In The Deipnosophistae, a second century BC cookbook written by Athenaeus of Naucratis, we find many references to [cheesecakes] … cheesecakes made of cheese and cheesecakes made of everything but cheese, cheesecakes boiled in oil and dipped in honey, cheesecakes devoted to Olympian goddesses surrounded with figures of lighted torches, and wedding cheesecakes baked over an open fire and drenched with honey…

Artemis P. Simopoulos

Furthering our culinary tour of Antiquity with the Deipnosophists as our guides, it turns out something modern was mentioned by all of the diners at the Banquet of the Learned: cheesecake. It’s no wonder how this combination of sweetness, cream cheese and eggs got to be so popular. Aresty writes, “The poor man probably hungered most for cheesecake.” The topic has been discussed time and again–everything from history and recipes to blogs and birthdays.

And at long last, after patiently waiting and researching and the making of cheese, I present The Deipnosophists’ Almond Cheesecake! The following recipe was mostly adapted from the New York Honey Cheesecake on the National Honey Board’s website. You can also find the exact methodology I used there.

Ingredients

4 pkgs (8 oz) cream cheese, room temperature (and if you’re one of the cool geeky kids, you’ve made some yourself…)
3/4 cup honey
1/4 cup flour
5 eggs
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp lemon zest, grated
1 tsp vanilla

For the topping:

1/4 cup roughly chopped whole almonds
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of fresh grated nutmeg

You may be wondering… why follow a book at all if you’re not going to use the recipes from it? Well, I’ll tell you. Aresty’s recipe calls for 7/8 of a cup of sugar. No big deal, right? Sugar is in a lot of cheesecake recipes, duh. But as difficult and expensive as refined sugar was for the first part of the history of it, I was in the mindset it would be much easier to obtain honey. “The first production of sugar from sugarcane took place in India. Alexander the Great’s companions reported seeing ‘honey produced without the intervention of bees’ and it remained exotic in Europe until the Arabs started cultivating it in Sicily and Spain. Only after the Crusades did it begin to rival honey as a sweetener in Europe.” (Source… you guessed it, Wikipedia).

And if I’m crazy enough to go out of my way to make cream cheese, I’m crazy enough to try and figure out if sugar or honey in the Deipnosophists’ cheesecake is going to be more authentic.

Adding a bit more to the nuttiness

Yes, I can be a hypocrite. I am at times, a culinary relativist. I’ll choose to make something completely authentic, then turnaround and make a crust of Almond sable when it probably wasn’t invented for a couple hundred more years. At any rate, better people would have resisted. Consider me not the better person, but love me and this recipe from Chef Stu Stein. I doubt if hypocrisy ever tasted this good:

Almond Sablés
Yield: 10 to 12 cookies

1 cup Unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup Sugar
1 Large egg
1 Tbsp. Pure vanilla extract
2 cups All-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. Iodized salt
1 cup almonds, roughly chopped

Please see original recipe for methodology.

I used the almond sable as a crust, and put the crust around the individual pie pans. I poured the cheesecake mixture into the pie pans. When the cheesecakes were completely cooked and cooled, I turned them upside down onto plates. I topped them with more crushed almonds, then drizzled the whole cake again with more honey. It turned out a bit like this…

The tasting

I was extremely pleased with both the lightness of the texture and the mildness of the taste. So many times cheesecakes can be this thick cream cheese sweet bomb. This, on the other hand, came out light–almost like cheesecake quiche. (I know, a strange thought…) I was really worried about the runniness of the batter, but it cooked up like a dream.

I have a ton of almond sable dough left. I think I shall make cookies! I think the Deipnosophists’ would definitely approve.

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