When it comes to the age-old question of cooking versus baking, I much prefer the flexibility of cooking. It allows me to use a recipe as a guideline and still be confident that the dish will turn out great. Baking is too exact—just one substitution could compromise hours of careful work. And throw the limitations of Passover in there—no flour and other common baking ingredients—and I’m flat-out scared of Passover baking.
So when my cousin asked me to bring dessert to the Passover seder this year (which we held on Sunday so everyone could attend), I enthusiastically agreed, but was, at the same time, recounting in my head all of the subpar Passover desserts I’d had over the years. I may not be a trained, confident baker, but I’m a naturally competitive person, so I thought of this as a challenge. I wanted to bring something that would make everyone at the table want to leave room for dessert.
I settled on cheesecake. Not the most adventurous dessert, but one of my favorites and something I’ve had success with in the past. I wasn’t about to serve a crust-less cheesecake (that’s the best part!), so I made one inspired by this recipe, which relies on almonds and matzo cake meal to make it kosher for Passover. I was nervous that it wouldn’t be as well-loved as the traditional graham cracker or cookie crust, but as evidenced by the empty pan and pleased looks, no one seemed to mind.
Kosher for Passover Lemon Cheesecake
Makes 8 to 16 slices
¾ cup sliced blanched almonds, toasted and cooled
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup matzo cake meal
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 (8-ounce) blocks cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1 pint sour cream
1 lemon, zested, plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. FOR CRUST: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pulse almonds, sugar, matzo cake meal, and salt in food processor until finely ground, about 8 pulses. Transfer to a bowl and stir in butter until combined well. Transfer to 8-inch springform pan and press onto bottom and 1 inch up side. Bake until crust is firm, about 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack and let cool completely. Meanwhile, turn oven down to 300 degrees.
2. FOR FILLING: In bowl of electric stand mixer, beat cream cheese on low speed for 1 minute until smooth and free of any lumps. Add eggs, one at a time, and continue to beat slowly until combined. Gradually add sugar and beat until creamy, 1 to 2 minutes.
3. Add sour cream, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla. Beat until combined but not over-beaten, periodically scraping down sides of bowl and beaters. Pour filling into cooled, crust-lined pan and smooth top with spatula.
4. FOR WATER BATH: Set prepared cheesecake pan on large piece of aluminum foil and fold up sides around it. Place the cake pan in a large roasting pan. Pour boiling water into roasting pan until water is about halfway up sides of cheesecake pan.
5. TO BAKE: Bake until filling around edges of pan is set but center is still wobbly, about 45 to 60 minutes. (It will firm up after chilling, so be careful not to overcook.) Let cool in pan for 30 minutes. Chill in refrigerator, loosely covered, for at least 4 hours.
6. TO SERVE: When ready to serve, loosen cheesecake from sides of pan by running a thin metal spatula around inside rim. Unmold and transfer to cake plate. Slice cheesecake with thin, non-serrated knife that has been dipped in hot water. Wipe dry after each cut.