The Cheesecake Club was borne not out of the obvious intention of dissecting, picking on and callously analyzing the said dish, spoon by spoon till all there’s left, if any, is a microscopic graham crumb. By the way, that method is so Book Club, which is the last model I would look up to from club-governing advice. Instead, the Cheesecake Club was formed out of the urgency to create a temporary respite and shelter from the malevolent world by means of a gastronomic tête-à-tête with close peers. In short, it became an excuse to eat and meet old friends.
The natural offshoot was of course to reach heights that could sidestep a cheesecake connoisseur. Equipped with this newfound discriminatory palate, even outside the club’s discussion circle, I have found myself choosing, or rather craving, this wonderful creation on a regular basis. Cheesecake certainly has this enigmatic pull on the forlorn, and for those harboring the spirit of gloom, this dessert offers the only ray of sunshine, a spark of hope—I suppose you get the picture, and no, I do not mean unearthing the inner poet. This tribute could perhaps go on epically so as abruptly as this club started, I shall end this before it moves on to an elegy. A cheesecake review, in case you’re expecting one, is also not in queue since I fear our club’s lack of adventure outside the Ayala stretch will only leave readers dawdling with such a localized, biased and slightly boring list. Manila’s Top 10 Cheesecakes are adequately showcased in http://www.spot.ph/eatdrink/48031/top-10-cheesecake-in-manila with the Upper East Sider in mind so if you’re a Brooklyn bloke, your wallet’s not making the cut in this list, except for Starbucks cheesecakes made especially for the penny pincher.
Cheesecake is typically envisioned as the graham crusted pie with the creamy, off-white, cheese-infused core. New York Cheesecake is commonly regarded to be the poster boy for the generic (or is it basic) cheesecake, but there’s more to the cheesecake than the assortment of fruity and fab toppings. In fact what’s distinct about New York cheesecake is its heavy usage of cream, making it perhaps the richer and fluffier variety. Localized cheesecakes—and yes, the diversity can make you really hungry—are so abundant and unique in forms, reading them all in Wikipedia can be quite the feast. (Look up “Cheesecake” in en.wikipedia.org, where I sourced most of my cheesecake facts.)
As has been started, the cheesecake center is never limited and singularly regarded. Calling the middle batter Plain Jane screams of ignorance and inconsideration. Simple is not something you’d call a cheesecake, and every batter is luxuriously made and personalized to suit varying palates. Even down to the cheeses used, the assortment is extraordinary, remarkable and definitely not limited to the grocery variety (parmesan anyone?). The trait of the cheesecake is not limited to just being “creamy and firm.” There are preferences to the dry and crusty kind (made possible by the cheese selection), while some tend to blend in a childhood favorite Jell-O to create a glutinous, stable and jam-packed dessert with the perennial wiggle.
With the prevailing clamor for provisions for the vegetarian, vegan and everything else in between, soy-based cheesecake has become the next-big-thing in the baked goods category. While it make take some time for this delightful, dairy-free blend to reach Philippine shores, I cross my fingers and fervently hope with one eye open that Starbucks will soon launch the All-Soy theme this coming rainy season. Having fully played the Adzuki craze which by far is less mainstream and too Japa-niche for the local taste buds, Starbucks or any other local café might as well bring in Soy, which for us goes by much more recognizable names: soya, taho, tofu and tokwa. Collecting pet names for soy is enough reason to call it a regular Pinoy delicacy.
Moving to the outside layer (oh I’m sorry, the crust), which by now must be an obvious fact is not to be limited to graham crackers solely, is where another kind of fun starts. Graham cracker-based crusts are classic, but introducing more or different ingredients in the mixture can make all the differences among a blueberry cheesecake, a NY Waterbathed Cheesecake with Flaxseed/Pecan Crust and a Nutella Oreo Cheesecake. Now which would you prefer? Oh wait, on a diet? No reason to forego the cheesecake; simply opt for crust-less instead. The crust can include anything but graham crackers: cookies, biscuits, digestive crackers, seeds and nuts, flaxseed, sesame seed, nut flour, whole grain, muesli, oatmeal, chocolate chips and morsels, coconut or even raisins for your grandma’s birthday, while you’re at it. Going overboard with the crust cannot be treated with disdain because it can be call for resourcefulness, economy, personalization, and let’s not forget, innovation. Well, while we’re talking about going overboard, why not jump over the cliff of non conformity as well: ditch the well shaped and grainy crust and reach for the brownies, chocolate cake or ice cream from your nearest grocery or better yet, the fridge. Ah yes, whoever calls cheesecake a boring piece of dairy sludge ought to be thrown in a boiling mud pool. Did anyone say Mudpie? Indeed, even mudpie would make a great flavor and potential base for cheesecake.
Many consider the crust as the most boring part of the cheesecake, to which I would have to agree 90% of the time, as the bakers/sellers tend to stick to the classic mix and deny any form of originality for fear of deviating from grandma’s beloved recipe and losing all beneficiary rights to her kitchen knick knacks. Unfortunately for the narrow minded, during grandma’s prime, only graham crackers were present and diabetics had no voice and world-turning demands on their sugar requirements—either you eat or you don’t, live or die—the choices really were much simpler. Modern day though considers so many consumer classifications (the diabetics, vegetarians, lactose intolerant and have you met the adult picky eaters and orthorexics? They’re coming out of the pantry next.) that food choices have copiously flooded our stores and have given rise to novel yet curiously neat products like flaxseed, splenda, and gluten free cookies that have found their way into our pie crusts. The result is an infinite and deliriously merry mix of flavors, shapes and textures that can be tweaked and customized to complement even the quirkiest cheesecake flavor. Has anyone tried Chai Tea Latte Cheesecake or Chocolate Taro with Adzuki Crust?
Last but not the least comes the topping, another sacrificial component to those who prefer the au natural style akin to the New York Cheesecake, sometimes repositioned—but certainly not demoted—as a sweet or saucy siding. Oftentimes the name of the cheesecake and overall pastry theme is dictated by the mind-blowing and perky topping—blueberry, oreo, pumpkin, key lime, chocolate chip, apple caramel, vanilla cream. The cheesecake proper may become the secondary choice as the additional flavored portion, to either emphasize the theme (as is the case of the Tiramisu Cheesecake with ladyfingers and coffee sprinkled all over the cheesecake or Oreo Loco
which is as obvious as it can get) or to create the super cheesecake combos that offer at least 2 flavors enough to compete with ice cream (Who hasn’t been tempted by cherry truffle cheesecake or Oreo hazelnut or triple chocolate dream?) The temptation created by these wicked concoctions can easily get us to blindly chuck that weighing scale outside the window—evil indeed—but the bliss of finding that dreamy cheesecake wrapped in a perfectly sweet, lightly creamy and heavenly theme is enough reason to celebrate the triumphs of God’s wonderful creation, the cheesecake.