Arthur Schwartz's New York City Food: An Opinionated History and More Than 100 Legendary Recipes, by Arthur Schwartz (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2004)

2004_12_food_juniorscheesecake.JPGGothamist sends our parents a Junior's cheesecake every year for Christmas. It's to the point that they're hooked, and we can't get them anything else. We imagine getting the frantic call: "What did we do? Where's the cheesecake???!!!" So every year, we go online and order a cheesecake. (This year they got the "Chocolate Mountain", chocolate cheesecake topped with chocolate mousse and squares of devils' food cake.)

2004_12_food_schwartzbook.JPG If you'd like to make your own Junior's cheesecake this Christmas, you can check out either the Junior's cookbook, Welcome to Junior's!, or the recently-released Arthur Schwartz's New York City Food. Schwartz, the longtime executive food editor and critic of the New York Daily News, and soon to be the host of "Arthur Schwartz, the Food Maven," a radio show on WWRL (1600 AM), every Tuesday starting January 18 from 11 to noon, is a true New York food history expert, and the book provides a fantastic gastronomic tour through the best the five boroughs have to offer, as well as an exploration of New York's history through the eyes of a foodie. (Check out his blog for more recipes that didn't make the book!) Rather than uncritically reprinting traditional recipes, Schwartz is always ready with a comment about what works, what doesn't, and tricks to make it easier. This book would make a great last-minute gift for anyone who loves New York (or just food!).

Schwartz provides the traditional recipe for Junior's cheesecake in his book. Junior's aficionados know that the bottom layer of the cheesecake is sponge cake, but Schwartz notes that skipping the sponge cake is just fine. We've included the directions for both the cake and the cheesecake; if you want to skip the cake layer, just place a round of baking parchment at the bottom of your pan. Of course Gothamist would favor a chocolate cookie crust....

Junior's Cheescake

For the filling:

4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese (the regular kind, not light or Neufchatel) (divided)
1 2/3 cups sugar (divided)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large eggs
3/4 cup heavy cream

Make the cake layer, if desired. If not; preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place one (8-ounce) package of the cream cheese, 1/3 cup of the sugar, and the cornstarch in a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on low until creamy, about 3 minutes. Then beat in the remaining three packages of cream cheese.

Increase the mixer speed to high and beat in the remaining 1 1/3 cups of the sugar. Then beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating the batter well after each one. Blend in the heavy cream. Mix the filling only until completely blended. Be careful not to
overmix the batter.

Gently spoon the cheese filling on top of the baked sponge cake layer.

Place the springform pan in a large shallow pan containing hot water that comes about 1 inch up the sides of the pan. Bake the cheesecake until the center barely jiggles when you shake the pan, about 1 hour.

Cool the cake on a wire rack for 1 hour. Then, leaving the cake in the pan, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate until it's completely cold, at least 4 hours or overnight.

Remove the sides of the springform pan. Slide the cake off the bottom of the pan onto a serving plate. (Or, if you wish, simply leave the cake on the removable bottom of the pan and place it on a serving plate.)

If any cake is left over, cover it with plastic wrap and store for up to a week in the refrigerator.

For the sponge cake layer:

Watch this cake carefully while it's baking. There's not much batter, so it needs only about 10 minutes of baking-just enough time for the cake to turn light golden and set on the top. The cake should not brown on top.

1/2 cup sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
3 extra-large eggs, separated
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar (divided)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 drops lemon extract (optional)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Generously butter a 9-inch springform pan. Into a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks with an electric mixer on high for 3 minutes. Then, with the mixer still running, gradually add 1/3 cup of the sugar, and continue beating until thick light-yellow ribbons form in the bowl, about 5 minutes more. Beat in the vanilla and lemon extracts.

Sift the flour mixture over the batter, and stir it in by hand until no more white flecks appear. Then blend in the butter.

In a clean bowl, using clean dry beaters, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar together on high until frothy. Less than a tablespoon at a time add the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form.

Stir about 1/3 cup of the whites into the batter then gently fold in the remaining whites (don't worry if a few white specks remain).

Gently spoon the batter into the pan.

Bake the cake just until the center springs back when lightly touched, only about 10 minutes (watch carefully). Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack while you continue making the cheesecake filling. Do not remove the cake from the pan.