Cheesecakes have probably been around for longer than you think. With their origins in Ancient Greece, they've been around for millennia. The origins of the modern-day cheesecake lie in the 19th Century, and this 1868 recipe shows us how it all began.
Between the 19th Century and around 1920 (when cheesecakes apparently dropped off of the face of the earth for 50 years), if you had wondered into your local bakery and asked for a cheesecake, this is what you would have been given. A little puff pastry tartlet with a homemade curd filling, sweetened with currants and a dash of ratafia liqueur. More like a Yorkshire curd tart rather than the biscuit-based, cream cheese filled, Golden Girls-style desserts we’re used to today, the original cheesecake had a very different look and flavour.
These little darlings will take you right back to 1868, the year in which the world’s first traffic lights were invented, Nicholas Aleksandrovitch Romanov (later, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia) was born, the Capital Punishment Amendment Act abolished public hanging in Britain and the Granny Smith apple was cultivated.
Original Recipes: 'Curd for Cheesecakes - Yorkshire Receipt' and 'Cheesecakes' (Book 1, 1868)
Speed: 1 hour | Makes: 20
2 pints of water
2 pints of fresh milk
3 tbsp. double cream
¼ of a nutmeg
1 tbsp. ratafia (amaretto liqueur)
Puff pastry - enough to line about 20 tartlet tins
To make the curd
1. Boil the water in a large pan. Once boiled, remove from the heat.
2. Beat two of the eggs and then mix them into the milk. Then, add this to the water.
3. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon (about 2 tbsp.) and then more if the milk does not appear to curdle within a few seconds. We needed to add the juice of a whole lemon, but you can add more than this if necessary. Leave for around half an hour or until the liquid comes to around room temperature, and then either slowly pour this through a sieve into a large bowl so that the curd collects in the sieve, or scoop the curd out using a slotted spoon and lay it in the sieve to drain. This should make half a pint of curd (1 cup).
Note: Make sure you have about double the ingredients you need for this step, just in case. We had to make the curd three times over to get the amount that we needed. This was likely a result of a few things:
1) Our milk being pasturised;
2) Not enough lemon juice (the original recipe is to blame for that one!);
3) In the first two occasions, pouring the content of the pan too quickly through the sieve.
To make the cheesecakes
4. Butter 20 tartlet tins and line with puff pastry.
5. Beat the two remaining eggs* and then mix them into the curd. Then add in the cream, nutmeg, ratafia and currants. Mix together well and spoon into the tartlet cases.
Note: The recipe says to use 4 eggs in this step rather than 2, but having tried this, we found that the filling tasted... well, too eggy. Especially as there is no actual sugar in this recipe with the sweetness coming from the currants and liqueur. We recommend that if you use 4 eggs you add a little sugar or vanilla essence.
6. Bake for around 15 minutes until the pastry is golden, and then allow to cool completely before eating.
Original Recipes for 'Curd for Cheesecakes - Yorkshire Recipt' and 'Cheesecakes'
'BOOK 1': Warne’s Model Cookery and Housekeeping Book (1868)
Compiled and Edited By: Mary Jewry
Publisher: Fredrick Warne & Co. (Bedford Street, Covent Garden, London, England, U.K.), printers: Savill, Edwards and Co. Printers (Chandos Street, Covent Garden, London, England, U.K.)