Sernik – Polish Cheesecake

Baked cheesecakes have a very long history with the Ancient Greeks baking them with cheese and then the Romans adding eggs to the recipes.

Varieties of cheesecakes were made in the Middle East and mentioned in the Old Testament.  Maybe a land flowing with milk and honey is so good as these are ingredients needed to make a cheesecake!

The traditional cheesecake in Poland is a baked cheesecake and it is found in Christian and Jewish Traditions.

One story is that King Jan III Sobieski brought the recipe back with him after his victory against the Turks at the Battle of Vienna (1683).

This could tie up with the fact that  one version of the cheesecake  in Poland is called Viennese – Style.

When immigrants to the United States of America from Poland, Russia and Germany took their recipes with them in the 19 Century  we eventually got the New York Cheesecake.

As ser is the Polish word for cheese  – we get  sernik as the Polish word for cheesecake.

Cheesecakes are made from twaróg – curd cheese, eggs and sugar and how they turn out depends not only on the proportions of each but also the cheese that is used.  Butter and soured cream may also be used.

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My mother used to make her own curd cheese from fresh farm milk that was allowed to sour and then the solid curds were separated from the whey by pouring the soured milk into a muslin cloth and leaving this to drain.

Unfortunately you cannot make soured milk from pasteurised milk.

Recently I have been making my own yoghurt and yoghurt cheese.  You have to use a live yoghurt starter with pasteurised milk. This is very similar to twaróg, not identical but very near. The result tastes wonderful but it takes a lot of time and effort to get enough cheese at home and so the following recipes use bought cheese.

You can find twaróg now in Polish shops and some supermarkets and sometimes under its German name qwark.

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Twaróg – Curd Cheese

Previously as the curd cheese was not available  my recipes have been adapted to use a Philadelphia ™ style cream cheese.

Philadelphia ™ is a cream cheese invented in 1872 in New York State.

Full fat makes the best cheesecake. You can use a mixture of full fat and medium fat but never use low fat cheese.

You cannot make a good baked cheesecake from low fat cheese.

Curd cheese is slightly grainy and to get the best results you either need to put it through a mincer or  use a blender. 

A traditional baked cheesecake has 2 layers – a cake base and then the curd cheese layer on top.

In my mother’s original cake the cheese mixture was poured over a baked cake base but for ease I often use a crushed biscuit base.

Mama’s Cheesecake

IMG_20150730_065011576_HDRBiscuit Base Ingredients    

75g melted butter

150g digestive, rich tea or morning coffee biscuits

You need a round tin with a loose base or a spring form tin or you will not be able to get the cake out.  I always use an anodised aluminium tin, 23cm in diameter and 7 cm deep, which does not rust.

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Selection of my anodised cake tins

Grease the tin well with butter.

Crush the biscuits to make fine crumbs and use some of these to coat the sides of the greased tin.

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Crushed biscuits

Add the melted butter to the rest of the biscuits and mix together. Put this mixture onto the base of the tin pressing it down firmly.

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Biscuit crumb mix – pressed into the tin

Leave the tin in a cold place whilst you make the cheese mixture.

Cheese Mixture Ingredients

700g of curd cheese or cream cheese (at room temperature)

6 egg yolks

2 egg whites

4 tablespoons of caster sugar

50 to 75g of melted butter

3 drops of vanilla essence

1 to 2 tablespoons of semolina (optional)

Pre heat the oven to GM4 – 180oC.

In a large bowl beat the yolks and sugar until they are thick and creamy – the mixture should be lighter in colour than the original yolks and be creamy. (This may take around 5 minutes).  Then add the cooled melted butter, cheese and vanilla essence.

If using the semolina, add this now – it makes the cake a bit denser. (I rarely add this with cream cheese, more often with curd cheese).

Beat the whites with a whisk until you have soft peaks and fold these into the mixture.

Pour the mixture on top of the biscuit base and bake for 1 to 1 ¼ hours. Check after an hour, if the top starts to get too brown before the cake is cooked place a piece of foil over the top.

Once the cake is cooked switch off the oven, you can leave the door open slightly and let it cool down in the oven, this prevents it sagging and cracking too much as it cools. (It will sag and often does crack – this is not unusual).

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Once the cake is cool you can take it out of the tin.  I use a tin can and put the cake tin on this and slide the side of the cake tin down.

Dust the top of the cake with icing sugar before serving.

This cake tastes best if allowed to get cold, so make it the day before it is needed.

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Variations

You can make endless variations on this basic recipe by adding raisins, mixed peel, fresh raspberries and so on or adding a drizzle of melted dark chocolate on the top when it has cooled.

In Poland one type of cheesecake is described as  Viennese and another  as from Kraków. The Viennese one has sultanas or raisins and orange peel in the cheese mixture and sometimes some chocolate on top, whilst the one from Kraków  is traditionally baked in a square or rectangular shape and has a lattice of  pastry over the top and  will  also have sultanas or raisins in the cheese mixture.

Cheesecake Version 2

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I cannot quite remember the origin of this version,  I think  my mother got it either from one of her friends or from the Polish newspaper.  It has soured cream as one of the ingredients but no butter.  It uses all the egg whites which are stiffly beaten causing this cake to have a lighter texture and it rises more  but does sink down again as it cools.

The instructions are the same as the one above for the biscuit base.  It is the cheese mixture which is different

Cheese Mixture Ingredients

600g curd cheese or cream cheese (at room temperature)

100g caster sugar

6 eggs separated

120 mls soured cream

grated rind of 2 lemons or 3 drops of vanilla essence

Pre heat the oven to GM4 – 180oC.

In a large bowl beat the yolks and sugar until they are thick and creamy, add the lemon rind (or vanilla essence), soured cream and cheese.

IMG_20150720_173754727IMG_20150720_173742094In another large bowl whisk the whites till they are stiff and fold these into the cheese mixture using a metal spoon.

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Pour the mixture on top of the biscuit base and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour. Check after 50 minutes if the top starts to get too brown before the cake is cooked place a piece of foil over the top.

Once the cake is cooked switch of the oven, you can leave the door open slightly and let it cool down in the oven, this prevents it sagging and cracking too much as it cools.

Once the cake is cool you can take it out of the tin. I use a tin can and put the cake tin on this and slide the side of the cake tin down.

Dust the top of the cake with icing sugar before serving.

This cake tastes best if allowed to get cold, so make it the day before it is needed.

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Published by

jadwiga49hjk

I love cooking and baking. I love trying out new recipes and currently am trying out many old favourites from my Polish cookbooks and family recipes. I am trying out many variations, often to make them easier but still delicious. I collect glass cake stands and china tableware, mainly tea plates, jugs and serving dishes, many of which I use on a daily basis. They are an eclectic mixture from the 20th & 21st century.

11 thoughts on “Sernik – Polish Cheesecake”

    1. Mama’s cheesecake is photographed using a Royal Albert tea set I bought recently – the pattern is “Primulette” and I believe it is from around 1945. The cake fork is from a modern Portmeirion range called “Crazy Daisy”. The second cheesecake is photographed on Anysley “Las Palmas” cake plates – I just have a set of the plates. This pattern was produced in the 1940s and 1950s.
      I have many sets of cake plates and am hoping to feature them in future posts.

      Like

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