Photos and Words by Fred Chang
Ever since I started practicing wagashi (Japanese sweets), I came across certain desserts that had more Western influences; rather than using white beans, tapioca starch, or katen jelly, they were more dessert-like in the traditional sense, using eggs, flour, butter, etc. Such desserts included castella, which is like a genoise cake that uses honey instead of sugar, and a cotton cheesecake. What separates a cotton cheesecake from its usual American variation is the preparation: a normal cheesecake simply requires its ingredients to be mixed together and baked on a crust made from crushed cookies (usually graham crackers) and melted butter. But a cotton cheese is more in line with a soufflé. In a double boiler, cream cheese, butter, and milk are melted and mixed into a smooth, creamy paste. Then whipped egg whites are folded in gently, along with yolks and flour. This process results in a lighter, airier cheesecake with a dark brown exterior.
What makes this particular recipe so appealing to me is that it’s a blend between American and Japanese styled cheesecakes, as it includes a crust made out of speculoos cookies, inspired by the talented baker, Dorie Greenspan. It will also take a holiday twist by incorporating clementines, a very festive citrus fruit, or for a more Japanese take, satsuma mikan, which is a very winter-based citrus. That recipe will be included below, but can be omitted if a more Japanese style is desired.
Makes 1 9x9 cheesecake
¾ cups + 3 tablespoons fine granulated sugar (keep separate!)
6 egg whites
6 egg yolks
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 oz. cream cheese
⅓ cups milk
½ tablespoon satsuma mikan or clementine juice
½ tablespoon cider vinegar or lemon juice
¼ cup flour
1 ½ tablespoons finely grated satsuma mikan or clementine zest
2 tablespoons cornflour (cornstarch)
a pinch of salt
¼ cup of sugar* (can be omitted)
1 cup speculoos cookie crumbs
1 stick unsalted butter
1 egg white* (can be omitted)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. if you want to make a crust, melt the butter and mix with other ingredients until it forms a wet-sand like texture. Spray a round cake pan with cooking spray, 9x9 if using the whole recipe, and line the bottom of the pan with the crust. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes then cool before adding in the cheesecake mixture. If not using a crust, still line the pan with oil or butter to prevent sticking.
In a double boiler, melt down the cream cheese, butter, and milk. Once completely melted, take off heat and reserve double boiler water for the water bath. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites, salt, lemon juice or vinegar, and cream of tartar until stiff, slowly adding in the ¾ cup of sugar until all of it is incorporated and the whites are stiff.
In another bowl, whip yolks with 3 tablespoons of sugar until light yellow and yielding thick ribbons. Once the melted cream cheese is roughly around room temperature, slowly sift in the flour and fold in the yolks and the whites; for the whites, add it in slowly, roughly ⅓ of it at a time, to guarantee maximum rising. Pour into the baking pan.
Place the unbaked cheesecake, while still in its pan, inside of a larger pan, and fill the larger pan with the water from the double boiler until about three-quarters of the way up the cheesecake pan to create a hot water bath for the cheesecake; this will keep the cheesecake from drying out or cracking as much.
Bake on the lowest baking rack for about 60 minutes, or until the cheesecake is golden brown on top and no longer jiggly in texture. Once done baking, turn off the oven and allow the cheesecake to rest inside the oven for about 1-2 hours before removing from the oven to prevent sinking, and allow another 1-2 hours of cooling at room temperature before removing from the pan. For a finishing touch, which can only be done if the cheesecake’s surface is smooth, sprinkle 2 tablespoons of sugar on top of each cheesecake and bruleé using a blowtorch to add another texture.