Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Israeli Cheesecake

Shavuot is a Jewish holiday being celebrated this week that remembers the time when Moses received the Torah at Mount Sinai. It is also an agricultural holiday marking the end of the spring barley harvest and beginning of the summer wheat.

It is a delicious holiday and dairy foods are traditionally eaten. When faced with the new laws of keeping kosher (separating meat and dairy) at Mount Sinai, I guess it was easier to eat only dairy foods. From a seasonal perspective, goats, sheep and cows graze more in springtime and produce more milk. This allows for a lot of yummy churning and cheesemaking. To represent the harvest, grains such as barley and wheat berries are also eaten. I just love how the season and holiday observance are woven together!

Ask many Jews what represents Shavuot and you’ll get the quick response, “Cheesecake!” Our community holds an annual cheesecake bakeoff and this year a lovely variety of cheesecakes were displayed, including a classic New York, a vegan delight, a fig and basil, a savory, an apple and caramel, a New York fudge, a raspberry swirl, micro minis, Oreo crust mocha and Israeli cheesecake. Wow! That’s a lot of cheesecake tasting and, not surprisingly, a large crowd always turns out to sample.

I contributed the Israeli cheesecake, which comes from Janna Gur’s lovely book The Book of New Israeli Food. Her photos and recipes are a real treat for the eye and palate. Plan ahead when making this cheesecake because it needs to be chilled for at least 24 hours. Also, it calls for gvina levana, which is an Israeli soft white cheese. If you do not have access to a market that sells it, you can substitute quark or cream cheese in an equal amount.

Israeli Cheesecake (for an 8x8 inch square baking dish)
from The Book of New Israeli Food by Janna Gur

The crust and topping:
7 ounces crumbled petit-beurre cookies (or any butter cookie or biscuit that isn’t too sweet)
4 ounces melted butter
2 tablespoons sugar

The filling:
7 ounces butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg, preferably organic, room temperature
1 egg yolk, preferable organic, room temperature
9 ounces gvina levana (or other cheese such as quark or room temperature cream cheese)
7 ounces sour cream

Combine the crumbled cookies with the sugar and melted butter. Press two-thirds of the mixture onto the bottom of the baking dish. Freeze for 15 minutes until the crust solidifies. Keep the rest for the topping.

Beat the butter with the sugar, egg and egg yolk in a mixer until creamy and fluffy. Gently fold in the cheese and sour cream and pour the filling into the prepared crust. Coat with the remaining cookie crumb mixture and refrigerate for 24 hours before serving.


  1. My husband would be delighted at the thought of a cheesecake bakeoff. Cheesecake is his absolute favorite dessert. I'm really picky about them and I don't like most restaurant cheesecakes, but I do like a good homemade one. I love that your recipe has petit-beurre cookies and sour cream (and no baking! who wants to turn on the oven in the summer?). It sounds like a sophisticated (and yummier) upgrade of the typical Philadelphia no-bake cheesecake. I'll have to try it.

    I also really love traditional holiday foods and how they work in harmony with what was in season. I definitely think eating seasonally makes cooking and eating more interesting.

  2. @Lauren Hairston
    I hope you and your husband enjoy this one! I understand your pickiness about restaurant cheesecake. Homemade is always the best in my book. I like the petit-beurre cookies since they are not too sweet and the buttery flavor comes through. Yes... being in tune with the seasons definitely makes for more rewarding eating. Glad to hear you feel the same way. :)

  3. I love that this recipe calls for gvina levana. That makes me smile. Monday night I made Mollie Katzen's savory cheesecake with zucchini and summer squash and a tomato topping. But tonight I will dream about the fig and basil cheesecake. That sounds glorious.

  4. @cheapbeets
    I'll have to check out Mollie Katzen's savory cheesecake...that sounds like a delicious combination. Hope you had a lovely holiday!


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