. From the outside it seemed like a very nice restaurant, certainly more upmarket than your typical diner. I could not help noticing a full page broadsheet article from the New York Times taped to the glass door. It included a photo of a large slice of strawberry crowned cheesecake and the words “the strawberry blonde cheesecake is to die for and worth the month on the treadmill”.

The place was abuzz, even at 10pm. The restaurant manager welcomed me but said there was not a free table but that I could sit at the bar. That suited me fine. When he came back to take my order I said: “I will have a glass of red wine, thank you, and the strawberry blonde cheesecake!”

He returned with a tall slab of cheesecake, with strawberries, cream and a small jug of chocolate sauce! Was I hungry, was I greedy or was it really delicious? What I do remember is eating every last skerrick, and, to boot, tipping the jug upside down to drain out every trace of chocolate sauce.

I tried to recreate the recipe on my return to Melbourne and served it a few times when we had a large number of guests. My version is given at the end of this article.

The 2018 Encounter

Since the 2002 visit I wanted to go back one day and try the cheesecake again. This trip provided the opportunity.

The Brooklyn Diner, it seems, has not much to do with Brooklyn. I checked the website before leaving Melbourne and, indeed, the cheesecake was still on the menu. There are two venues, but I have not visited the second one (in 43rd Street). On the morning of our concert at Carnegie Hall we stopped by to make a booking for 9.30 that night.

When we returned, after the concert, we were met by Guy, the manager on duty. We told him about my visit in 2002 and he sat us down in a booth, confident the strawberry blonde would be just as good. We ordered a glass of red wine each and a hamburger to share, to be followed by a serve of the cheesecake. Was it as good? Was the slice as gigantic as I remembered?

It really doesn’t matter as it was a fulfillment of a bit of a dream. Here are some photos, and, after those there is a link to the video.

If you dare to watch it: Strawberry Blonde Cheesecake – The Video

Guy really looked after us. He and his fiancée had plans to visit Australia for their honeymoon and we said we could help them with an itinerary for Melbourne and Tasmania. He asked us to drop by on one of our other nights for a glass of bubbly as his guest, and we did.

Strawberry Blonde Cheesecake

This was my attempt to recreate the strawberry blonde cheesecake I had at the Brooklyn Diner, 57th Street, New York in 2002.

It seemed to be two or three times higher than a standard cheesecake, in fact, my notes said it seemed to be about 20 cm high. However high, it was a huge slice, with fresh whipped cream, chocolate sauce and strawberries.

The following recipe is for a cheesecake of standard height of about 8 to 10 cm, using a spring form pan that is 26 cm wide. If you want to achieve something much higher, check around to find a spring form pan or alternative that is 15 to 20 cm high, even if it is not as wide.

The “dessert” is not very difficult. It has a few elements:

  • the cheesecake
  • strawberries and cream (either whipped or thick)
  • chocolate sauce

Use your favourite biscuits for the base if you wish. Don’t use light or ‘lite’ sour cream, cream cheese or cream: don’t hold back, this dessert is not for dieters! You will need one punnet of strawberries for the strawberry juice which gives the cake a hint of strawberry flavour and the pink blush. You will need more strawberries for decorating or serving. Use quality chocolate for the sauce. The cake can be made a day or so ahead of time and will stay fresh for several days in the refrigerator.

Cheesecake
  • 125 to 150 g shortbread finger biscuits or equivalent, crumbed
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 5 x 250g packages cream cheese, softened to a warm room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla essence
  • 3 eggs
  • 300 ml sour cream (35% fat)
  • 1 punnet (250 g) of ripe strawberries, cleaned and hulled but not wet
Strawberries and cream
  • 1 or 2 extra punnets (250 g each) of lovely strawberries, cleaned and hulled
  • 300 ml cream, whipped or thick, for serving
Chocolate sauce
  • 150 g quality black chocolate, in buttons or small pieces
  • 150 ml whipping/pouring cream
Making the cheesecake

Turn oven to 1800C. Combine crumbs, tablespoon sugar and butter; press onto bottom of a 26 cm spring form pan. Bake for 10 minutes.

Mix cream cheese, sugar, flour and vanilla with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended.

Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing on low speed after each addition, just until blended. Blend in sour cream.

Mash the first punnet strawberries and push through a sieve and extract as much juice as possible.

Pour the cream cheese mixture over the crust.

Drizzle the strawberry juice over the filling and swirl in – but don’t mix in – with a fork or knife to give a marbled pattern.

Bake 75 to 90 until centre is almost set.

When cooled somewhat, run a knife around the rim of the pan to loosen the cake; cool before removing rim of pan.

Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

Decorating

When ready to serve or an hour or so beforehand, decorate the top of the cheesecake with extra strawberries. Alternatively or in addition, serve the extra strawberries on the side.

Making the chocolate sauce

First melt the chocolate by itself in the microwave. Do this carefully, one minute at a time, then shorter bursts as required. (Or melt over a double boiler.) The chocolate does not have to be hot, just melted; stir a few times so that the unmelted bits just dissolve. Fold in the cream and stir well to obtain a consistent colour. Aim to produce a rich chocolate sauce that is easy to drizzle, and will not set solid too quickly. (The sauce can be refrigerated or frozen, and reheated carefully in the microwave. It can be thinned using a little milk or extra cream. Double the quantity if you don’t think there will be enough.)

Serving

Use a wet or warmed knife to cut the cheesecake. Serve with the cream and strawberries and the chocolate sauce in a jug to drizzle over. 12 to 14 servings.

Degree of difficulty

3/5 (moderately difficult).

Equipment

Loose base spring form pan.

Continued:

For a continuation of our visit to NYC, see: New York – Lower Manhattan!