Aunt Mary Sue’s Lemon Cheese Cake

3AF218EB-F82A-4832-9094-8DAD05EB30A5My Aunt Mary Sue’s Lemon Cheese Cake was not a cheesecake, it was not a very well behaved cake nor was it a particularly beautiful cake. Mary Sue’s Lemon Cheese Cake was… a special occasion cake for our family, it was a cake we dearly loved and  a unique cake that frankly I have only found three other recipes for Lemon Cheese Cake! Believe me- I have tried! Lemon Cheese Cake may be specific to my home state, Alabama. All four recipes were recorded by Alabamians! Two famous chefs, who originated in Alabama-  Scott Peacock and Virginia Willis, fondly recall this delicious cake and included it in their cookbooks; then- I found a very similar cake named White Moon Cake in an obscure church cookbook that was compiled by church mothers, fairground workers, military cooks and domestic cooks.

So, what is Aunt Mary Sue’s Lemon Cheese Cake? It is a white layer cake, filled and frosted with a thick Lemon Curd. I fully believe the ‘curd’ was exchanged in terms- to ‘cheese’ since this recipe is well over 75 years old, perhaps older than that! Now, Aunt Mary Sue was actually my great aunt, she was my grandmother’s younger sister. I loved her, she was fashionable and had an incredible sense of humor- she was also the keeper of this recipe and the designated baker of Lemon Cheese Cake.  Mimi also, in a rare departure of recording recipes, actually wrote down the recipe for the Lemon Cheese Filling  and added my aunt’s shortcut of using a white layer cake mix – with a few tweaks Mary Sue apparently made. You need to know that Mimi was a purist when it came to her own baking, the recipes she wrote down rarely were recipes she never intended to use, and believe me- she never planned to bake a Lemon Cheese Cake herself! That was Mary Sue’s specialty. And! Here’s what I know for sure… Mary Sue’s recipe for the Lemon Curd or Lemon Cheese Filling has never failed, not even once! I’ve used it to make Lemon Curd without even baking the cake! So! Here’s how you make-8B48E839-FBE5-4F59-8592-2C4A16D68DB1

‘Aunt Mary Sue’s Lemon Cheese Filling’

  • Butter – 1/2 cup or 2 sticks
  • 2 cups granulated Sugar
  • 6 Egg Yolks (use large eggs)
  • Zest of 2 Large Lemons
  • Juice of 2 Large Lemons

In a double boiler, mix all ingredients over hot water (not boiling) until thick. Stirring often. This process may take up to 30 minutes. Lemon curd will generally thicken at 200 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Store tightly sealed until chilled.

* For filling and frosting a Lemon Cheese Cake, up to one extra stick of butter may be added, while Lemon Curd is still warm- cut butter into small cubes and add gradually. This recipe may be doubled, yet it takes a good bit longer- therefore I generally make two batches. To use the lemon curd or filling as an icing…it is enough to spread on two 8 or 9 inch layers and I suppose because the egg yolks were used in the filling- the cake was always a white layer cake. 425E2FAD-E423-4103-AE8E-F03A1C2D29A3

To assemble the Lemon Cheese Cake is a matter I’ve struggled with and apparently so did Chef Peacock and Chef Willis- they say to insert wooden skewers on the cake as it tends to shift and that is oh so true! And Chef Willis may have altered it a bit for a more stable cake.

What I did differently was- I put the two 9 inch layers of white cake in the freezer and actually iced the frozen layers with the lemon filling still chilled slightly.

Why did I freeze the layers? Well, my Uncle Charles had an ice house… his sister Mary Sue would keep the Lemon Cheese Cake in the ice box at home and if the special occasion was at Uncle Charles’ house- the cake was held in the Ice House until we were ready to serve it. I recall that the cake didn’t languish on the sideboard- it was cut into slices waiting to be served and I still recommend it that way. (It might also be wonderful made into one layer cakes as well, to avoid the landslide effect! )

Lemon Cheese Cake was almost always served with a seasonal fruit- strawberries or peaches were a summer favorite, in the winter when citrus fruits were available, Aunt Mary Sue’s Lemon Cheese Cake was served alongside a simple citrus ambrosia of orange sections with fresh grated coconut; this cake and my grandmother’s pound cake were our family’s favorites. I have to say, my grandmother kept a tight rein on who added dishes to the meals, so I strongly suspect that Lemon Cheese Cake was a recipe she and my Aunt Mary Sue may have learned from the cooks in the childhood home. How and why this cake hasn’t survived to become a southern classic may be due to the difficulty of leaving this wonderful cake on a sideboard to be admired otherwise it is a mystery to me! I’ve seen variations that come close, yet with the exceptions of these two wonderful chefs and the church ladies’ cookbooks whose recipes are very close to Aunt Mary Sue’s this is considered by me to be an heirloom recipe and one I’m thrilled to have. If you don’t make the cake- at least hang on to the Lemon Filling…it’s the best Lemon Curd I’ve ever tasted!

Love y’all, Camellia

*All photographs are obviously mine! *Some recommend straining the lemon curd after it’s made- I personally enjoy the lemon zest in it!

Mimi’s Award Winning Pimento Cheese…

80DB15D0-3FF3-49C8-BB76-D2BB0F852A13Mimi never knew her pimento cheese won an award, it would have thrilled her, yet I don’t think she’d have been too surprised. Anyone who ever tasted one of her Tea Sandwiches would have agreed. Her recipe for Pimento Cheese was highly prized. Mimi kept a bowl of pimento cheese made up most of the time. My job was to grate the sharp cheddar cheese, in a little cheese grater with a handle which I turned in amazement. It’s still one of my favorite kitchen tools.

44EB0E2F-C33C-4B48-BA4A-28647A0D9AC4The grated cheese was as fine as angel hair- Mimi’s Pimento Cheese was devilishly spiced, I’m not sure she ever wrote down the recipe but I can still see her now, conjuring up a mixture that’s pure Southern Soul in a bowl. It’s only sharp cheddar cheese, a jar of pimentos and mayonnaise- the spices make Mimi’s Pimento Cheese memorable. Cayenne, Red Pepper Flakes and what we call Pepper Sauce, the brine from a jar of hot peppers that we use to spice things up and even pour over turnip greens or blackeyed peas. Pepper Sauce is one of those secret ingredients that even now, mostly only real southerners know. Go to a local meat and three in small towns across the South and you’ll see a small bottle of pickled hot peppers with a hole in the top of the bottle- a shaker if you will. The bottle’s not there for anyone to actually eat the peppers- no, it’s for the brine, the ‘sauce’ . Pit masters add pepper sauce to their barbecue sauces, old wisened cooks hardly even think about adding pepper sauce to their cooking. Pepper Sauce isn’t the same as ‘hot sauce’ that fiery red hot sauce shaken over… well, lots of things. Mimi added several drops of hot sauce to her Egg Salad but never in her Award Winning Pimento Cheese! So! Here’s how you make it!

Mimi’s Award Winning Pimento Cheese

The classic and highly prized southern classic- Pimento Cheese. Spicy with cayenne pepper and sharp cheddar cheese, is wonderful for tea sandwiches, picnic sandwiches and as a dip for crackers or celery sticks. 

  • 12 Ounces Sharp Cheddar Cheese (Finely Grated * Do not use pre- grated! )
  • 1 Small Jar Pimentos – partially drained (Do not use ‘diced’ )
  • 1/2-3/4 Cup Good Quality Mayonnaise (* look for lemon juice in the ingredients )
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1-2 Teaspoons Brine of pickled hot peppers (* clear vinegary liquid only)
  1. On the fine side of a box grater, shred sharp cheddar cheese.. In a medium sized bowl, put grated cheese. Add brine of hot pepper to fill partially drained jar of pimentos. Add cayenne pepper to pimento jar also. Scoop Mayonnaise over grated cheese. Pour spiced pimentos over Mayonnaise and add red pepper flakes. Stir gently to combine. Mimi’s Pimento Cheese will occasionally need additional mayonnaise- add a bit at a time to desired consistency. Chill, until ready to use. Spread thinly for tea sandwiches. 

Mimi’s Pimento Cheese is a time tested recipe – she often used extra sharp cheese, please do not try this recipe with pre- grated packaged cheese. Fine Grated Cheese is best, however you may like a chunkier Pimento Cheese and a food processor will work well for that.. It is wonderful molded with an indention in the center filled with red pepper jelly or strawberry jam, then surrounded with party crackers…it’s a crowd pleaser! For Tea sandwiches, a thinned out version (do this with more mayonnaise bit by bit) spread thinly on loaf bread, crusts removed,  cut into desired shapes with a serrated knife. Pimento Cheese is used to top burgers, to make grilled cheese and many other uses. Mimi would probably have disapproved, still,  enjoy it however you wish! 

Now a word of caution, don’t use pre-grated cheese, it won’t work! And don’t even think about using a milder cheddar cheese, use sharp or even extra sharp cheddar. The flavor depends on it! Finely grated is best, I never saw Mimi use even a medium grate. Still. It’s not just about ingredients- it’s about the Method too! And if you have a recipe for Pimento Cheese that contains Cream Cheese? Well, Mimi would have been horrified. Don’t use it. Period.

Now- this is important- don’t buy diced pimentos, buy pimentos. And don’t get fancy and add roasted red pepper. Okay, not if you want the Award Winning taste. You may add an extra small jar if you like, though one will do.  Just partially drain the jar of pimentos, leave them in the jar, fill up the jar with the pepper sauce, add the cayenne pepper- screw the lid of the jar back on the pimentos and gently shake before adding to the grated cheese and mayonnaise.

Now, about that mayonnaise- Mimi made her own for years, until she found brands of store bought mayonnaise that contained lemon juice in the ingredients! This is a must! Truth be told she didn’t always add red pepper flakes, yet when she did? Mimi thought they gave her Pimento Cheese flecks of color that she liked to see.  The sharp cheddar, the cool mayonnaise and pimentos are the perfect balance for the heat of the pepper sauce and the spices! Trust me on this.

Now, about that Award… Several years ago, I was cajoled out of Mimi’s recipe, this friend also had a recipe for another famous Pimento Cheese- which was also entered in this fairly high fallutin’ private contest. The competition was fierce, the folks who attended had fine credentials. By all accounts it was a well orchestrated event. I have to say, I wasn’t one bit surprised  her pimento cheese on first place. After all, it was Mimi’s and her Pimento Cheese has always been First Place to me!

Love y’all, Camellia

* All photographs are obviously mine. As you can see, I couldn’t resist making up a few Tea Sandwiches…

Camellia’s Classic Cheese Straws…

If there was a manual for Camellia’s Academy of Fine Arts for Polite Society, there would be an entire section devoted to the proper menus for afternoon teas, bridal showers, various receptions and occasional celebratory parties. And, you may count on Classic Cheese Straws making an honorary appearance on each and every menu. Southern Cheese Straws have been the subject of hot debate for decades…every town has at least one sweet soul who takes great pride in producing the very best cheese straws. Okay, it’s not a hot debate, it’s more like a warm undercurrent. Someone remarked recently, ‘Why, I haven’t made a cheese straw since Captain and Tennielle sang Muskrat Love, I never could get them to crisp up like Gaynelle always could.’  I can’t say I blame her!

Here’s why:

  • Some say it’s too humid right now for making a decent cheese straw.
  • Others think it’s because a certain baker never shared her grandmother’s recipe on her momma’s side, I think it was a deathbed promise.
  • Then, some recipes survive, however the oven temperature tends to vary or a critical ingredient is missing.
  • Even the fact you must be in possession of a proper cookie press has mysteriously been left out.
  • In fact, it must be said-  Blessed is the bride who receives a fine metal cookie press at her kitchen shower and-
  • Far more than blessed is the southern hostess who has inherited her great aunt Bessie’s cookie press which had her famous cheese straw recipe hidden inside the tube.

I’m not exaggerating here. Classic Cheese Straws are highly prized and the one who literally pressed on through the ages- surviving even ‘Muskrat Love’ persists until this day! Still. I’m not going to tell you my cheese straw recipe is the best, I could get into a lot of hot water! I am going to tell you that this recipe is one of my favorites. And! I personally love southern cheese straws so much that I generally make a double recipe at least twice a year and they’re squirreled away in my freezer. I pull out what I need, put them on an ungreased sheet pan and allow them to thaw slightly and bake as directed. Winter is a great time to make cheese straws, but as my friend who probably does make the best cheese (because she does have a genuine handed down recipe) told me recently…’They won’t get crisp if you bake them on a rainy or humid day’. I agree. Try this recipe- I haven’t left anything out.

Join me in keeping this wonderful tradition alive- it’s an heirloom recipe. It’d be a shame for polite society if the tradition didn’t survive, especially if you live, like I do,  where cheese straws are always welcome and the sugar cane still grows.

Love y’all, Camellia

 

Camellia's Classic Cheese Straws

An old classic cheese straw for teas, showers, receptions or parties!

  • 1 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese (grated= *do not use pre-grated cheese! )
  • 1 stick salted butter (if you use unsalted add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to sifted flour)
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  1. In a food processor, grate sharp cheddar and chilled stick of butter- doing this in batches if necessary. Put cheddar mixture in a large bowl, covered with plastic wrap and leave overnight to soften- do not refrigerate at this stage. Sift together flour, cayenne, paprika and salt (if using unsalted butter). With clean hands, mix dry ingredients into softened cheese and butter- mixing very well until mixture is smooth.  On ungreased sheet pan, in batches, put dough through a cookie press with a star tip in approximately 4 inch strips. (If you don’t have a cookie press- the dough can be rolled with a bit of extra flour and cut into narrow strips.) Placement is approximately 1/2 inches apart. When sheet pan is filled, chill the pressed dough briefly to retain better shape as they bake.

    Preheat oven to 350. Bake 15 minutes, checking after 12 minutes. Cheese Straws should be dried out but not browned. Remove to a wire rack to cook. Keep in an airtight container. Makes 4-6 dozen.   

The best cheese straws are put through a cookie press, using the star plate. If you choose another design, adjust cooking time.

* all photographs are obviously mine. Williams Sonoma sells a wonderful sturdy cookie press. I also found several good all metal cookies presses sold on Amazon. *Camellia’s Academy of Fine Arts for Polite Society does not exist- though it’s crossed my mind…