Cheesecake is one of my favorite desserts. Hard to resist I find it, with its fresh, creamy yet cakey body, and its tasty cookie crumb crust. But when you try to make American-style cheesecake in France, you quickly run into a procurement hurdle: neither cream cheese or graham crackers are readily available. You can find them -- at least if you're in Paris -- but this requires time and effort and the planning of a trip to one of the few stores that carry those items. I prefer my baking to be a bit more spontaneous.
This allows us to transition, as smoothly as a cheesecake, to the French semi-equivalent: le Gâteau au Fromage Blanc. Fromage blanc (literally "white cheese", and the "c" is mute) is a type of fresh cheese, most commonly made with cow's milk, that has the consistency of thick and velvety yogurt but is typically tarter than yogurt. It is a very common and popular product here, there are many kinds (fermier, battu, en faisselle...) and you can find it in different fat percentages, from maigre (0%) to entier (40%).
Gâteau au fromage blanc differs from cheesecake in that the crust is usually a thin pastry crust with a rim, and it incorporates beaten egg whites into the batter: this gives the cake a very aerated and light texture, almost moussy, and makes it higher than most cheesecakes I've been served -- usually around 3 inches. My habitual (and, need I say it, beloved) cheese store sells their own, a huge and tempting affair beneath a cloche à fromage (a glass cheese cover, literally "cheese bell") on the counter, to be sliced and sold to the weight like any other cheese.
I love GFB, but have two objections to making it myself in the traditional way. One, nothing, and I mean nothing, beats a cookie crumb crust -- the patting or the eating, it's hard to tell which part I enjoy the most. And two, I stay away from recipes that involve "beating egg whites until stiff" because believe it or not, I don't have the proper apparatus to do so: my food processor does a pathetic job of it, and suggesting I use my wrist power is really laughable. Oh, had you never noticed? 396 recipes on C&Z and not a single one with oeufs en neige! (Literally "eggs in snow", feeling translatyish today.) Maybe it's time to invest?
In any case, when the desire and occasion for a cheesecake arise -- and arise they did last week-end to end a dinner party with a flourish -- I go for my own easy version, which enrolls fromage blanc and Northern European cookies (the spice-rich and toasty and delicious Speculoos or Bastogne) in a sort of mid-Atlantic rendition of the cheesecake. Only this time, as promised a couple of weeks ago, I used the remainder of my gingersnaps production for the crust, making this a 100% homemade cheesecake, which we all delighted upon with forceful cries of felicity.
And before I share said recipe, may I enquire why nobody ever deemed necessary to tell me that the term cheesecake had a second meaning, namely "a picture of minimally clad women"? Hm? Think of all the possibly embarrassing double-entendre things I may have said innocently! Oh well -- at least I don't think I ever used the word "beefcake" in conversation.
Note - the handy Cook's Thesaurus suggests the following substitutions for fromage blanc: "quark (very similar) OR yogurt cheese OR buttermilk cheese OR blend equal parts cottage cheese and yogurt until smooth OR cream cheese whipped with cream".
- 260 g (9 oz) gingersnaps, speculoos or bastognes
- 15 g (1 Tbsp) butter (optional, see instructions below)
- 1 kg (4 C) fromage blanc (I use the 20% fat kind)
- 200 g (1 C) sugar, preferably unrefined
- 2 eggs
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Grease a 25-cm (10-inch) cake pan with a removable bottom.
In a food processor, reduce cookies to crumbs (alternatively, place cookies in a freezer bag, close it, and run over it with a rolling pin). Try pressing a handful of crumbs in your hand. If the crumbs clump together and stay roughly clumped, no need to add butter. If not, mix in some butter until it tests positive in the clump test. Pour crumbs into the bottom of the pan, and pat with the palms of your hands to form a crust all over the surface. Reserve in the fridge.
In a medium mixing-bowl, whisk together the fromage blanc and sugar. In another small bowl beat the eggs together, and add them into the fromage blanc mixture. Whisk again until thoroughly combined.
Pour mixture into pan, transfer pan into the oven and bake for 50 minutes to an hour, until set and slightly golden on the outer rim. Turn out on a rack to cool completely, then chill for at least two hours before serving.
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