Polish Cheesecake, sernik, is a classic. You’ll find it in every restaurant, cafe, and coffee shop in Poland. So just like szarlotka, it surprised me when I realized that I’ve never made a Polish cheesecake! Until now! 🙂 I looked at several recipes in English and in Polish, on the internet and in my collection of Polish cookbooks, and this cake is a compilation of those recipes, and a little bit of winging it.
In my study of sernik, I can say that twaróg, the Polish farmer’s cheese is the only constant, and most recipes call for two pounds or 1 kilogram of twaróg. I found that this cheese is super easy to make, and that I love the taste and will be making it again. If you’re using my recipe for twaróg, you’ll need a triple batch to make this cheesecake.
One of the first choices you’ll have to make is what kind of crust to use. I made the short-crust pastry found in this recipe on About Food. I’m sure that it is very traditional and it was tasty, but I don’t know that I’ll use it again. I’m an experienced maker of pie crust and I found it difficult to work with, especially in the size I needed to line a 9 x 13 pan. I ended up making slabs for the bottom and sides and piecing it together. If I want a pastry crust in the future, I’ll probably try something else.
But in all honesty, I suspect that the next time I make this I’ll do a cookie crumb crust, maybe a digestive crumb crust, with just a wee bit of sugar. It’s a more modern spin on the traditional recipe, but it would be so much quicker and easier. I realize the dichotomy in making my own cheese and looking for a quick and easy crust; it’s all about the effort in relationship to the benefit. I’m willing to go the extra mile, but only if the difference is noticeable.
As for the body of the cheesecake, it can be plain. It can be flavored with citrus zest and extract or candied citrus peel; it can have raisins and might even include mashed potatoes. The key differences that I see between sernik and a typical American version of cheesecake is that it has much less sugar. You’ll really taste the cheese, and it uses less other dairy, like milk and sour cream, making a stiffer mixture.
Sernik might be topped with a lovely chocolate ganche or a layer of berries in gelatin, or it may be served au naturel. I opted for a sauce made with a 12 ounce bag of frozen berries, a couple tablespoons of sugar, and a teaspoon of lemon juice and 1/4 cup of water. I simmered until the berries were breaking down and thickened with two teaspoons of corn starch dissolved in a 1/4 cup of water.
I’d love to hear how you personalize your sernik.
A traditional Polish cheesecake, you’ll notice the cheese in this cheesecake.
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 5 ounces cold butter
- 2 large egg yolks
- 3 tablespoons sour cream
- 5 ounces butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 6 large eggs, separated
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 tablespoon Kirsch (optional)
- 3/4 cup dried cranberries
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 2 pounds twaróg, passed through a sieve or processed in a blender or food processor until smooth
- Combine the 2 cups flour, 1/2 cup sugar, and baking powder
- Cut in the butter with a pastry blender (or use a food processor) until crumbly
- Mix together two egg yolks and 3 tablespoon sour cream, add to dry ingredients, only until combined, (if too stiff add a little water or an egg)
- Grease a 9 x 13 pan
- Roll pastry until large enough to line the pan, bottom and sides
- After fitting the dough to the pan, trim neatly crimp the edge
- You can use left over dough to create a lattice pattern on top of the cheesecake if desired
- Bring all ingredients for filling to room temp
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Cream together 5 ounces butter and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy
- Add 6 egg yolks, vanilla, and kirsch (if using), combining until well blended
- Process the cranberries and flour in a food processor or combine and chop with a knife
- Add the chopped cranberries and twaróg
- In a separate bowl, beat the 6 egg whites until stiff
- Stir one cup of egg whites into the cheese mixture to lighten
- Gently fold in remaining egg whites
- Pour filling into crust
- Add lattice decoration (optional)
- Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until center is only slightly jiggly
- Cool completely before serving
This is a dense cheesecake. I like to serve whipped cream along side to lighten it a bit.