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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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cheesecake not a cake in the ordinary sense, is really a kind of tart. Most cheesecakes have a pastry shell topped with sweetened cheese, often curd cheese, stabilized to avoid curdling during baking by combining it with egg, or flour or some other cereal, or both.

The concept of cheesecake is both ancient and widespread. There is a vague description of what appears to be a Roman cheesecake in Cato’s De Re Rustica of the 2nd century bc. An entry in the account books of the Countess of Leicester in 1265 is for ‘cheese for tarts’, but the earliest actual recipe for a cheesecake is found in the Forme of Cury (14th century). Hannah Wolley’s Queenlike Closet (1664) gives a cheesecake recipe that sounds quite modern. It includes currants and is flavoured with sack, rosewater, and spices. Various continental European recipes use local curd cheeses. quark is widely used in sweet tarts in C. Europe. It is clear from 18th-century English receipts that not all cheesecakes contained curds or cheese. Many are thick custards of cream and eggs, flavoured with lemon or citron peel.