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Cheesesteak cheesecake is better than it has a right to be

  • PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

    A Philly Cheesesteak Cheesecake combines a cracker crust with a sturdy cheese filling and a topping of steak and Cheez Whiz.

I’ll admit it: I was disgusted when I first saw the words “cheesesteak cheesecake.” (You probably are, too.) But that was before I’d baked one myself and fed it to a room of colleagues who cleaned their plates.

As with much in life, it turned out that the cheesesteak cheesecake was nothing like what I thought it would be. It was savory, creamy and not sweet, more like quiche than dessert, and far from the textural nightmare I’d feared. It was the kind of junk food that people claim they’d never touch — until it’s sitting in front of them, smelling like cheese, butter and meat, and suddenly they’re inhaling it.

The recipe was created by Nikki Miller-Ka, a North Carolina food writer and blogger. She created the dish /’almost three years ago and posted it on her blog, Nik Snacks, and then didn’t think about it again until May 30, when the blog BroBible tweeted about it. Almost instantly, her recipe became the target of jokes and haters.

“I get it,” Miller-Ka said. “If I had just seen that photo with nothing else, I would have called myself names as well.”

At the urging of my editors, I set about making my own cheesesteak cheesecake. Miller-Ka’s straightforward recipe calls for a wheat-cracker crust, butter, eggs, a little flour and milk, cream cheese and provolone. Once baked, it’s topped with onions, steak, green peppers and an optional garnish of Cheez Whiz.

“That’s not optional,” my editor said.

I assembled the crust by pounding crackers into crumbs, adding butter and cayenne pepper, and packing the mixture into the bottom of a springform pan. It smelled like buttery crackers — so far, so good.

Things got dicier with the filling. Churning in my stand mixer, the cream cheese and provolone came together in unappetizing lumps that resembled cottage cheese. I ventured a small spoonful. It was strange, like cheese dip but with a strong aftertaste of Worcestershire sauce.

Once I had poured the batter into the pan and it was baking away in the oven, I sauteed peppers, onions and sliced steak. The cake came out after exactly 40 minutes, semi-firm and golden around the edges, the crust mostly intact. It smelled like a fancy, toasted cheese cracker. (It was, literally, cheese and crackers.)

I assembled the cake in the office, dressing it with the meat and vegetables and finishing with a generous drizzle of Whiz. People descended like vultures on my cheesy project. And they kept eating it — most people who took a slice finished every last crumb.

Inquirer food critic Craig LaBan appreciated the richness of the flavors but questioned the level of sweetness from the cream cheese. He suggested that the meat would benefit from being sliced into smaller pieces. “The best part of it is the peppers,” he said. “It gives it a nice crunch.”

Incidentally, Miller-Ka said the most vitriolic of her online critics singled out the green peppers as the cake’s biggest flaw. “I know good and well they don’t belong in a Philly steak,” she said, but the peppers add much-needed color and freshness.

SAVORY PHILLY CHEESESTEAK CHEESECAKE
By Nikki Miller-Ka, niksnacksonline.com

>> 1/2 pound top round or sirloin
>> 14 ounces cream cheese, softened
>> 2-1/2 cups provolone cheese, shredded
>> 2 tablespoons flour
>> 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
>> 1/4 cup cream or whole milk
>> 3 eggs
>> 1/2 teaspoon oil
>> 1/2 green pepper, sliced thin
>> 1/2 cup white onion, sliced
>> 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
>> Cheez Whiz for garnish, if desired

Crust:
>> 2-1/2 cups wheat cracker crumbs
>> 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
>> 1/2 teaspoon salt
>> 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place steak in freezer for 30 to 45 minutes to make it easier to slice.

To make crust: In a medium bowl, mix cracker crumbs, butter, salt and cayenne. Press into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Set aside.

Beat cream cheese until smooth and fluffy. Beat in provolone, flour and Worcestershire sauce. Gradually beat in the cream, then eggs, 1 at a time.

Pour on top of crust. Bake 40 to 45 minutes, until almost set (firm but still a bit wiggly when moved). Let cool to room temperature. Remove side of the pan.

Remove steak from freezer and slice very thin. Heat oil in a medium saute pan over medium-high. Add green pepper and onion; cook until soft. Season with salt. Add steak and saute 2 to 4 minutes.

Spoon steak mixture over cheesecake. Top with Cheez Whiz, if using. Makes 1 9-inch cake.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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