| Musings |

Cheesecake Confessions

I had to master the cheesecake— my honor as a normal Jewish woman depended on it

I don’t make cheesecake.

And I’m gonna blame my mother a little bit for this one. She didn’t make cheesecake when I was growing up. I stress when I was growing up because she used to make cheesecake — and a lot of other patchkehs too — but by the time I came around, she was done doing things she didn’t like to do, and she doesn’t like cheesecake (or knaidlach), so she didn’t make them. For the record, I love cheesecake but don’t eat it that often cuz, calories.

Every year we’d learn in school about cheesecake and flowers as if it were Torah MiSinai, and there was nary a slice to be found in my house. The closest we ever got to cheesecake was cheese snacks on Pesach. Do they still make them? I loved that stuff.

Then I got married, and two things happened:

My husband believes in cheesecake and flowers.

The magazines that weren’t around when I was growing up were making headway into Jewish life and culture and I learned a new word: Tablescape.

Cue the inadequacy. And so started my cheesecake odyssey.

I had to master cheesecake; my honor as a wife and “normal” Jewish woman depended on it. Considering I couldn’t ask my mother for a recipe, I got my mother-in-law’s that my husband insisted was “the best.”

You know the shanah rishonah eager-pleasing. I followed that recipe like it was my Bible and salvation. It had a proper dough and a filling that called for separating the eggs. I whipped and scraped and smoothed out tops. Then I waited for my husband to taste it, and let me know that my cheesecake was at least as good, if not better, than his mother’s.

I waited. And waited.

On the last day of Shavuos, when he still hadn’t tasted it, I threw it out. And that’s how I lost the first knife in my milchig set (it was with the cheesecake). Turns out my husband doesn’t like cheesecake, but how could there not be cheesecake in the house on Shavuos?

Every year after that I tried making cheesecake. But I was still me, so there are always a few caveats.

We were on a kollel budget, there was no way I was gonna go all out on cheesecake toppings (nougat cream, dulce de leche, klicks, shaved chocolate, hair from a unicorn’s tail). The cake itself, that no one but me was eating — my kids were late in seeing the light — cost enough.

I didn’t want to risk a flop on new recipes because of (a).

This all added up to an earnest but never full-blown attempt at cheesecakes.

I have recipes from old childhood neighbors, a pareve one with cherry pie filling on top from my sister’s sister-in-law. (So meh. There should be a law against pretending something pareve is “just like dairy.”) I made one from a particular cookbook for many years mostly because the recipe made three cheesecakes; I’d keep one for myself and give away the other two to seem kind and benevolent. But really, really, that cheesecake was only okay. Nothing to write home about. And I want to write home.

It was a thorn in my side. My inadequacy ran deep, especially as year after year the cheesecakes featured in the tablescapes got more elaborate, while the recipes alongside were captioned “no-fail.” What kind of frum woman was I?

Then one day in 2020, I saw an ad that changed my life. It was from Patis Bakery, and they were selling mini cheesecake samplers for Shavuos.

“The cost of four is basically the same price as making it myself, and it’ll taste better,” I proactively defended my desire to my husband.

“Go for it,” he said. He needed no convincing. It was me who had to tell myself it was okay to stop trying my hand at mediocre cheesecakes and eat some that I’d enjoy. Also, they’d be pretty. Very pretty.

I ordered a wild blueberry preserve, mocha crunch, salted caramel, and summer strawberry. The total was $16. They were as good as they sound.

“I’m never making another cheesecake,” I told myself and my husband.

Again, he said, “Sounds good,” because again, he doesn’t eat cheesecake or even dairy really. We don’t even do a milchig seudah. “It’s not simchas Yom Tov,” he says. (He’s very emphatic about that.)

Last year I was feeling cheap. Why spend $16 at a French bakery when you can spend $9.99 on a nine-inch Gevinni on sale on my grocery store shelf, no special trip required?

I bought it. I did not decorate it. It was perfect: super creamy, not too light, not too heavy, the price was right. I got to have my cake and eat it too.

I can now comfortably say I will never make cheesecake again (no husband consultation needed).

Part of me wants to lament my lost years of cheesecake attempts. To offer my hard-earned wisdom to my younger self (yes, the most important lesson I’d time- machine myself is to buy cheesecake — not Apple or Amazon).

Thing is, though, we grow up into ourselves. Had I bought cheesecake from day one I would have forever felt inadequate.  I had to fumble around and make a mess before I could own up and enjoy the fact that I’m a cheesecake buyer and not maker.

I was at the Family Table event the other night and cheesecake decorating was part of the program. I had fun squeezing caramel in squiggles onto the commercial cheesecake, then taking a spoon to smooth it out, because it was ugly. There were no pangs of less than even as I watched those next to me make picture-worthy designs. I would’ve eaten the cake right then and there, but I told my kids I’d bring it home.

I got a mug a few Chanukahs ago that reads “OMG, My Mom Was Right.”

My mother stopped doing things she didn’t like to do. And now so do I. I use that mug every day; it never felt truer.

Just don’t tell my mother I said that.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 795)

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