White House Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses bridges the gap between Republicans and Democrats with Mamie Eisenhower's Cheesecake With a Chocolate Crust
A recipe that's a nod to both political parties in the US seems the ideal way to mark Election Day 2010, when the American electorate seems more split and contentious than it has been in decades. That's exactly what President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama's Executive Pastry Chef, Bill Yosses, has created with his revamp of a cheesecake created by Republican First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, wife of President Dwight D. "Ike" Eisenhower.
Yosses is so fond of the recipe that he's included it in his cookbook "The Perfect Finish," published in June. It's a sweet historic bridge between the 34th presidency and the 44th, and sugary proof that there are some things everyone can agree on, no matter what their political party.
"Mamie Eisenhower published a lot of recipes during Ike's presidency, including Million-Dollar Fudge, her best seller, and this one, which I think is even better," Yosses writes to introduce the recipe. (Above: Yosses during the Fall Harvest of Mrs. Obama's Kitchen Garden)
Yosses is the first White House chef to publish a "non-White House" cookbook during a presidential administration, and "The Perfect Finish" is a stunning compendium, with recipes culled from his long career as one of the most notable pastry chefs in America. President Eisenhower served two terms in office, 1953-1961, and the cheesecake is the only historic White House recipe included in Yosses' book, which has many challenging and cutting-edge recipes. Yet there are plenty of projects that are perfect for home bakers, even those with little experience.
Mamie Eisenhower's cheesecake recipe is one of those, and very easy to make. It's about as tasty a cheesecake as anyone is likely to find; Yosses notes that if done right, the cheesecake will be "lush, velvety, and slightly tangy." President Obama has nicknamed Yosses "The Crustmaster" for his dazzling feats of showmanship with that most basic element of pastry, and his new addition to the Eisenhower cheesecake magic is the chocolate crust.
Yosses' secrets for bipartisan perfection are simple: The cheesecake must not be cooked to rapidly or for too long, Yosses advises, and he adds that bakers should be sure to beat the cream cheese and sugar together until completely smooth before adding the other ingredients. Otherwise, disastrous lumps will occur.
"When gently shaken, the whole cake should undulate in a mass (like a Jell-O mold), which indicates that the eggs have set with the liquids and cream cheese. Baked to this point and no further, the cake will be smooth and creamy once cooled," Yosses writes. A springform pan is required for the recipe.
*1 package (9 ounces) Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafer cookies
*4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted (2 ounces, 57 grams)
*Unsalted butter, for the pan
*2 packages full-fat cream cheese (16 ounces, 454 grams) at room temperature
*1/2 cup sugar
*3 large eggs (5.1 ounces, 145 grams at room temperature)
*1 cup sour cream (8.5 ounces, 242 grams)
*Freshly grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
For the Crust
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 275 F. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the cookies to fine crumbs (you should have about 1 1/2 cups).
2. Add the melted butter, and pulse to combine. Grease the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan with butter and sprinkle the cookie crumbs inside. Shake the cake pan to distribute them evenly on the bottom, then use a fork to press them down evenly. Bake for 10 minutes.
For the Cheesecake
1. Raise the oven temperature to 300 F. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and sugar at medium speed until completely smooth, about 15 minutes. Stop the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle with a spatula. Beat in the eggs one at a time until completely incorporated, scraping down the bowl and paddle before adding each egg.
2. Add the sour cream, lemon zest, and lemon juice and continue to beat until the mixture is uniformly smooth. Pour the batter over the cookie crumb crust and place on the center rack.
Bake until the cake is just set, yet still wobbly in the center and will move slightly, in one piece, when the pan is gently shaken, about 60 minutes.
3. Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool, then refrigerate until completely chilled before serving, about 2 hours.
4. To serve, run a thin knife or offset spatula around the sides of the pan, then release the sides, letting the cake remain on the pan's base. To slice the cake neatly, use a thin-bladed knife, and wipe it with a damp cloth in between cuts.
Makes 1 (10-inch) cake to serve 8 to 10
President Eisenhower and Mrs. Eisenhower were what today would be called "foodies," with a big affection for "homey" cooking that represented their collective backgrounds as Texans/Iowans/Kansans. (Above: The President and First Lady at the White House in 1958)
During his time in office, President Eisenhower's food preferences were, of course, the subject of national attention, and recipes he liked (such as Vegetable Beef Stew, Ox Tail Soup) were widely published in newspapers and magazines, whether created by Mrs. Eisenhower or others. These were eventually collected into a spiral-bound book that the White House sent out to all who requested it.
Mrs. Eisenhower was born in Iowa and raised there and in Texas, the daughter of a fellow who made a fortune in the meatpacking business. She became an Army wife at 19, marrying the Texas-born Ike when he was 25, and following him from post to post; he began his military career immediately after high school in Kansas, and was a five-star general in the US Army and the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces during World War II before becoming president. Yosses' affection for Mrs. Eisenhower's cheesecake seems to have nothing to do with the devotion shown by Mrs. Obama to military family issues, particularly the challenges facing military wives, but it's a very interesting coincidence.
*Recipe from The Perfect Finish: Special Desserts for Every Occasion by Bill Yosses with Melissa Clark. W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Available at bookstores everywhere.
*Yosses photo by EGK/ObamaFoodorama.com; cheesecake photo by Marcus Nillsen for The Perfect Finish. Eisenhower photo from the collection at the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kansas.