Dancing Tomatoes

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When my son was born, I had just moved to Maine and was mourning my home in Brooklyn.  When Joe came into the world, my literary agent called from New York to congratulate me. “What can I send you?” she asked, the soul of sweetness and generosity.  While I might have answered “A chef,” because cooking seemed beyond me, instead I said “Junior’s cheesecake.”  I was joking of course; I really wanted to be back in Brooklyn.

Cheesecake in a Box

Twenty four hours later the postman knocked at my door, with a five pound box in his hand. Inside was an entire Junior’s cheesecake.  I don’t think I ate the whole thing, but it was one of the best baby gifts I received.  Not only was it satisfyingly delicious, but it did much to salve my nostalgia.

Natural addiction

I’d always loved cheesecake so my addiction to Junior’s version was natural. That said, I’d never been an inveterate cheesecake maker.  Oh, I’ve made my fair share, but I relied on recipes that were quick and simple.  It seemed senseless to try and recreate perfection, particularly now I knew it could be mail ordered…

French Version of Cheesecake

Fast forward to moving to France, where a version of cheesecake was offered in every patisserie in the land.  Originally from Alsace, most likely imported there by Eastern Europeans in the 18th century, it was a light, slightly watery, basically crustless version  made of fromage blanc – fresh cheese – eggs, lemon zest, and a touch of sugar.  It was a pale version of the cheesecake I loved, as was every cheesecake I tasted outside of Junior’s.

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My Mother’s Amazing Cheesecake Sleight of Hand

Little by little, cheesecake fell out of my heart and my baking repertoire until recently when I met someone who loved cheesecake, and I was reminded of a recipe my mother used to make, a real cheesecake sleight of hand.  A bar cookie, it presaged my fidelity to Junior’s cheesecake.  I unearthed the recipe, reminding my mother who is approaching 101, of how often she made it when we were growing up.  She remembered it as a surefire success.  “You know I have a ‘fear of flour’,” she reminded me the other day.  “That recipe for cheesecake cookies was my standard.  Hardly any flour; everyone loved it.”

No Cheesecake Rivals Junior’s

While no cheesecake rivals Junior’s (sorry, all you chefs out there in France who are giving it a good effort), these luscious little bars of perfection aren’t far off.  They don’t look anything like cheesecake, but close your eyes and taste, and there you are, at Junior’s on the corner of Flatbush and Dekalb in Brooklyn, home of Junior’s cheesecake.


Course: Dessert, Snack
Cuisine: American
Keyword: brown sugar, cream cheese, crumble, vanilla


For the crust:

  • 1 cup; 145g all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup;75g light brown sugar
  • 5 tablespoons; 75g unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:

  • 8 ounces; 250g cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup; 50g vanilla sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Butter and flour a 9-inch (22.5cm) square pan, or line it with parchment paper.
  • In a medium sized bowl, mix together the flour, the sugar, and the melted butter to form a crumbly mixture. You can do this with a wooden spoon or your hands.
  • Reserve 1 cup of the mixture, and press the remaining mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan, and bake until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature.
  • In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the softened cream cheese and the sugar until smooth. Add the egg, milk, vanilla, and the lemon juice and whisk until combined. Pour the mixture onto the pre-baked crust. At this point, you can also add berries or chopped fruit, to flavor the cream cheese mixture, if you like.
  • Sprinkle the remaining crumbs on top of the cream cheese filling, and bake in the center of the oven until the crumbs are golden and the mixture is slightly puffed, for 25 minutes.

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