I don’t really like cream cheese. Oh I don’t mind it, but I don’t just love it like some people do. I don’t especially like its plastic, putty-like texture. I’m not especially wild about its mildly-gamey-but-otherwise-bland, almost watery, flavor. I also don’t particularly enjoy the fact that it’s rich, rich, rich — about 45% fat.
But Joe, you love butter, and butter has almost twice the fat.
Very true, however I’d like you to meditate for a moment on the pure, golden glory that is butter and tell me if cream cheese even exists in the same universe, satisfaction-wise. I’ll also add in my defense that people don’t make cakes that are composed of up to 70% butter. Sure, if someone ever did I’d nominate them for the Nobel prize, but that’s isn’t the point. Cream cheese, for me, is a poor transaction.
Which is not to say that I don’t like it as an ingredient. I like a smear of it on a bagel. I like it in a Danish. I appreciate what it can do for the texture of a cookie or a pie crust. I can even live with it in a frosting, provided the frosting is on a carrot cake. Much beyond that though, and cream cheese is sorely trying my patience.
Not everybody feels like that. More than a few cheesecakes out there are little more than hunks of cream cheese sweetened with sugar and lightened (slightly) with egg, so some of the recipe writers say, in order to remove the encumberances to the enjoyment of “pure unadulterated cream cheese.” I simply don’t get that. Which is why I usually run in the other direction, toward recipes that minimize the cream cheese in favor of heavy cream or sour cream.
But Joe, come on, how rich are cream and sour cream?
Not that rich by comparison. The heaviest of (American) heavy creams weigh in at 36% fat. Sour creams: 16% fat. And either one bring a lot more in terms of subtlety of flavor to the eating experience. They also make the finished cheesecake creamier on the palate and lighter on the fork. Not so light that the cake ceases to be “New York-style”, just lighter than the usual slabs of modeling clay that are served at chain restaurants.
I don’t blame you if you don’t believe me. Having written all this, I confess I’m having a minor crisis of confidence myself. But having thrown the gauntlet down, I’d better deliver.