Tablet Magazine’s list of the 100 most Jewish foods is not about the most popular Jewish foods, or the tastiest, or even the most enduring. It’s a list of the most significant foods culturally and historically to the Jewish people, explored deeply with essays, recipes, stories, and context. Some of the dishes are no longer cooked at home, and some are not even dishes in the traditional sense (store-bought cereal and Stella D’oro cookies, for example).
The entire list is up for debate, which is what makes this book so much fun. Many of the foods are delicious (such as babka and shakshuka). Others make us wonder how they’ve survived as long as they have (such as unhatched chicken eggs and jellied calves’ feet).
As expected, many Jewish (and now universal) favourites like matzo balls, pickles, cheesecake, blintzes, and chopped liver make the list. The recipes are global and represent all contingencies of the Jewish experience.
Contributors include Ruth Reichl, Éric Ripert, Joan Nathan, Michael Solomonov, Dan Barber, Gail Simmons, Yotam Ottolenghi, Tom Colicchio, Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, Maira Kalman, Action Bronson, Daphne Merkin, Shalom Auslander, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, and Phil Rosenthal, among many others.
Presented in a gifty package, The 100 Most Jewish Foods is the perfect book to dip into, quote from, cook from, and launch a spirited debate.
By Daphne Merkin
This silky-smooth baked confection, creaminess masquerading as a cake, sets my salivary glands dripping. Best served on Shabbos morning as padding for the several hours of shul-going ahead, or at a Shavuot dinner, cheesecake is a shout-out to the magnificence of all things light and sweet: cream cheese, eggs, sugar.
For people raised on Jewish cuisine, the unalloyed milchigness of cheesecake comes as something of a relief, a counterpoint to the dominant melody of cholent and brisket. If it isn’t a quintessentially Jewish dessert, it should be legislated as one—proof that sometimes simplicity wins out, even for a people who have God on the brain.
Cheesecake with Cherries
Makes one 9-inch (23-centimeter) cheesecake; serves 12
For the Crust
4 tablespoons (½ stick/60 grams) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing
1¾ cups (215 grams) graham cracker crumbs (from 14 graham crackers)
¼ cup (50 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
For the Cheesecake
3½ (8-ounce/225-gram) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1¼ cups (250 grams) sugar
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1¼ cups (300 milliliters) sour cream
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Boiling water, as needed
For the Cherry Topping
1 (10-ounce/284-gram) package frozen pitted sour cherries or sweet cherries
½ cup (100 grams) sugar (if using sweet cherries, reduce to ¼ cup/50 grams)
2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon (8 grams) cornstarch
3 tablespoons (45 milliliters) water
Make the crust: Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F (177ºC). Grease a 9-inch (23-centimeter) springform pan with butter. Wrap the bottom of the pan with enough aluminum foil to protect the cake from the water bath.
Stir together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and salt in a large bowl until combined. Pour in the melted butter and stir until all the dry ingredients are uniformly moist and the mixture resembles wet sand. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and, using your fingers, pat it into an even layer over the bottom of the pan.
Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake until the crust is lightly brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer the springform pan to a wire rack. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F (163ºC).
Make the cheesecake: In the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on medium speed for about 4 minutes, until soft and creamy. With the mixer running, add the sugar and salt and beat for 4 minutes more, until the cheese is light. Beat in the vanilla, then add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the sour cream and lemon zest. Beat until combined.
Place the springform pan in a roasting pan large enough to hold the pan with some space around it. Give the cheesecake batter a few stirs to make sure that the bottom doesn’t have any unmixed bits, then scrape the batter into the springform pan over the crust. The batter should reach the rim of the pan. Place the roasting pan in the oven and pour enough boiling water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.
Bake the cheesecake for 1½ hours, until the top is brown and maybe cracked. Turn off the oven and open the oven door just a smidge (you can keep it ajar with the handle of a wooden spoon). Let the cheesecake sit in the oven for 1 hour more.
Carefully pull the roasting pan out of the oven and lift the springform pan out and onto a rack. Carefully remove the foil from around the springform pan. Let the cheesecake cool in the pan.
When the cake is cool, cover the top loosely and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to overnight (overnight is better, as it allows the flavors to settle).
Make the topping: Combine the cherries, sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring frequently, until the cherries are soft and the sauce has thickened, 8 to 10 minutes.
Remove from the heat, transfer to a jar, cover, and let cool completely before serving.
When ready to serve, unmold the cheesecake by carefully unclasping the sides of the springform pan. If the cheesecake is sticking to the sides, run an offset spatula between the pan and the cheesecake to loosen it. Transfer the cheesecake to a serving platter, top with the cherries, and serve immediately.
Note: This recipe was developed for the book and is not Daphne Merkin’s personal recipe. Excerpted from The 100 Most Jewish Foods by Alana Newhouse (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2019.