Welcome to my new, improved kitchen in Pontlevoy! Just a couple of blocks away from the old place, but oh so much better in terms of space and modern conveniences! Yes, it's messy, but have a look:
Big kitchen table for prepping and eating at.
Gas stove and electric oven. Lots of appliances. Even a dishwasher! Not much counter space, but whatever.
So my first Maida dessert in this kitchen was the 8-hour cheesecake. By the way, Maida's seeing a bit of a revival: David Lebovitz did a nice tribute to her in his blog today (and please, whatever you do, make those popovers!! They are super easy and irresistible.). And I found through his blog that another woman blogged through Maida's cookie book from 2005-7. Very fun.
OK, so the cheesecake. This is a recipe that Maida adapted from a recipe written by Andrew Schloss, and it involves baking your cheesecake at a very low temperature (200 F or 95 C) for a very long time. I was worried about it because I wasn't sure yet how reliable my oven was going to be or how this all would work out. And how would I know it was done, aside from the 8-hour cooking time? Through an Internet search, I found that some people put their cheesecakes in the oven, went to bed, and woke up the next morning to a brown and rubbery disk. Their advice: bake the cheesecake during the day and check on it after 4 hours or so; it will be done at about 180 F.
This turned out to be an excellent suggestion: I put my cheesecake in the oven at 2 and it was ready at about 7. Which was perfect because I actually needed the oven to prepare dinner. And you'll see that it's white and creamy and mostly everything a cheesecake should be.
OK, here are the ingredients. You see that this is a pretty straightforward recipe, aside from the baking technique. The French make this stuff called "fromage à tartiner" (spreadable cheese) which is pretty much cream cheese. I got 5 packs of it and still needed to add about 2 oz. of crème fraîche to get to the 2 lbs. of cream cheese required. The vanilla is not pictured here. And that bottle of Cognac was empty when the cheesecake went in the oven, and I don't drink Cognac...
Here's the cheesecake on a pretty cake plate. Note its firm white creaminess. When I say it's almost everything a cheesecake should be, I mean that it's crustless. I like a little crunchiness with my cheesecake. Fortunately, I had some crunchy spice cookies in my purse (they come with coffee here), which Julia and I crumbled up and used as ersatz crust. That made a perfect cheesecake experience.
Mmmm...cheesecake on a plate, ready to be eaten. This is about how much is left, less than 24 hours after I first served it.
Here's the recipe. Plan your day around it!
2 lbs. cream cheese, room temp
1 heaping c. (7.5 oz.) sugar (in a strange twist, I felt that this recipe needed more sugar than called for!)
2 T. (1 oz.) vanilla extract (yes, that's right!)
2 T. (1 oz.) brandy
2 T. (1 oz.) dark rum
5 eggs, room temp
Graham cracker/cookie crumbs
Heat your oven to 200. Get out a one-piece cheesecake pan or a deep cake pan or a soufflé dish and butter it. You'll also need a large roasting or sheet pan to put the cheesecake pan in. Beat the cream cheese until it's smooth and fluffy, scraping the bowl and beaters to be sure. Then add the sugar, vanilla, brandy, and rum and beat until incorporated. Now add the eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated. Pour this mixture into the cheesecake pan. Put the cheesecake pan into the roasting pan and carefully pour hot water into the roasting pan until you have a couple inches of water. Then carefully put all of this into the oven and set the timer for about 4 hours. Go about your business. When 4 hours have gone by, assess your cheesecake. Does it look dry on top? Is it not too jiggly? Is its temp 180? Does the thermometer come out clean? If you can answer yes to all these questions, your cheesecake is probably ready. If not, let it go another hour or so, checking every once in a while.
Once you feel good about the doneness of the cheesecake, take it out of the roasting pan and let it sit at room temperature for a while until it is completely cool. Then unmold it onto a plate and refrigerate it for a few hours or overnight. Serve with or without cookie crumbs sprinkled on top. This should serve at least 8, unless one of your guests is Claire, in which maybe 5 is a better bet.