As a foreigner living in Israel, there is a lot about life here that I had to get used to. Such as: being pushy and relentless is not optional, it’s a basic survival skill. You will get reprimanded for parading your baby around sockless if the weather is anywhere below 95F. Berries are basically nonexistent. So is good, affordable Chalav Yisrael cream cheese. So when I woke up one sunny Friday morning a few weeks after making Aliyah with the desire to bake a cheesecake for Shabbat breakfast, I knew baking one without my traditional, beloved J&J cream cheese would be an adventure. I posted on an American cooking group on Facebook asking for a cheesecake recipe using Israel-friendly ingredients. I received a handful of recipes and tried them all over the following few weeks. The results did not impress me. I tried my American recipes and substituted cream cheese for gevina levana (affectionately translated by me as “white gloopy cheese”). My cheesecakes were watery, not dense enough, not delicious enough, and it wasn’t fair, but I knew there had to be a way.

A few years later, I was scrolling through Facebook in the weeks before Shavuot*, and a post by my friend Elana caught my eye. She had written out the cheesecake recipe she uses that she had received during her first year of marriage and promised it was easy and called for all-Israeli ingredients – but was still delicious. I decided to give it a go.

And.

It.
Was.

AMAZING!

It was the cheesecake of champions, if that’s a thing. Creamy, dreamy cheesecake perfection. Needless to say, since then it has become my go-to cheesecake recipe, and I recommend it whenever someone asks for an Israeli cheesecake recipe. Here it is:

The Cheesecake of Champions

From Elana Kohn (who got it from Mrs. Sarah Leena Katz)

  • 750 grams gevina levana (white cheese – notice I did not say white gloopy cheese, because through this recipe I acquired a new level of respect for this strange Israeli specimen)
  • 400 ml, which equals 2 standard sized, shamenet chamutza (sour cream – most brands simply say “shamenet” on the cup)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1.5 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1.5 teaspoons lemon juice
  • ¼ cup flour
  • Optional topping/filling ideas: ribat chalav (dulce de leche), jam, cookie dough, crushed sandwich cookies, chocolate chips, peanut butter.

Combine all ingredients and pour into 2 ready-made pie crusts or one deep dish. I don’t have easy access to ready-made crusts so I crush some tea biscuits or Lotus cookies with butter or oil and voila – crust.

Bake at 160 Celsius for an hour.

Yummm… I topped this one with a mixture of lotus cream and (non whipped) shamenet metuka.

I also want to share another cheesecake recipe which I recently came across – the famous Israeli no-bake cheesecake. You heard right: it requires no baking, so if you aren’t in the mood of turning on the oven (or you don’t have access to a dairy oven), this one’s for you! The texture is light and fluffy – very different from the above-mentioned cheesecake of champions, but super easy and super delicious nonetheless. And it probably also deserves its own title, so if you make it and think of one, let me know.

No-Bake Israeli Cheesecake

Adapted from corine.co.il

  • 2 cartons/500 ml shamenet metuka (heavy whipping cream – carton may say “shamenet metuka l’haktzafa”)
  • 1 packet instant vanilla pudding
  • 500 grams gevina levana (white cheese)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • Tea biscuits

Whip shamenet metuka and instant pudding until fluffy. I know, what a scientific description. I think they officially say until peaks are formed, but I could never figure out what that really meant so fluffy works for me.

Add remaining ingredients.

Lay tea biscuits side by side to cover the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Add a generous layer of cheesecake batter. Repeat both steps to make a second layer. Refrigerate for a few hours/overnight.

Enjoy!

Wishing you all a happy, delicious Shavuot! May all your prayers, cheesecake-related and otherwise, be answered.

Shavuot is a Jewish holiday commemorating the receiving of the Torah from God. One custom of Shavuot is to eat dairy foods, as the Torah is likened to milk. In The Song of Songs (4:11) Hashem says to the Jewish people, “The sweetness [of Torah] drops from your lips; like honey and milk it lies under your tongue.”

For more about Shavuot, visit: www.chabad.org/111377