The talented Nora Ephron, born May 19, 1941, died yesterday (June 26, 2012) at the age of 71. She is best known for her screenwriting of “Sleepless in Seattle” (which she also directed) and “When Harry Met Sally.” She also wrote plays, essays, and novels. I enjoyed reading her book of essays I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman. But my favorite of her books is the novel Heartburn. And no, it’s not because it’s fabulously written or timeless or captivating or especially interesting. It’s about her marriage to Carl Bernstein, fictionalized. The protagonist is left by her husband for another woman while she’s pregnant. It’s a pretty compelling theme, yet I like the novel because she shares her cheesecake recipe. It’s a recipe I still use.
Nora Ephron’s Cheesecake
9-inch graham cracker pie crust
12 oz. cream cheese
4 well-beaten eggs
1 c sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 c sour cream
½ c sugar
Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix cream cheese, eggs, 1 cup sugar, and vanilla. Pour into pie crust and bake for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 15 minutes. In a separate bowl, mix sour cream and sugar. Spread this mixture gently over cheesecake and bake 10 minutes more. Cool and refrigerate several hours before serving.
Okay, so I have a confession. It’s not really Nora Ephron’s recipe. The main character of the novel (seemingly Nora Ephron) attributes it to a friend, who claims she just used the recipe from the back of the package on Philadelphia cream cheese. This reminds me of the episode of friends, in which Phoebe gives Monica a cookie made from her great grandmother’s secret recipe. Monica, ever the neurotic chef, spends the entire episode trying to recreate the cookie. She adds exotic ingredients (cardamom) and mixes and matches measurements. Finally, Phoebe explains the story again, saying in a ridiculous accent that her great grandmother’s name was “Nestlé Tollhouse.” Yeah, it was from the package. Sometimes those really are the best recipes.
Once I made this cheesecake for my dad when he came to visit. He took one bite, looked at me in shock, and exclaimed, “Where did you get MY cheesecake recipe?” We laughed when I explained. It’s a classic recipe and most delicious, so it explains why people want to claim it as their own, or why they might think it’s a long lost secret recipe from the past.
And perhaps it is a relic of the past, just as Nora Ephron will now be. She was magnificent artist, a creative writer, and a sharp wit whose talents will be missed on the silver screen, in print, and on the web. Rest in peace, Nora Ephron, and thanks for the perfect cheesecake.