December is upon us, my tree is up, the CD player is fully loaded with Bing Crosby & there’s enough chocolate in the house to feed four families… with its glorious reds, greens & golds (I’m a traditionalist) Christmas is here!
The Christmas period started off rather special this year, with a trip to Berlin. With my love of all things festive, particularly in the form of a market I don’t think I could’ve chosen a better Winter destination.
Berlin is a city rich in both history & culture, the difference between East & West is still ever-present. Having travelled as far either end as Hohenschönhausen & Spandau, this truly surprised me.
Now as much as I do love to explore a country & its culture, I can’t deny that I headed off to Germany with a handwritten list of at least 20 different foods to try, no small feat in a mere three-day visit.
Having visited six or seven Christmas Markets & using at least three modes of transport on the hunt for bakeries, I’m pleased to say that the majority of my list was consumed.. all washed down with plenty of gluhwein of course (I now own a small collection of gluhwein mugs). Excessive as it may sound, it was almost necessity in the 2C temperatures of Berlin.
The usual suspects made it onto my list.. obviously the Berlin currywusrt, linzer torte, strudel, lebkuchen & zimtschnecke, quite possibly the best cinnamon bun I’ve ever devoured from a lovely little bakery Zeit Fur Brot (time for bread – a name that I highly approve of).
Of all the glorious eats that Berlin had to offer, the one that truly stuck with me was käsekuchen (cheesecake). I’m a big lover of a cheesecake & I’ve baked many different flavours & varieties in the past. German cheesecake , however, is unlike any other that I’ve tried, it has a pastry case as opposed to a biscuit base & it has a texture that is so light, airy & practically crumbles apart at the touch of a spoon.
My first taste of the German delight was at Markthalle Neun in Kreuzberg, a lovely foodie destination for street food & baked goods. After scouring the various stall holders & munching on a slice or two of foccacia to keep my energy levels up, I decided on a sweet spot, Barbaras Küche, a fantastic little bakery filled with various cakes, cheesecakes & tarts. Using what little German language skills I still possess, I ordered a slice of linzer torte & a slice of käsekuchen. One bite in & I was hooked.
The difference between German cheesecake & your regular old cheesecake? Käsekuchen is made using Quark as opposed to your regular soft cheese. Quark itself is a type lower fat, high protein free soft cheese made by the curdling of sour milk. Intrigued, I immediately headed out to source some Quark & try to recreate this delightful dessert. After scouring the internet (and some attempted translation), I settled on a jumble of best bits & attempted my very own version, I’m pleased to say it’s gorgeous. It has rustic charm, a smell that would rival any bakery whilst in the oven & a heavy dusting of festiveness..
(makes one 23cm cheesecake)
For the pastry:
- 250g plain flour
- 3 tbsp icing sugar
- 125g butter
- 2-3 tbsp cold water
For the filling:
- 3 egg whites
- 3 egg yolks
- 150g caster sugar
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 100g butter (cubed)
- 180ml double cream
- 500g quark
- 1 1/2 tbsp cornflour
- To make the pastry sift together the plain flour & icing sugar, add in the cubed butter & rub together using your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs
- Add the cold water 1 tbsp at a time, using only enough so that the dough comes together
- Shape the dough into a flattened disc, wrap in cling film & leave in the fridge to chill for at least an hour
- Once the pastry has chilled, roll out to approximately 3mm thick and use it to line the base & sides of the cake tin
- To make the filling, in a large bowl combine the egg yolks, sugar, butter, vanilla, double cream & quark until smooth
- In a separate bowl, using a whisk or hand mixer, whisk up the egg whites until stiff & holding their shape
- Taking a spoonful at a time of the egg whites, gently fold these into quark mixture along with the cornflour until fully incorporated
- Pour the mixture into the pastry case
- Bake at 150°C for 1 hour – 1 hour, 20 mins (don’t be alarmed, the cheesecake will rise up like a souffle during baking but it will sink once cooled)
- Leave the cheesecake to cool in the oven for 30 mins before removing and cooling at room temperature
- Refrigerate the cheesecake until needed & dust heavily with icing sugar before serving