Friday, June 3, 2016

Cheesecake in a Bowl

In honor of the imminent release of Dead End Street next week, I thought I’d revisit Philadelphia food. I wrote a post about it when the Museum Mystery series debuted, back in 2010. If you take a look at that, I gave a basic primer on the food most often associated with that city. Let me add a few that I missed last time: Philadelphia spawned Cheez Whiz, Good & Plenty, Herr’s (potato chips—my daughter’s suburban school actually took a field trip to their plant), Tastykake, and Fleer Chewing Gum (home of Double Bubble, my childhood favorite--my commuter train used to go by the factory).

But whenever I'm in Philadelphia I keep coming back to the Reading Terminal Market—and I send Nell Pratt there every chance I get. The place has a long history (which I will shorten here for you): it occupies the space under what was once the Reading Railroad Terminal in Center City, close to City Hall. The Terminal opened in 1893, and the market beneath has been there ever since (even though trains no longer run into the terminal: it’s the Pennsylvania Convention Center now, but the market survives, and didn’t even close during the construction of the convention center above it).

The market has just about everything: meat, fish, fruits and vegetables. Ice cream and candy (including some really weird chocolates). Cookware and cookbooks. Great places to grab a lunch, which many nearby workers do. I try to visit every time I’m in Philadelphia, and I come home with whatever I can carry (note: some items do not fare well in a suitcase!). There are Asian and Amish and Italian vendors, and just about anything else. It is one of the great treasures of the city, and it’s always full of people.

Ah, food. What have I bought and enjoyed? Mushrooms (which I’ve also written about for MLK). Meat from the Amish butchers. Chocolate Liberty Bells. Great lunches at the Down Home Diner (yes, I’ve even eaten a cheese steak there). It’s a great space to stroll through, and even if you aren’t hungry when you walk it, you will be after a few minutes.

Recipe? What better than a cheesecake made with the Original Philadelphia brand cream cheese? According to their website, the name "Philadelphia" was adopted in 1880, because the city “was considered at the time to be the home of top quality food.” And it came in foil wrappers even then. (Oddly enough, the parent company resides in the UK.) There have been a few changes in ownership since 1880, not to mention a variety of new! trendier! products, but the Philadelphia name is still on the package. And I firmly believe it is the best cream cheese to use for cheesecakes.

You would not believe how many cheesecake recipes the company offers (twelve pages worth), but I wanted to use something fairly classic, and also take advantage of the ripe strawberries available now. So I tinkered with a few recipes, and here’s the result!

Cheesecake in a Bowl

1-1/2 cup crumbs (cookie, graham cracker, whatever—I used Sandies)
3/4 stick (3 oz.) butter, melted

1/2 pound block cream cheese, softened
4 oz. white chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream
1-1/2 Tblsp granulated sugar
1 tsp gelatin, dissolved in 1-1/2 Tblsp boiling water (stir quickly to dissolve!)

2 cups strawberries, pureed (you can put them through a sieve if the seeds annoy you)—or you could just mash them up
2 Tblsp confectioner’s sugar

A few fresh strawberries, sliced or quartered, for garnish


Crumbs and butter, mixed
For the crust layer: combine the crumbs and the butter, then press into the bottom of serving glasses. [A note: you can divide this into as many portions as you like. I happen to have four glass bowls that actually match, so I went with those. Splitting this among six bowls would still be an ample serving size.] Chill.

For the filling: Melt the cream cheese and the white chocolate in a bowl over simmering water, or in a double boiler [you could probably do it in a microwave, but I wasn’t sure of the timing or temperature]. Mix and let it cool for 10 minutes.

Whip together the cream and sugar until stiff. Add the dissolved gelatin to the cream cheese mixture, then fold in the cream.

Taste the pureed strawberries and add confectioner’s sugar if necessary.

First layer
Second layer

Spoon half the cream cheese mixture over the crumb layer in the glasses or bowls, then top with half the strawberry puree. Repeat. Take a knife and gently swirl the layers together just a bit.

Chill for two hours or until set. When you’re ready to serve, garnish with the fresh strawberries.

Dead End Street will be released next Tuesday, June 7th. The cover shows you the part of Philadelphia you don't want to visit. But it's a wonderful city, with great history, amazing museums, and good people working to make it a better place. Definitely worth seeing!

Find it at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


  1. It looks wonderful and easy.

  2. How pretty!
    I imagine you can substitue raspberries, or peaches , or whatever lovely fruit you like.

  3. Oh, my gosh. You would post this on the day I decided I have to take off those last stubborn pounds... I just read a reference to the Reading Terminal Market in a Jennifer Weiner book, and it sounds fabulous -- you and I share that love of markets!

    1. Leslie, I will go to a public market anywhere! You learn so much about the people and the places. Years ago I visited a covered market in the Yucatan, where the spices were piled a couple of feet high on open tables, and they had bundles of fresh octopus hanging up. Some have only a few people selling whatever is ripe, that they picked that morning. That's one reason I love visiting Ireland and having a cottage--I can buy things at the markets and take them back to cook. If you get to the Reading Terminal Market, you can find plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables. No calories, of course!

  4. Never made my cheesecakes with gelatin but I know that substitutes for the eggs in a cooked/baked cheesecake. Sounds like something I should keep on hand for emergencies or to have my granddaughter's whip up when they feel like making something for dessert while visiting.

    I cannot wait to read your Philadelphia story, Sheila. Need to get an order ready for Amazon soon. Have a very long list.

    Thank you.

    1. I agree--I'm not a fan of gelatin in regular cheesecake. But I think in this recipe the white chocolate kind of counteracts the, um, chewy quality of the gelatin. I didn't even notice it in the eating.

      You can make this recipe in different forms, large and small. Recently I've seen a lot of recipes that suggest you layer things in a small Ball jar. That way you can see the layers, but it might be hard to scoop the layers into them.

      I hope you like Dead End Street. It has an urban feel to it, but it's the local community pulling together that makes things work out in the end.