Lets talk a little about Shavuot and delicious dairy treats! There seem to be a few different explanations as to why dairy is the traditional celebratory food of Shavuot. Some say it has to do with the availability of dairy products with abundance of milk in the springtime and some say it is related to the Biblical promise of a land filled with “MILK and honey.” Religious tradition suggests it has to do with the Biblical story of the Ten Commandments and the kosher laws the story suggests went into effect that day. Humanistic Jews tend to connect with the natural explanations of harvest and new life that occur at this time of year in Israel. But one thing seems to be universally true… Shavuot just isn’t Shavuot without dairy! Blintzes and cheese platters and ice cream, OH MY!
And then, there’s cheesecake. Somewhere along the way, cheesecake in particular became a staple dessert item on Shavuot. And while this also seems to have its own set of explanations, I really enjoyed reading an article that referenced a midrash by Rabbi Ismar Schorsch. The article suggested that Shavuot’s lack of rituals (compared to other ritual-heavy holidays throughout the year) and serious attention to text study left Jewish families without much tradition to prepare for. Baking cheesecake, however, is an entire ritual in and of itself! And there are so many flavor combinations and fun ways to make it a personal part of your celebration. This really spoke to me and reminded me of the importance of creating our own rituals and traditions that not only uplift our personal identities, but empower others to find those connections as well!
This year, in honor of two of my intersectional identities, I made rainbow cheesecakes! A bright, in-your-face rainbow to celebrate my resilience and tenacity as a queer person, and a more subtle and hidden rainbow to remind myself that even when I am not quite feeling it, who I am doesn’t ever have to go away.
I hope you enjoy this recipe! You can use any colors you like, add additional flavors and toppings, and make it as unique and special as you are!
Rainbow Cheesecake! (or any color combination that makes you happy!)
1-1/2 cups of crushed graham cracker crumbs (you can also use Biscoff cookie crumbs, or really any kind of dry cookie. If you are using Oreos, or a similar cream filled cookie, remove the cream filling first before crushing and use the filling in your batter or frosting!)
1/3 cup of butter, melted
Cake Batter: (This will be enough for one (9in) springform OR two (9in) pie pans)
4 (8oz) Packages of cream cheese (32 oz total) softened
1 cup white sugar
2 Tbsp all purpose flour
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup sour cream
Food coloring (gel seems to work best)
Preheat oven to 325º F.
Mix crushed graham crackers (or cookies) with butter and press into the bottom of a 9 inch spring form pan OR two (9in) pie pans. Bake for 10 minutes and then remove and set aside to cool. LEAVE OVEN ON!
You can use a stand mixer or a hand mixer. A paddle attachment blends a smoother, creamier batter. Add cream cheese, sugar, flour, and vanilla to a medium sized bowl or stand mixer and blend on medium speed until fully combined and creamy. Add sour cream, blend until fully combined. Add 1 egg at a time, blending each fully into the batter.
The following steps are specific to the rainbow cake pictured, but you can change this up to match whatever color combination you would like. The main thing to remember is that multiple colors will require each “layer” be decreased by 1/4-1/2 cup depending on how many colors you are using.
For springform pan
Wrap the bottom of the springform pan well with 2 layers of foil that comes up the sides at least a few inches, but more is better! This will protect the cake while in the water bath. Place in a roasting pan. Set aside.
In 6 bowls, divide batter as follows: 1 and ¾ cups (red), 1 and ½ cups (orange), 1 and ¼ cups (yellow), 1 cup (green), ¾ cup (blue), ½ cup (purple). Add food coloring to each bowl and stir well.
Starting with red batter, pour each color directly in the center on the springform pan, one after the other. Use a spoon or spatula if needed to make sure colors spread out.
Using boiling water, fill the roasting pan about half way. Transfer to oven (which should be at 325ºF) and bake for 50 minutes. Turn off oven and prop open door with a wooded spoon handle. Allow cake to cool down with the oven for an additional 50-60 minutes. Set in fridge for at least 2 hours.
For 9in pie pans:
Divide and color as specified above, but use half of each color for each pie pan. Pour as directed above.
Transfer pie pans directly to middle oven rack. On the bottom rack, place a roasting pan or large loaf pan and fill about halfway with boiling water. Bake 60 minutes. Turn off oven and prop open door with a wooded spoon handle. Allow cake to cool down with the oven for an additional 50-60 minutes. Set in fridge for at least 2 hours.
Alternate options – Peek – a – boo cheesecake:
Divide batter and color as desired, leaving enough white batter set aside to cover the top of the cake. Alternate pouring colors throughout the pan, swirl colors with a butter knife or skewer if desired. Top with white batter and use a rubber spatula to smooth out, being carful not to blend colors into the top layer. Bake as directed above. Cut into cake for a fun surprise!