Years after watching Nanna prepare her popular cheese cakes, I attempted to make my own version with a little help from her original recipe and instructions available online.
By Stuart Hill
Some foods and their associated traditions just seem to resonate with a stronger sentiment than others. It may not be just the food itself, but everything built around particular events that somehow augments the flavor of those memories.
When I was a kid I used to stay with my Nanna over the holidays. She and Poppa lived near the beach on the far north coast of New South Wales, which is in Australia’s east. She was a good cook, and had years of experience in the kitchen. As was her tradition, the kitchen was her domain and she ruled it outright.
The design of her house was such that the kitchen was fenced off by a preparation bench that connected to the kitchen cabinets on one end. On the kitchen side was storage space for containers and other things, while on the living room side were placed bar stools where we would sit and eat breakfast.
The bar stools gave my sister and I a safe vantage point to see what was going on in the kitchen. Nanna was a fairly versatile cook, but she seemed to excel at 3 types of dessert. My favorite was her rice pudding, made of milk, rice, nutmeg and butter. The other was Nanna’s Christmas pudding, full of dried fruit and alcohol. The third, was her home-made cheese cake.
Perhaps because of its “adult flavor” I never really like the cheese cake. But obviously many people did, as Nanna sold them to the local pub, which offered them on their dessert menu. So the event of making cheese cake was something that happened quite regularly over the holidays. It seemed such an elaborate process, but by the end there would be a “huge” cake prepared.
Over the years I have used her recipes to make rice puddings and christmas puddings. But until now, I’ve never attempted Nanna’s lemon cheese cake recipe. I thought I’d give it a go using her ingredients and instructions.
The first thing to make is the base of the cheese cake. Here are the ingredients for the biscuit base:
- 1 pack of sweet biscuits, ground finely
- 80 grams of melted butter
This part is relatively easy and can be done by hand. After grinding the biscuits, mix with the melted butter and then spoon into a springform cake tin. Press the mixture to form a tightly packed base. In this case I didn’t have a springform tin, so I lined the base and sides with cooking paper. According to Nanna’s recipe the base should be baked in a moderate oven for about 10 minutes.
These are the basic ingredients for a lemon cheese cake:
- 2 packs of 225 grams of cream cheese
- 1 cup of cream (Nanna replaces this with evaporated milk)
- 3/4 cup of caster sugar (Nanna uses 1 cup of caster sugar)
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons of lemon rind
- 3 teaspoons of gelatin dissolved in 1/4 cup of water
- Nanna adds vanilla essence (I used a vanilla bean)
The making of the cheese cake filling takes a little more preparation, especially the lemon rind and the dissolved gelatin.
The cream cheese should be removed from the fridge and brought to room temperature to make it easier to beat. I used an electric mixer to handle all the heavy beating.
TIP: while you will need boiling water to dissolve your gelatin, don’t add boiling gelatin to your cream cheese and caster sugar mixture directly. Prepare this first and let it set aside to cool to room temperature.
For a quick tutorial covering the complete process for mixing the ingredients of the cheese cake together, check out this video by the makers of Philadelphia Cream Cheese, which is fairly self-explanatory:
You can also visit the Philly Cream Cheese website for recipes.
Nanna’s recipe doesn’t use lemon rind and replaces the gelatin with lemon jello (jelly). She also replaces the cream with evaporated milk. In this case I could not find lemon jello, so I went with the rind (as other recipes recommend) for a natural lemon tang. If you don’t have evaporated milk you can try condensed milk, which gives the cake a heavier sweeter flavor (so go light on the caster sugar).
Nanna uses an extra 1/4 cup of sugar, but I decided to leave this out, and while she adds vanilla essence I had a vanilla bean on hand so used that instead.
Nanna’s recipe recommends to freeze the cake, although other recipes suggest to cool it in a refrigerator. In this case, if condensed milk is used, it should probably be frozen like it is with ice cream, but in the end it depends on the texture and style of eating you prefer. After 3-4 hours Nanna’s cheese cake is fairly solid.
For the final touch Nanna’s version adds whipped cream dusted with nutmeg as a topping. The cream taste fantastic, but is actually optional. The cake tastes great just on its own, with its touch of vanilla and lemon peel spread throughout.