Monday, September 7, 2009

"The Foods of Chicago" - (Polish) Peach Cheesecake

Date I made this recipe: September 7, 2009

The Foods of Chicago – a Delicious History – As seen on the WTTW’s The Foods of Chicago Hosted by Geoffrey Baer, Produced by Dan Protess
Published by: G. Bradley Publishing, Inc.
ISBN: 978-0-9774512-5-8
Recipe: (Polish) Peach Cheesecake – p. 120 – recipe submitted by Dobra Bielinski

So my husband and I took another trip to Chicago last weekend where I purchased this book in Greek Town where the Greeks were out in full force for a festival. Yes, I know, this is not a Greek cookbook but when I saw this compilation, I couldn’t resist.

So Greek Town is just a few blocks away from our favorite breakfast spot – Lou Mitchell’s. While standing in line at Lou Mitchell’s, you get your fill of fresh doughnut holes. I don’t know why. And then when you actually get in the door, you get a small box of Milk Duds. I don’t know why. And then when you are seated, you each get a fresh orange slice and one stewed prune. I don’t know why. And then after you have stuffed yourself with their gigantic omelets or pancakes or whatever, you each get a small cup of soft-served ice cream. And again I don’t know why.

And folks, I don’t care! If you’re in Chicago, you’ve got to go there, period, end. ( It (and Greek Town) is not far from the train station so walking off those calories is suddenly much easier although we sort of cheated and parked the car in between the two places.

So the Greek Town festival was fun and the Greek Cookbooks were fun to look at but the Polish cheesecake recipe really nailed the sale of this book.

When I was growing up, my family home was surrounded by homes owned by various generations of the Kolbus family, a large, Polish-American family with many brothers and sisters, most of whom lived nearby. In fact, our house was built by a Kolbus who then went on to build another one closer to Lake Superior (we were up the hill from the lake so it’s not like we were deprived) leaving the way open for my folks to buy the place. When our next door neighbor “Aunt Mary” (Kolbus, naturally) went down to visit one of her sisters in Hamtramck, Michigan, she often brought us the most delectable cheesecake I’ve ever had. In fact, it took me a long time before I realized that most other cheesecakes aren’t made this way.

The reason I love Polish cheesecake is because the texture is more like a cake and yet there is no doubt you are eating a cheesecake of some sorts. Because I grew up eating it “plain” (i.e. no fruit), I skipped the peaches portion of this recipe. I also wanted to avoid the crust from getting all mushy and whatnot.

This recipe takes a bit of work on your part but just leave yourself enough time to make it. And if I were you, I’d make sure you invest in a scale so as to measure all the ingredients. Measuring ingredients is something bakers have been doing forever and ever and so you should jump on that bandwagon, toute suite because you’ll notice that the recipe calls for 5.5 ounces of egg yolks and 6.5 of egg whites and I just don’t know how to properly measure a half an egg! The scale I just bought from Cooks on Crocus Hill is Escali and it set me back only a mere $39.95 plus tax. The reason that I liked it is because it “stores like a book” and since I am crammed for space in my kitchen, storage is key. I also liked it because it is electronic; my husband favored the “manual” scale but I wanted precise measurements, especially with the 5.5 oz requirement.

One final word about Chicago: We should have known better than to try to get into Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill so soon after he won Top Chef Masters on Bravo TV. When I called a couple of weeks ago for reservations, I was told that the limited number of reservations was already gone and so it was first come, first serve (or “first fender in” as my dad likes to say).

So we got there about 7:30 on a Saturday night (we had been to a Cubs game that afternoon for no other reason than to say we were at Wrigley) and of course it was packed, very packed. As in “we’re looking at 11:30 p.m. as the earliest seating.” Experienced restaurant diners know that this roughly translates into “you won’t actually get to eat until 12:30 a.m. so good luck with that.”

I don’t know about you but authentic Mexican food and midnight dining do not go together. And so we’ll try another day but in the meantime will console ourselves (okay, console myself since my husband has never eaten this) with this delectable dessert from my childhood!

(Polish) Peach Cheesecake – Serves 12
1 4-oz stick butter, chilled
¾ cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 egg
1 egg yolk

Batter8 oz. sugar
5.5 oz. egg yolks
2 oz. custard powder (or cornstarch)
2.2 lbs. farmer’s cheese (use Neufatchel)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. orange extract
1 tsp. lemon extract
6.5 oz egg whites
3.5 oz. sugar
1 16-oz. can sliced peaches
(Note: let the cheese warm up to room temperature before adding it to the batter)

Dough: In an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, cream together butter, sugar and eggs. Add baking powder and flour; mixing until it comes together. Remove dough from mixing bowl and knead slightly by hand. (Warning: dough will be sticky. Put some flour on your hands before kneading.) Roll out dough into a 13” x 9” x 2” pan lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes until dough is golden color.

Batter: Align drained peaches on the cooled dough, keeping them ¾ inch from the edges. (As mentioned above, I skipped this step). Spray the side with non-stick spray. In an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, mix egg yolks, custard powder, sugar and extracts for ten minutes starting out at low speed, increasing to high speed. Add the cheese and mix well. Empty contents into a large bowl, then thoroughly clean mixing bowl.

In an electric mixer fitted with a whisk, whip egg whites and, when volume has increased, add 3.5 ounces of sugar. Continue whisking until medium stiff peaks are reached. Gently fold egg whites into the cheese batter. Pour the batter into the cake pan, smoothing out the top. Bake for 60-90 minutes until a paring knife inserted comes out clean. When cooled, sift with powdered sugar and serve.

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