For Easter in a Polish home, you will likely find cheesecake adorning the dessert table. This is true for Christmas and special occasions as well. The cheese used in Polish cheesecake is farmer’s cheese (pot cheese). In Poland, food markets offer a nice selection of farmer’s cheeses, and there is one designed specifically for Polish cheesecake. Unfortunately, farmer’s cheese is hard to come by in the United States, unless you have access to a Polish deli. Friendship Dairies sells farmer’s cheese in some American supermarkets. Their product works well for Polish cheesecake, even though they add some salt to the cheese. If you are the adventurous type, make farmer’s cheese yourself at home. Try out my husband’s recipe here: homemade farmer’s cheese.
The type of Polish cheesecake covered in this post is a relatively straightforward Polish cheesecake, particularly because it has no crust and no required special topping other than a dusting of confectioner’s sugar. It is called, sernik wiedeński (“Viennese Cheesecake”). For a Polish Easter, this cheesecake is a must! Sernik wiedeński can be plain or studded with raisins. You can serve it with berries to dress it up further. It’s less heavy and filling than a Philadelphia cream cheese-based New York-style cheesecake, but it’s not as smooth or buttery in texture. You can’t really substitute cream cheese for farmer’s cheese in order to make sernik wiedeński. However, you can substitute a small portion of farmer’s cheese with Philadelphia cream cheese if would like a more buttery texture.
Below is the recipe. If you’d like to see step-by-step instructions with photos, meet me after the recipe.
First off, preheat oven to 350°F/180°C and prepare a 9 1/2-inch or 10-inch (24 or 25 cm) springform pan by buttering the bottom and sides. Then you should prepare the cheese. This time around, I used homemade farmer’s cheese (1.7 pounds) and an 8 ounce brick of Philadelphia-style cream cheese. However, a traditional Polish cheesecake uses 100% farmer’s cheese (1 kg).
I processed the cheeses in a food processor for about a minute.
The result was a smooth-textured, spreadable cheese.
For the next step, 8 large eggs are required.
Separate the yolks from the whites.
Later, the whites will be whipped and folded into the cheese mixture.
Zest and juice one lemon.
In the photo below, my daughter is having a lovely time zesting the lemon. I already had the juice of one lemon from a previous baking escapade, so I got lucky (or unlucky because I ended up having a zestless lemon on my hands with no immediate baking project planned).
Another preliminary step is to toss the raisins (and candied orange peel if using) in some flour. Measure out 1 rounded cup raisins (or 1/2 cup raisins and 1/2 cup candied orange peel).
For this particular cheesecake, I experimented with using 1 cup of raisins and an additional 1/2 cup of candied orange peel for a total of 1 1/2 cups dried fruit. The cheesecake turned out well with the extra candied orange peel, so don’t worry if you throw in a little extra dried fruit.
Mix the fruits together along with a couple tablespoons of flour. This step will help prevent the fruit from sinking to the bottom of the cheesecake while baking.
At this point, the ingredients for the cheese filling are ready to be put together: 10 tablespoons butter, 1 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, lemon zest, lemon juice, 1 teaspoon baking powder, cheese, and raisins/candied orange peel.
Using an electric mixer, cream 10 tablespoons butter with one cup sugar until light.
Add the 8 egg yolks, one at a time until all are incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl one or two times before going on to the next step. Stop the mixer.
Add in the cheese and . . .
the flour, baking powder, vanilla extract, lemon zest, and lemon juice. By the way, you can substitute a packet of Polish semi-instant, unsweetened vanilla pudding for the flour. Use of vanilla pudding (or “cream” flavored pudding) in cheesecakes seems to be a common practice in Poland, so much so that you can find it as an ingredient in many modern Polish cookbooks. I wouldn’t recommend using American instant pudding as a substitute, though you can if you want to. I did this once, and the cheesecake still worked. The problem with American instant pudding is all the chemicals added to the powder. You’ll find the cheesecake will have a slight chemical aftertaste.
Mix all the ingredients together on low speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl a couple of times, until completely combined and smooth.
The next step is to whip egg whites in a clean bowl using a wire whisk.
Whip until stiff peaks form, but don’t overbeat or the egg whites will be too dry.
Fold the whipped egg whites into the cheese mixture. First, fold in 1/3 of the egg whites to lighten the cheese mixture. Then fold in the rest of the egg whites, gently but thoroughly. Make sure pockets of egg whites do not remain. This step takes a few minutes. However, be careful not to overmix or you’ll deflate the egg whites.
Carefully fold in the raisins (and candied orange peel if using).
Pour the cheese mixture into the prepared springform pan and smooth the top with a small offset spatula to make sure the top is level.
Bake about 60-75 minutes. At 45 minutes into baking, if the top edge is getting too dark, which it probably will, loosely place aluminum foil over the top to prevent the cheesecake from getting too dark.
When done, the cheesecake should be golden brown across the center, the cheesecake should still jiggle a little bit in the center when the pan is lightly shaken, and a knife inserted into the center of the cake should come out with only a little bit of cheese filling on it. Some bakers recommend turning off the oven and keeping the cheesecake in the turned-off oven with the door left ajar until the oven returns to room temperature. This helps prevent the center of the cheesecake from cracking and sinking in the middle. I haven’t tried this method, so I can’t tell you if it works. I get too antsy waiting for the cheesecake, and I also worry that the cheesecake will get too dry if it’s left so long in the oven. But I’m open to trying this technique the next time I make cheesecake.
For the cheesecake in the photo below, I removed the cheesecake from the oven immediately and let it come to room temperature outside the oven. It did crack and sink a bit, but none of us at home minded this look.
The cheesecake in the photo below was baked in a 10-inch (25 cm) springform pan, so it is not as high as the 9-inch cheesecake pictured in the photo above. It didn’t crack, but it did sink somewhat. It’s also over-brown on top and too shriveled looking!! Nevertheless, the cheesecake was delicious.
Once the cheesecake comes to room temperature, remove the sides of the springform pan and place the cheesecake in the refrigerator (covered) for a couple of hours or overnight. Before serving, dust with confectioner’s sugar, then cut into slices and serve. What I like a lot about this cheesecake is that it is studded with raisins and candied orange peel. It adds texture and flavor to the cake.
Below is a close up of a slice that has been adorned with only confectioner’s sugar and berries. [It was promptly eaten by the photographer after the photo shoot.]