Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Recipe Box: Cotton Cheesecake

The list of links to the side entitled "Recipe Box" contains recipes that I've made multiple times already. They are recipes that I feel I've "vetted" very well and are worth repeating. I encourage anyone who cooks and finds the general type of recipe appealing to try them. Occasionally, I'll write about these recipes and my modifications or experiences with them.

I'm going to start with the recipe that I call "Cotton Cheesecake" (listed as condensed milk cheesecake on the original site) because it is one of my favorites at this point. Since I tried this recipe, I've made it about once a week. It is, hands down, one of the best "healthy" desserts I've ever had. If that sounds too good to be true, look carefully at the amount of sugar in it compared to the other ingredients. It's incredibly low sugar even with the small amount of (about the size of a large ice cube) condensed milk added to it. It has so many eggs relative to the other ingredients that you could argue that it's a breakfast food. Still don't believe that it's  healthy? Look at these stats:

It's a piece of cake with 5.7 grams of protein and only 165 calories! Okay, I don't care if you're convinced that it's good for you as desserts go. I can say that it has an incredible texture and flavor and pleased even my fussy husband who prefers super sweet desserts.

This cheesecake recipe has floated around in multiple incarnations for years. I call it "cotton cheesecake" because that's the more common name. Sometimes, it is known as "Japanese cheesecake." This differentiates it from dense, creamy, super rich New-York-style cheesecake. The main thing this has in common with more conventional cheesecake is that they both use cream cheese and are both cooked in a water bath. Similarities end there.

When I made this, I made some minor modifications to the lemon version and then I created a chocolate version as well. I also simplified the instructions to avoid double boilers and simplify prep to whatever extent I could. Keep in mind that the name of the game in making this successfully is smooth. Everything needs to be mixed until good and smooth or the texture will not be correct. Also, you will need a water bath so have a dish that is large enough to accommodate your cake pan on hand and be prepared to boil water in a kettle for the bath.

Here are my versions of this recipe:

Ingredients (lemon cheesecake):

4 eggs, separated and at room temperature
50 g condensed milk (about 3 1/2 tablespoons)
50 g plain flour (about 1/2 cup minus 1 tablespoon or 7 tablespoons)
112 g (4 oz./half package)  reduced fat cream cheese (Neufchatel)
35 ml canola oil (about 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon)
2 tsp Back Bay lemon flavoring (can use lemon extract or juice, but this is stronger)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract (optional, but adds flavor depth)
45 g castor sugar (about 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon or 5 tablespoons)
1/8 tsp cream of tartar (optional, but stabilizes the egg whites)
6 packets Splenda sweetener (optional, for sweeter cake)

Ingredients (chocolate cheesecake):

4 eggs, separated and at room temperature
50 g condensed milk (about 3 tablespoons)
50 g plain flour (about 1/2 cup minus 1 tablespoon or 7 tablespoons)
112 g (4 oz./half package) reduced fat cream cheese (Neufchatel)
1/4 cup good quality cocoa powder (I used Scharffen Berger)
35 ml canola oil (about 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract (optional, but adds flavor depth)
45 g castor sugar (about 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon or 5 tablespoons)
1/8 tsp cream of tartar (optional, but stabilizes the egg whites)
10 packets Splenda sweetener (optional, for sweeter cake)

  1. Line a round cake pan, spring form pan, or souffle dish with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray or oil. The diameter needs to be around 6"-9". Height will be affected by width as might baking time.
  2. Sift flour into a very large bowl. Put oil into a small dish and heat in the microwave for about 15 seconds (until hot, but not boiling). Whisk the oil into the flour. It may be super thick or be little separated blobs. This is okay.
  3. Put condensed milk and cream cheese into a microwave safe bowl and heat for about 15 seconds or until it is warm and soft enough to whisk together into a smooth paste. If making chocolate cheesecake, whisk the cocoa powder into the cream cheese/milk mixture until smooth.
  4. Whisk the cream cheese mixture into the flour mixture until very smooth.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg yolks and extracts and lemon flavoring (for lemon cheesecake). If using Splenda or heat-stable sweetener, mix it in with the yolks. Whisk until smooth.
  6. Whisk the egg yolks into the flour/cheese mixture until completely smooth and fully mixed.
  7. Put a kettle of water on to boil with enough water to fill your water bath.
  8. Place egg whites in a stand mixer and beat at medium speed until foamy. Add cream of tartar if using. Increase speed and beat until soft peaks form. Start adding in sugar a tablespoon at a time and beat until stiff peaks form. (This is the meringue.)
  9. Start to preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. 
  10. Fold the meringue into the lemon (or chocolate) base mixture. Add the meringue in by quarters making sure it is thoroughly mixed at each point. Do not add it all at once or you will lose volume. Patience is a virtue.
  11. Gently pour the combined mixture into the prepared pan. Place the pan into the vessel for your water bath. Pour the boiling water into the bath. The bath should reach to about 2/3 of the way up your cake pan. Be very careful transferring the water bath pan into the oven as to avoid splashes. Alternately, you can place the pans into the oven first and pour boiling water into the water bath after the cake is in the oven to avoid transferring it when full, but this will cause the oven temperature to drop while you add the water. 
  12. Bake for 30 minutes at 300 degrees F. then reduce the temperature and bake an additional 60 minutes at 265 degrees F. Cake is done when a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean and it is fully set in the center. If you use a wider cake pan (9"), you can likely reduce the second cooking time to 45 minutes. 
  13. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Use the folds from the parchment to pull it out and place the (still-wrapped) cake on a cooling rack. Peel the paper away when it is fully cooled then cut.


  • You need good quality cocoa powder for the chocolate version because it has to pack a flavor punch with a small amount. 
  • You can skip the Splenda in both cases, but I do believe the chocolate version needs more sweetness to counterbalance the bitterness of the cocoa. I didn't avoid using more sugar for added sweetness because of calories, but because it doesn't cause any changes to the texture of the meringue while still adding sweetness. You can just increase the amount of sugar in the meringue if you don't want to use a small volume sweetener, but I can't say how that will impact the texture.
  • Castor sugar is between granulated and powdered sugar in terms of how fine it is. It is common in England, but not the U.S. You can make it easily by putting granulated sugar into a food processor or Magic Bullet and blitzing it for a short time. Usually, about 5 seconds will do, but just pulse it and stop when it starts to approach powdered sugar consistency. Overdoing it won't hurt anything. The main reason not to use regular powdered sugar is that it contains cornstarch.
  • Using room temperature eggs will reduce the chances that the cake will "crack" on top as well as create better volume while making the meringue. 
  • You can use full fat cream cheese. I don't think it makes any difference at all in the recipe, but the first time I made this the reduced fat version was what I had on hand and it worked so well that I saw no reason to change it. 
  • I used coconut milk sweetened condensed milk because that is what I had on hand, but you can use any type of sweetened condensed milk. 

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