Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the word epic as “a long narrative poem in elevated style recounting the deeds of a legendary or historic hero.” If we take this sentiment and apply it to the noble cheesecake, we’re left with a tricky culinary conundrum.
What makes a cheesecake epic?
Like so many of life’s more important questions, there’s no single answer to that which elevates a cheesecake beyond simply being “good” into the calorie-rich stuff that legends are made of.
After dwelling on this question for some time, I believe that to qualify as epic, a cheesecake requires some magical combination of elegance, boldness, poetic truth and an intangible ability to inspire a sense of wonder.
Let’s look at each epic quality in turn and attempt to answer the question of where you might find such legendary cake in the grand old city of New York.
Buckle up, grab some antacids and maybe take some Amway vitamins. We’re in for a bumpy ride.
When it comes to the pursuit of cake perfection, the word “silky” should be used sparingly. Silkiness is a state of perfect textural balance between density and fluffiness—and it’s the height of elegance.
Achieving a silky texture in a cheesecake is as much an art as it is a science, and the Two Little Red Hens cheesecake on 2nd Avenue undeniably achieves it.
This cake is best eaten without adornment and unsullied by fancy fruity fripperies. Just let your fork sink through that outer crust and into the yielding perfection of its creamy center and eat it slowly.
Put simply, this cake’s elegance is the stuff of legend.
For a cheesecake which sits majestically astride the culinary world like a creamy colossus, look no further than Dominique Ansel bakery tucked away in the Soho neighborhood.
Here you’ll find a cheesecake which breaks every rule.
The cake itself is an unconventional almond sponge, and it is as light as it is moist. But that’s only the beginning of this dessert’s maverick design.
Instead of a conventional “slice” of cake, you’ll instead lay witness to a hollow tower of cakish wonder. It looks like a small fort or rustic cup, and it’s filled to the brim with whipped whole-milk ricotta.
Then the whole shebang is torched, elevating it to sweet-bitter caramelized perfection.
From a cheesecake which breaks every rule to one which lovingly observes every tradition.
The New York cheesecake which best represents the Platonic ideal of everything a good cheesecake should be has to be Eileen’s Special Cheesecake on Cleveland Place.
It’s fluffy without being frothy. It’s sweet enough but with just the right sharpness to bring your tastebuds back down to earth. Most of all, it’s a classic, pure and simple.
Whichever kind you try, know that you’re eating an epic slice of history.
Inspiring a Sense of Awe and Wonder
The most awe-inspiring cheesecake has to be Junior’s on 45th Street.
It isn’t the most elegant or creative cake you’ll find. Nor is its texture comparable to Eileen’s simple wholesomeness or Two Little Red Hens sublime silkiness.
But somehow this cake inspires awe. It’s so thick. And it’s threaded through with a vividly inviting ribbon of raspberry, rich with the promise of a tart-tasting reprieve from all that creamy sweetness.
When it’s placed on the table in front of you, you may find that you just take a moment to sit back and savor the taste journey lying before you. And that’s just fine, for you’re in the presence of a cheesecake that has every right to occupy the epic halls of cake greatness.
In the words of author and producer Shonda Rhimes, “cheesecake will always taste like love.” And just like love, cheesecake shouldn’t just be good. It should be epic. It should resonate through the ages. These cheesecakes, I firmly believe, achieve exactly that.