The not-quite-a-food-blog online cookbook project What, ME Cook? started in the 1980s with dr bob's initial impact with home chef cuisine, one that was nearly entirely devoted to desserts, and one in particular, the cheesecake. In the pre-internet days of hand drawn funny illustrations and hand lettered recipes of Part 1, its table of contents lists mostly desserts, among which the largest category is cheesecake. From the beginning, Italy was an accomplice to this potentially damaging habit, since this was a dessert relatively unknown there and so made a big impression when locally produced by this then young American science guy. In exchange, Italy gave bob the tiramisu magic that he imported for friends and relatives in the states, back in the day when that dish was virtually unknown here. How things change. At least here. Not in Italy, though occasionally one finds a cheesecake here and there now.
The first addition in the cheesecake category to the growing collection
of amateur recipes was the simple soft touch cheesecake
which made use of that notorious American ingredient, sweetened condensed milk,
and introduced bob's hippo logo representing a home chef hippo looking on at a
cheesecake overdosed hippo guest on the floor, immediately followed by
cheesecake di bob: versione
italiana to share my new love with friends overseas, including the
cheesecake supplement for english speaking italians.
This Italian beginning was followed
by a few others, with
strawberry or pineapple toppings.
The modern era of dr bob cheesecakes began with the discovery of Mother Wonderful's hazelnut cheesecake from a cheesecake cookbook he had picked up in the early days (serendipity!), written by a local Philly food personality Myra Chanin whom bob later met by pure chance at a book signing and non-bake cheesecake sample give-away at Gene's Books at the predecessor half open suburban mall that later became the Plaza upscale closed mall partner to the Court to become together the largest retail space mall in the USA, the King of Prussia mall, just minutes away. The spectacular hazelnut cheesecake became the template for most of the dr bob originals which followed, including his personal favorite, the guavaberry-lingonberry cheesecake, and ani's personal favorite, the limoncello cheesecake (although this is a reluctant favorite since she is not a dessert person).
The limoncello cheesecake was born with Laura in Naples and matured with Emanuela in Ponza in 1996, then perfected back in the states. It also began the annual cheesecake party in Sabaudia just south of Rome where Daniela had a brilliant flash of insight in 2010 to create an excuse for a summer vacation party that would arouse the curiosity of a large home town circle of friends and relatives and acquaintances. This recipe specifically instructs Italians on the substitutions necessary for the graham cracker crust and sour cream topping, the key ingredients of which still have not been carried to Italy by the global economy. In 2017 Ilaria transported the 8th annual cheesecake party to Boves west of Torino in northern Italy, making the 9th annual cheesecake a month later in Rome a misnomer. Ilaria with her striking Napolitano humor established the tradition of the pre-cheese cake cutting ceremony speech in English by dr bob, with her alternating "translation" in Napolitano-influenced Italian in which she made up completely different off the wall statements riffing on bob's straightfaced words. This after her reading of a humorous poem created just for the occasion. Not to be forgotten is the dental floss ritual of marking the top of the cheesecake into 24 slices, when Luca remembers to bring the floss.
The traditional 4 8oz package (= 2 pounds) cheesecake in a 9-9.5 inch pan also evolved with the aging chef, first splitting recipes into smaller 7 inch cheesecakes for multiple destinations, then lowering the height with larger pans to limit the damage of the higher (and therefore heavier) traditional cheesecakes. The search for new liqueur flavors to continue the Frangelico hazelnut and limoncello line of recipes brought some successes, like the pistac(c)hio cheesecake, but in another direction entirely came the delicious cappuccino cheesecake with its chocolate brownie-like crust. This was possible only because the iced coffee craze of the 1990s which accompanied the rise of Starbucks and other independent coffee cafes in the states had broken down bob's lifelong aversion to coffee, and it was not long after that cappuccinos and espressos followed in Italy, and then here but almost always of lessor quality. The Pavoni Europiccolo has been the coffee workhorse in our kitchen ever since 1991 when two friends carried it from Rome as a wedding gift from the research group family there, only to be supplemented by a small Nespresso machine in 2016.
Since bob is a slow learner at some things, it took a few decades to learn some very simple tricks for the cheesecake production process. First, tracing around the removable bottom of a springform pan on parchment paper and cutting out the circle with scissors to place at the bottom of the inverted bottom allows the finished cheesecake to slide off its pedestal after the side is removed. Second, the only springform pan to trust is the one which locks the side on top of the bottom on a rim slot that extends beyond the bottom. One can even cut a bigger paper round and then clamp down the side on top of the bottom over the paper if a particularly liquid batter needs to be contained during baking. This is how we do our cacio e pepe timballo where a very milky cheese sauce easily escapes the traditional side locking pan. Live and learn.
Then in 2018 bob inherited a square
rim-locked nonstick cheesecake pan from a Roman friend Fabrizio exiled in
Turkey, and his US possessions had to be dispersed. What an idea! Easier to cut
rectangular pieces than very narrow wedges from a circular format. Who knew such
an intelligent design existed? [Not bob until Fate sent one his way.]