Cheesecakes are thought to date back to Greco-Roman times, but the consumption of cheese in sweet form is as old as cheese itself. Arabs use cheese in famous desserts like knafeh (see Coconut Knafeh with Lemongrass Syrup), kulaj, mutabaq, and atayef, which are all different kinds of pastry filled with cheese and soaked in syrup. The European and American versions of cheesecake with a crust are a far cry from those desserts, but the combination of a crunchy base with a creamy filling, seen across the world, is evidently a winning one. Here I make a classic baked Western cheesecake, but flavor it with tahini and top with chocolate and sesame seeds. This East meets West dessert balances sweet with savory and creamy with crunchy to create a decadent cake with pleasantly complex layers of flavors.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C/Gas Mark 4). Line a 9-inch (23 cm) springform pan with a round of parchment paper.
- In a bowl, combine the crumbs, nuts, sugar, and melted butter and mix until evenly incorporated. Press the crumb mixture evenly into the bottom of the pan, pushing it halfway up the sides (a flat measuring cup/jug helps with this). Bake the crust for 10 minutes, then set aside to cool. Leave the oven on. (This crust can be prebaked up to 1 day ahead and left covered at room temperature once cooled.)
- In a stand mixer with the paddle (or in a bowl with an electric mixer or even in a food processor), beat the cream cheese and sugar together at medium-high speed until creamy and smooth, about 1 minute. Add the eggs, tahini, grape molasses, cream, cornstarch (cornflour), vanilla, and salt and continue to beat at medium speed until incorporated and smooth, 1–3 minutes. (A food processor will be much quicker than a stand mixer, so adjust accordingly.)
- Pour the filling into the crust, smoothing the top. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake until the cake is set but the center has a light jiggle, about 50 minutes. Turn the oven off, prop the door open with a wooden spoon, and allow the cake to cool inside for another hour. Remove the cake from the oven and set on the counter to cool completely.
- In a small saucepan, heat the cream until it’s about to boil. Remove from the heat, add the chocolate pieces, and let rest for a couple of minutes. With a heat-resistant spatula, stir the cream until all the chocolate has melted and the ganache is smooth and shiny. Allow to cool for a few minutes.
- Pour the chocolate ganache over the cheesecake and smooth the top. Sprinkle the sesame seeds in a pattern over the ganache and set aside to cool completely. Once cooled, refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. To serve, remove the sides of the springform pan and slide the cake onto a platter.
Adapted from THE ARABESQUE TABLE by Reem Kassis
Reem Kassis is a Palestinian food writer and cultural critic. She is the author of the best-selling and award-winning cookbooks The Palestinian Table (2017) and The Arabesque Table (2021). Her other writings have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the LA Times, and The Atlantic in addition to various magazines and academic journals. She grew up in Jerusalem, then obtained her undergraduate and MBA degrees from UPenn and Wharton and her MSc in social psychology from the London School of Economics. She now lives in Philadelphia with her husband and two daughters.