When I posted this cheesecake on my personal Facebook page, it created a much bigger stir than I anticipated! Yes, I know how uniquely wonderful Polish-style cheesecake (sernik) is. But I’m from that culture, so I know of it first hand. Most people haven’t had experience with it, unless they are of a Polish background.
So I’m not sure exactly what excited my Facebook friends. The photo perhaps? Or maybe because, as I’m posting this recipe, we are in the midst of a pandemic, and everyone is cooking and baking much more often than in the past. Regardless of the reason, I’m glad about the excitement and interest, I’m here to serve, and I’m happy to share the joy of this Polish delight with you!
And now for something completely different
If you are about to give Polish-style cheesecake a try, I have to warn you — it’s nothing like American-style cheesecake. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, in my opinion, because everything that makes this cheesecake so different is also what makes it so wonderful.
First, the recipe doesn’t call for cream cheese, the traditional filling for American-style cheesecake. Instead, you have to use a dry “farmer’s” cheese (known in Polish as twaróg). This is the same cheese that you find in pierogi that’s filled with cheese. It’s also the cheese that used on top of a very popular Polish bread, consumed mainly at Easter, called kołacz — a slightly sweet bread with a dollop of sweet cheese in the center of the round loaf. And, it’s the same cheese that’s used for cheese kolaczki (Polish cookies made with various fillings, including prune, raspberry, and apricot).
Obviously, Poles like cooking and baking with this cheese, and I don’t blame them. It’s delicious. I could eat it right out of the carton, unsweetened. To me, it has a slightly lemony taste to it— a sweet, “bright” flavor — all on its own, even before adding any sugar or flavoring.
Some people use dry cottage cheese curds. To me, that’s really not quite the same as farmer’s cheese. Neither is ricotta. If you absolutely can’t find true farmer’s cheese, you can substitute the dry curds or the ricotta for it, and it’ll be close enough — I suppose. But don’t give up the search too easily. You can actually get it via Amazon by CLICKING HERE, and if you have a Polish deli in your area, chances are good that they will carry twaróg.
Next, this recipe backs away yet again from the typical American cheesecake by introducing flour, cornstarch, and baking powder into the cheese filling. This cheesecake, while dense, still has a “lightness” to it that’s almost cake-like. That’s achieved, in part, by the addition of the flour, cornstarch,and baking powder.
The light texture of the cheesecake is also thanks to egg whites, which are whipped up and then folded into the cheese mixture. The result is a filling that’s somewhat fluffy — almost sponge-like (but not quite as much as, say, sponge cake) — and probably unlike anything you’ve ever experienced (which makes the filling’s texture so hard to describe)!
Not quick nor easy — but so worth the time and energy
Oh, and that reminds me — I have to caution you about one more thing. While the theme of my blog revolves around a creating a life at home full of things that are “quick and easy” — and my recipes typically follow that theme — this recipe is neither quick nor easy. It’s complex, and it’s time consuming. I’ve had a bad back since I was a teenager, and wouldn’t you know it, halfway through this recipe, my lower back was starting to ache from standing for so long. But (at the time that I’m writing this article) I’m 56, and I have a horrible skeleton system, so maybe that’s just me, and you’ll fare much better.
So when you are about to create this cheesecake, be sure to have some extra energy and some time carved out. I’d say to reserve at least a half hour — perhaps even up to a full hour — that you can devote to prepping the filling and crust. And then, plan on another hour for baking the cake. But trust me — the time and energy you put into this dessert will be well worth the results.
I put this cheesecake through my home “litmus test” — my two kids, both of whom can be rather picky when it comes to food. My daughter, in particular, has a strong liking for all things Mexican — and little else. She’s not big on anything overly sweet, and yet, she does like sweet things, occasionally. Both of my kids liked this cheesecake — especially the crust!
A few tips before you start
I went for years as my family’s cook and baker without a food processor. I finally received one as a Christmas gift a few years ago. I admittedly don’t break it out much, but this was one of the times in which I did, and I found it to be extremely helpful in making the crust of this cheesecake. If you are curious about the model I have, CLICK HERE to check it out.
Just like American cheesecakes, this cake is best made with a springboard pan. If you don’t have one, you can CLICK HERE to buy one. (The recipe calls for a 10-inch pan. I actually get away with using a 9-inch pan.)
Because this recipe is complex, it call for a number of steps — and a number of large mixing bowls. You’ll need at least three large bowls to pull off this recipe successfully. I like ones that have a “spout” so that you can easily pour out batters and fillings. CLICK HERE to see ones similar to what I use (but even better, because these have handles).
Here is what you’ll need
You are going to need to have the following on hand to make this recipe (see the ingredient list in the recipe for specific quantities needed):
Food processor (helpful and recommended, but you could do this the old-fashioned way with a wooden spoon and a bowl, too)
Cheesecloth — to remove any extra liquid from the farmer’s cheese
Mixer — You might find a hand mixer easier to use for this recipe than a stand mixer, but of course, that’s up to you.
Shortbread cookies — I specifically and strongly recommend Keebler Classic Shortbread Sandies® .
Farmer’s cheese (twaróg) — I used the Lifeway brand.
Get It Down Pat's Uniquely Scrumptious Polish-Style Cheesecake
- Food processor
- 1 ½ 11.2 oz packages shortbread cookies (specifically Keebler Classic Shortbread Sandies®, if you can get them) Enjoy one of the extra cookies with a cup of coffee while you wait for the cheesecake to bake!
- 2 tbsp salted butter melted
- 2 pounds dry farmers cheese (twaróg) reduce any excess liquid via a cheese cloth; split into two 1-pound batches
- 2 sticks salted butter softened at room temperature
- 2 cups confectioners' sugar divided into two separate cups
- 8 large eggs separated
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour heaping
- 1 tbsp cornstarch heaping
- 1 tbsp baking powder level
- 1 tsp vanilla a little extra won't hurt (I'm always generous when adding vanilla.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
- Pulverize the cookies into crumbs, ideally using a food processor. If you want to do this the old-fashioned way, you can put the cookies into a plastic bag and pound them with the side of a meat tenderizer to crush them into crumbs.
- While the food processor runs, pour the melted butter through the food chute until the crumbs begin to clump together. If you aren't using a food processor, simply incorporate the melted butter using a wooden spoon — or you can use a hand mixer as well.
- Press the crumbs into the bottom of an ungreased 9-inch-by-13-inch rectangular pan or a 10-inch springform pan (recommended) to form a crust.
- Place the crust in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.
- In a large bowl, cream together butter and 1 cup of the confectioners' sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Then add 1 pound of the cheese and mix thoroughly.
- In another large bowl, combine the egg yolks with the remaining cup of confectioners' sugar. Add remaining pound of cheese until well blended.
- Combine the butter/cheese mixture to egg-yolk/cheese mixture and beat until smooth.
- Into the cheese mixture, add the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and vanilla. Mix until all of the ingredients are well incorporated.
- In yet another large bowl, beat the egg whites until medium-stiff peaks form. Fold the beaten egg whites into cheese mixture, preserving as much volume as possible.
- Remove the pan with the prepared crust from the refrigerator. Fill the pan with the cheese mixture.
- Bake 50-60 minutes (I baked mine for 55 minutes) or until the top is golden brown and puffy, and the center is slightly jiggly.
- Cool completely on a wire rack (the inside will continue to "set"), then refrigerate until ready to serve.
- You can serve cheesecake as is, or with some fresh fruit (such as strawberries) and/or some whipped cream!
- The filling will be voluminous and will fill the pan nearly to the top. You can put the pan onto of a cookie sheet, if you are worried about the filling flowing over while it bakes. My filling came to about a centimeter or two under the top lip of the springboard pan before I put it in the oven, and while it did inflate a little (due to the baking powder), much like a souffle, it did not spill over at all.
- You could eat this cheesecake warm, but the inside, if not yet set, tends to taste a little bit "eggy." So for the best taste, let it set and then refrigerate it before serving.
- Optional: Polish bakers often add bits of fresh or dried fruit (such as golden raisins, cherries, or apricots) to the cheese filling before adding it to the crust. I've always wondered how some mini chocolate chips might taste! But I make mine without additions to the filling — because I think it's wonderful just as it is!