I’ve had others ask me, ‘Why do you call this Croatian cheesecake?’ Probably the best reason is that I learned how to make cheesecake, this version, from my Croatian mom who learned it from her Croatian mom, my grandmother, who came to America in the early 20th century, and who, like many other immigrants, were looking for a better life, the American dream. Probably my grandmother’s most proud moment was when she became in her 60s an American citizen, barely educated, probably not beyond the 3rd or 4th grade, she considered this country her own.
Like so many other immigrants, she brought with her many of her traditions and her culinary trademark dishes like cabbage rolls, kolache, and cheesecake. Unlike the refined and sophisticated French cheesecake, živjeli Kata Croatian Cheesecake is rustic, peasant and earthy not only in its taste but also its appearance. I call it živjeli’ because that means ‘cheers’ and Kata is Croatian for Kathryn, my Mom. So, this recipe has a long tradition, albeit I’ve ‘boho’d’ and altered it some, each time I make it, I’m always reminded of my strong and courageous Mom and Grandmom to whom I owe everything. They both live on in my life through food.
CRUST: In a medium size mixing bowl combine the grape nuts, graham crackers and sugar and blend. Drizzle melted butter on mixture and using your hands blend together well.
Coat a 8-9” springform pan with cooking spray. Put crust mixture in the pan and press firmly allowing some to go up the sides. (I cover a measuring cup with plastic wrap and use this to press and firm the crust into the bottom of the pan.) It will not be uniform and perfect. That’s o.k. It’s all about being rustic. Cover the bottom/sides of the pan with foil. The cheesecake will be placed in a larger skillet with water that will come up about 1/3 on the pan.
BATTER: In a large mixing bowl, combine the cottage cheese, cream cheese, mascarpone, one-third cup sugar, lemon juice, one-third cup lemon zest. Blend and beat about 3 minutes with a whisk. You do not want to beat out the cottage cheese lumps entirely. You are blending in the cream cheese and other ingredients.
Add the beaten eggs and whisk about 30 seconds until all is well incorporated. Sift the flour on top of the batter then blend in. Pour into the springform pan with the crust.
Bake in preheated 325 oven for about 45 minutes. Then cover the cheesecake with a lid or loose foil. This will keep the top from getting too brown. Cook for about another 60 minutes. The center will jiggle slightly, but a toothpick will basically come out clean.
Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan about an hour. Run a butter knife around the perimeter to ensure a clean release. Remove from springform pan and let cool another 30-45 minutes. Refrigerate for about 4 hours before serving.
When serving pieces dollop a scoop of the Greek lemon yogurt on top (or spread like icing) and serve with fresh berries.
This cheesecake will be good for several days, almost up to a week (if it lasts that long!), when refrigerated.
If I want to cook this cheesecake faster then I'd put the crust and batter and a half sheet cake pan! You'd have thin cheesecake!