This recipe comes from a woman who is a great inspiration in the kitchen and for life – and she’s also one of the reasons why I live where I live. I used to visit Berlin quite often in my twenties and on one of those trips, I discovered Barcomi’s Deli right in the heart of the city’s old Eastern part. The moment I walked through the hidden Sophienhöfe for the first time, I fell in love with its peaceful backyards and the tall brick walls covered in vine. When I opened the glass door to Cynthia Barcomi’s cozy café, I found my place. Amazing coffee and the best American cakes, muffins, and sandwiches I had ever tasted, I was hooked. So I decided that if I ever moved to this city, it would have to be close to Cynthia’s kitchen. And that’s what I did.
Cynthia is from New York. In the late 80’s, she came to Berlin to live and work here as a professional dancer. Today, she’s one of Germany’s most successful women in the food business. She started roasting her own coffee beans long before it became a trend, and she introduced the people in her new home city to all the scrumptious treats she grew up with: bagels, New York cheesecake, fruit pies, and luscious sandwiches made with the juiciest potato bread. It became a great success. When you meet Cynthia, you can see right away that she’s not the kind of person who would rest if something works out. She’s constantly on the move, her enthusiasm is impressive, and she jumps from one project to the next project. She started a flourishing catering business, became a popular TV host, sells her own bakeware collection (she has the most perfect pie dishes!), and she wrote six best selling cookbooks. And all this as a mother of four children – sometimes I wish I had her energy.
It’s only a year ago, that Cynthia published her last book Cookies, which includes the best brownie recipe I know: chocolate and peanut butter. They are divine. Her new masterpiece is just as packed with deliciousness and focuses on Cheesecakes, Pies & Tartes (in German). It’s a very special book, as Cynthia, for the first time, shared her signature cake, the best New York cheesecake in town. Her fans have been bugging her for years to share it with them, but she declined. So finally, after 20 years, she had mercy on us and opens her new book with this exact recipe. When I decided to write about Cynthia’s new creations, I felt so tempted to bake this cake and share the recipe here with you, but I wasn’t even sure if I feel quite ready to bake this cake at home in my kitchen. I’ve ben enjoying it for so long at her café, do I want to know how this piece of magic is actually made? I think for now, I want to leave it this way, I just jump on my bike whenever my appetite calls for it and roll down the hill to her Deli.
But as I thumbed through the pages of her new book, reading about such tempting treats as Blueberry Pocket Pies, Peanut Butter Townie, Sweet Potato Spice Bars with Potato Chip Crust, and Honey Almond Goat Cheese Cheesecake, I got excited. And then I spotted a recipe that made it impossible to read any further: A Spanish Cheesecake or Flaó from Ibiza. The pie is made with ricotta and mascarpone and refined with lemon and mint – this is genius! The filling lies on an aniseed short crust base and it’s the most aromatic, fragrant, and light cheesecake I ever had on a plate. Two days ago, we shared the last pieces of it with some friends and there was happy silence at the table. I never even thought of adding mint to a cheesecake and it’s actually the best thing that could happen to it. Cynthia learned about this combination from a friend’s aunt, Maria, an eccentric art collector from Spain, living in New York. I have to start thinking about what else I could do with the mint plant outside my window.
When I sipped on my creamy cappuccino at Barcomi’s many, many years ago, it would have never crossed my mind that one day, the woman who created all this would become more than an inspiration in my life. Cynthia gave me the best tips for my book when I started working on it. She shared her experiences with me and helped me so much during the whole process in the past year. And then, when I asked her if she’d like to write a quote for my book, she didn’t hesitate. I emailed her the pages of the Eat In My Kitchen book, and I have to confess that I felt a bit nervous to share it with her. When I read her words, it brought me to tears:
“Great food like great art speaks the truth. Meike’s recipes and photos are pared down, honest and revealing – I love what she does! She goes right for the sensory jugular leaving you wanting and needing more. Void of superfluous detail, Meike’s all about delicious food – brava!”
Thank you Cynthia!
Cynthia Barcomi’s Mint Cheesecake with Aniseed Crust
For the pastry base
plain flour 200g / 1 1/2 cups
granulated sugar 2 teaspoons
aniseed, finely crushed in a mortar, 1 1/2 teaspoons
salt 1/2 teaspoon
freshly grated zest from 1/2 lemon
unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes, 90g / 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon
vegetable shortening, cold, cut into cubes, 30g / 2 tablespoons
egg yolk 1
olive oil 1 tablespoon
For the filling
fresh ricotta 250g / 9 ounces
mascarpone 250g / 9 ounces
granulated sugar 200g / 1 cup
freshly grated zest from 1/2 lemon
fresh mint leaves, finely chopped, 2 tablespoons
For the topping
fresh mint leaves 12
granulated sugar 1 tablespoon
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, aniseed, salt, and lemon zest. Add the butter and vegetable shortening and rub them into the flour mixture with your fingers, or use the dough hooks of an electric mixer and quickly mix until you have a crumbly mixture. Whisk together the egg yolk and olive oil in a measuring cup and add water until the total is 100ml / 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon. Add to the dough and mix until just combined; don’t knead the dough. Form a thick disc, wrap in cling film, and put in the fridge for 2 hours (or longer).
Preheat the oven to 175°C / 350°F and butter a 23cm / 9″ pie or tart dish.
For the filling, in a large bowl, using an electric mixer, whisk together the ricotta, mascarpone, and sugar until creamy. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and stir in the lemon zest and chopped mint leaves.
Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll our between cling film, large enough to line the bottom and sides of the pie dish. Line the pie dish with the pastry, press it into the dish, and leave about 5mm / 1/4″ of dough hanging over the rim.
Pour the filling on top of the pastry and decorate with the 12 mint leaves (arrange them like a clock). Bake for 50 minutes or until golden. (Cynthia suggests that you check the cake after 30 minutes and cover it with aluminium foil if it gets too dark, I skipped this, the colour was fine.) Take the cake out of the oven, sprinkle with the sugar, and let it cool.