Just like that, two full years have come and gone. In June 2018, I left my life as I knew it, with the intention of moving to Israel (where I was born) for a year, open to longer if the right opportunity presented itself. That plan did not work out due to a number of factors, and instead, I spent the second part of the year as something of a nomad. This was a first for me; I’ve always had a place to call my own, including MY KITCHEN. I am suuuuper grateful to my good friends in San Diego for letting me crash with them through the winter, and then I embarked on a kinda-surprise 6-week journey that included a second, short stint in Israel and more travel in Europe for work, but like, it’s reeeeally hard to call Italy and Wales work! I returned to Northern California exactly one year after I left and resumed my long-time job as a school counselor and re-settled in the same town where I’ve lived for years, and now somehow another year has passed. Such a surreal, reflective whiplash, and I’m so happy that I did it. I’ve got many recipes yet to explore from the regions where I traveled throughout my year away, such as Welshcakes, Maltese and Hungarian pastries, and some northern Italian desserts, but today I’m happy to share an original recipe inspired by my time in Israel.
Today is the Jewish holiday of Shavuot (pronounced ‘sha-voo-OHT’), which signifies the end of the grain harvest, as well as holding biblical signficance from the time of Moses. It is a joyous occasion centered around gathering with family and community and feasting on dairy-based dishes. Therefore, you’ll see delicious things like cheese blintzes, mousse, whipped cream frosting, and… cheesecakes. So. Many. Cheesecakes. I was incredibly lucky to spend almost every Jewish holiday in Israel during that year, except unfortunately I missed Shavuot because in 2018 it fell right before I arrived, and last year it fell right after left (the dates shift based on the lunar calendar). My family and friends there are fortunate to be able to gather in small groups now as they’ve emerged from coronavirus shelter-in-place, and I’m super sad to miss the lavish spreads that they prepared; if I was there, this cheesecake is what I would contribute.
My Cookie Butter Cheesecake is inspired by a dessert that my cousin frequently makes for family gatherings. Hers is a no-bake cheesecake made of whipping cream and pudding mix atop a base of smashed speculoos (aka Biscoff) cookies set in a pie dish. She’ll then melt speculoos spread (cookie butter) on top and throw it in the freezer to firm up. This was one of my favorite things that she made, and I knew that when I got home I would want to recreate my own version.
I wanted mine to resemble that tasty dish, but with a few changes. Namely I wanted to: 1) use American-style cream cheese, 2) have it be free-standing, and 3) mix speculoos into the actual cheesecake batter. I decided on Biscoff chunky speculoos spread so that there would be tiny cookie pieces laced throughout the cheesecake. (If you’re using smooth cookie spread, you can achieve the same effect by adding a handful of finely crushed speculoos cookies.) Although there are a few different components, each is very easy to pull together, and it remains a no-bake recipe like the one that inspired it, except for the speculoos crumbles on top.
The only thing I would change is that I waited a smidge too long to pour the melted speculoos on top of the cake, and it firmed up as soon as it hit the cold cake, so I didn’t get the sexy dripping glaze effect over the sides of the cake, but I wasn’t going to remake it just for that. Honestly, I couldn’t have been happier with this cheesecake, and I hope to make it a tradition each spring/summer to celebrate Shavuot and remember my time in Israel fondly. And hey, hopefully next year we’ll be able to gather for a beautiful dairy feast!
Cookie Butter Cheesecake
Yields 12-16 servings
You can use either chunky or smooth speculoos spread (cookie butter) in the cheesecake filling. I like the tiny cookie bits and the textural contrast they impart, but smooth is perfectly fine. Also, if you can only find the smooth variety but you want the crumbs, toss a handful of finely crushed speculoos cookie crumbs into the mixer with the cookie butter.
For the crust:
- 350g finely ground speculoos cookie crumbs (from about 42 speculoos cookies)
- ½ cup (4 ounces/1 stick/113g) unsalted butter, melted
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
For the cheesecake batter:
- 24 ounces cream cheese, slightly softened
- 1 cup (113g) confectioners’ sugar
- 1¼ cups (300g) cookie butter, chunky or creamy
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla bean paste or extract
- 1¼ cup (300mL) heavy whipping cream
For the speculoos crumbles:
- 100g (about 12 cookies) speculoos cookie crumbs
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- Pinch kosher salt
For the topping:
- ⅔ cup (160g) creamy speculoos spread
Make the crust:
Grease the sides and bottom of a 9″ springform pan. Line the bottom with a parchment circle and grease the paper.
Stir together the speculoos crumbs, butter, and salt in a medium bowl, making sure that all the crumbs are moistened. Pour the crust mixture into the springform pan and press it firmly and evenly over the bottom.
Make the cheesecake filling:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the cream cheese on medium speed until loosened and smooth. Add the confectioners’ sugar and mix just until incorporated, starting on low for a few seconds and increasing to medium. Add the cookie butter and vanilla, and mix on medium until smooth. Pour in the heavy cream and beat on medium until the cheesecake filling is thick, fluffy, and holds in a stiff cloud.
Scrape the filling over the cookie crust. Smooth it out evenly using a small offset spatula. Transfer the springform pan to the fridge and chill at least 4 hours or overnight.
Make the speculoos crumbles:
Preheat an oven to 275°F and position a rack in the center (or use a toaster oven). Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Gently combine the speculoos crumbs, butter, and salt in a medium bowl with a small spatula or wooden spoon until the mixture forms small clusters. Pour these out onto the prepared pan and spread them in a single layer. Bake for 15 minutes or until slightly toasty– they will still be somewhat soft and will firm up as they cool. Set aside until ready to use.
Prepare the topping and assemble the cake:
Retrieve the cheesecake from the fridge and release the springform clamp. Gently loosen the ring from around the cake and lift it off.
Put the creamy cookie butter in a small bowl and microwave for about 15 seconds, or until liquid enough to pour, but still thick. Pour the melted speculoos over the top of the cake and use an offset spatula to quickly spread it to the edges, coaxing some gently over the edges to create a dripping effect. (I waited a little too long to pour it, and the melted cookie butter firmed up when it hit the cold cake, so I didn’t get a lot of dripping, which you can do on purpose if you prefer the thicker look in my photos.) Sprinkle the speculoos crumbs on the edges of cake all the way around, or in another pattern of your choosing. (Snack on any leftover crumbs. Obviously.)
Store the cake in a tightly covered container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2020.