This is so fluffy and gentle. You could bed yourself down right into it.
Japanese cheesecake is a treat which needs to be judged on its own merits. What they share with their European and American counterparts is a body largely comprising cream cheese, but rather than a dense baked custard, the making of them requires a good beating for fine, airy cakes with the melting richness of cream cheese. There appears to be some variation in texture: while a light and melt-in-the-mouth crumb is a given, some recipes yield cakes a little moist and creamy in the middle, like the soufflé of its namesake, while others are more like chiffon cake.
I’ve attempted Japanese cheesecake but have been defeated many times. It’s not that challenging, but I’m somehow confused by the flour: most recipes call for 2 types of flour and somehow a decade of baking experience fails to save m and I end up using the wrong flours in (sometimes comically) incorrect proportions. We all have that one recipe, I expect.
This recipe, adapted from Nami’s lovely work on Just One Cookbook, is straightforward and results in a very good soufflé cheesecake, a light yet moist sponge which slowly melts in the mouth with a lingering richness, yet does not cleave to the palate. It’s not too sweet, and I’ve added some lemon zest and vanilla to complement the cream cheese. The hardest part is waiting for the cheesecake to cool. It also scales down beautifully, another boon, since cheesecakes need eating quickly.
While the visual appeal of Japanese cheesecake is its resemblance to actual soufflé with its soft, round fluffiness, I still make this in a loaf tin for convenience. More of you, I think, will have a loaf tin rather than the equivalent small round springform, and since the tin is in one piece you dispense entirely with the foil-wrapping, you see. I hope all this is encouraging you to make a cheesecake of your own.
When I unwrapped this cheesecake this afternoon, it smelled sweetly of cream, vanilla, and lemon zest. I put some spring flowers on the table and fussed about with everything while Mr. Pear made me some Lady Grey tea. For just a few minutes after he poured the hot water, there was a truly marvellous scent as everything commingled perfectly. To be honest, I’ve already forgotten what exactly the sum of the scent was, but I don’t mind. I can share each part of it with you.
SMALL JAPANESE CHEESECAKE
Adapted from Just One Cookbook. Makes around 6 slices. It’s a pretty light dessert/snack.
Keeps in the fridge for 3 days; wrap very well, since it easily suffers from fridge taint. Individual slices or whole cheesecake can be frozen; see here for further guidance.
Notes: Allow at least 2 – 3 hours for cheesecake to cool and chill. You can brush the top with a little warmed apricot jam (or similar) for a glossy finish. It may help smooth over any small cracks, but isn’t necessary.
If you want a rich cheesecake, you can make this with a full 180g pack of Philadelphia. The result is in between the Western and Japanese styles of cheesecake.
for the meringue:
2 UK medium egg whites
35g/3 tbsp granulated sugar
rest of cheesecake:
25 g/2 tbsp granulated sugar
125g/4 oz. full-fat cream cheese, room temperature
25 g/2 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature soft, cut into thin slices (plus a little extra for greasing)
2 UK medium egg yolks, room temperature
4 tbsp double/whipping cream or whole milk, room temperature
about 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest (from most of a smallish lemon, less of a larger one)
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp vanilla extract (or 1 tsp rum)
25g/2 tbsp plain flour, no need to sift
Loaf tin approx 7.5 x 3.5 x 3 inches/19 x 9 cm x 7.5 cm (1 lb) in size
Larger high-sided roasting pan which comfortably holds the loaf tin
Using butter and baking paper, grease and line a loaf tin approximately 7.5 x 3.5 x 3 inches/19 x 9 cm x 7.5 cm (1 lb) in size. (Slightly off is fine; adjust baking time later.) Preheat oven to 160 degrees C/140 fan. Fill a kettle with water and get it boiling.
In a medium bowl, use a hand mixer to beat egg whites on medium-low til nearly stiff, then gradually add 35g/3 tbsp sugar and beat on high until stiff, glossy peaks form. Set aside and don’t worry about it deflating as long as you continue swiftly.
In a larger bowl, use the same beaters—no need to rinse—to beat cream cheese and 25g/2 tbsp sugar until smooth, then beat in the soft butter. Add egg yolks, milk or cream, lemon juice, zest, and vanilla extract, beating well until mixture is very smooth. Add flour all at once and beat just until incorporated.
Use a spatula to scoop 1/3 of the meringue into cheesecake mixture, roughly stirring in to lighten. Gently and thoroughly fold in remaining meringue until you have a well-combined, airy mixture.
Pour and smooth into the prepared tin. Rap tin on work surface to get rid of air bubbles (I usually forget; any subsequent cracks sink back down, no worries).
Carefully set filled tin into a larger high-sided pan. Take your kettle of boiled water and pour about 1 inch (2 – 3 cm) into larger pan.
Set everything on the middle rack and bake at 160 degrees C for for 30 – 35 minutes or until lightly brown on top, then slightly reduce heat to 150 degrees C/130 fan (300 degrees F) for the last 20 – 25 minutes, or until cake is done. It’s ready when springy on top and a cake tester comes out mostly clean with a few moist, defined crumbs clinging to it. Err on the side of over-baking if necessary.
Remove the whole thing from the oven and allow cake to cool in water bath for 15 minutes. Transfer cake tin to a wire rack and cool until neutral (30 – 45 mins, depending on room temperature), then carefully remove cheesecake from its damp baking paper to a fresh sheet of paper/clingfilm. Wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours before serving.