Smile Politely

The search for the best cheesecakes in C-U

When I was a little girl I foolishly refused to try cheesecake. It looked funny to me, and my little brain could not wrap itself around the idea of cheese being sweet. I didn’t realize at time how much deliciousness I was missing out on all those years. Luckily, I have a mother-in-law who makes a killer cheesecake and a husband who finally coerced me into actually trying it. It was love at first bite for me. Now that I know how yummy cheesecake is, the writer in me wanted to delve into the history behind it. I love reading about food.

After hours at the library and online over the years, I found many fascinating stories and favorite facts about this tasty confection known as cheesecake. Here are a few favorites I’ve uncovered: In early Greece, cheesecake was found to be a great source of energy. There’s evidence, archeologists unearthed an ancient cheese mold, that it was served to athletes during the very first Olympic games back in 776 B.C.E. Also, brides and grooms from Greece would often use cheesecake for their wedding cakes. They formed simple ingredients such as wheat, flour, raw honey, and local cheese into a cake and then baked it. It’s a long way away from the more intricate recipes and techniques used today.

Okay enough of the history lesson — on to a more tangible topic. Here are some of my top picks for the best cheesecakes in C-U.

The New Sweet Indulgence 

The creme brûlée cheesecake ($4) has a decadent layer of icing sprinkled with gorgeous glittering sugar to mimic the caramelization on the top of an actual creme brûlée. The icing tastes a bit like cream cheese frosting and the texture of the filling is silky and smooth. The crust is a tender graham cracker triumph. This is a beautiful and decadent cheesecake that must not be missed! Next time I visit I may go for the whole cheesecake ($30)! 

The New Sweet Indulgence Bakery is located at 1121 West Windsor Road, Champaign.

Hamilton Walker’s

The New York cheesecake with fresh berries ($8.95) is a massively thick slice of cheesecake heaven. It’s a shareable dessert that could satisfy two or three people easily. The filling is creamy and dense almost like a custard, and the crust is reminiscent of a tender sugar cookie. One of the best things about this cheesecake is that the buttery crust climbs up the back of the cake. To top it all off, Hamilton Walker’s adorns the cake with fresh berries. The recipe is based on a famous cheesecake that hails from Chicago.

Hamilton Walker’s is located at 201 North Neil Street Champaign.

Rick’s Bakery

Rick’s plain cheesecake ($2.50) looks and smells amazing. When you waft the smell up to your nose it has a lovely cheesy citrus scent. When I bit into it the first thing I could taste was the cheese, and then bright hints of citrus. The mouthfeel is smooth with a little texture from the perfectly baked glossy top. It also has a sweet graham cracker crust that is just the right thickness. At $2.50, this cheesecake wins best value, hands down!

Rick’s Bakery is located at 2018 South Philo Road, Urbana.

Hopscotch Cakes & Confections

Hopscotch’s vanilla bean cheesecakes for two ($7.95) are beautiful and scrumptious. The texture of the filling was light and creamy, with a hint of fresh vanilla. It’s on the sweet side, but not overly sweet. I loved the sugariness of it as well as the crunchy graham cracker crust. I have no idea how owner/baker Kaya Tate manages to incorporate the little bursts of crunch you get in the crust with each bite. The adorable cheesecake is topped with a pretty buttercream rose.

Soon they will have their own brick and mortar but until then, Hopscotch Cakes & Confections items can be purchased online, or at Art Mart located at 1705 South Prospect Avenue, Champaign.

Pekara Bakery

The Pekara mini cheesecake flavor was classic chiffon with a sugar cookie crust. This delicate buttery cheesecake ($6.30) is light and ethereal. It was so light that it tasted as though it’d been whipped to a creamy cloud of goodness. If you love butter, you will love this cheesecake. The other thing I enjoyed about this little powerhouse of flavor, was the decadent shortbread crust. Yum! It was the perfect ratio of crust to filling. The flavor rotates monthly

Pekara is located at 116 North Neil Street, Champaign.

I would love to continue on my journey to discover the yummiest cheesecakes our twin cities have to offer. If you don’t see your favorite here, or you have a place that I simply must try, please comment and let me know. I look forward to trying as much as I possibly can. You’ve gotta get out there and see what tasty treats C-U has to offer!

Top photo by Jessica Hammie. All other photos by Rebecca Wells. Information about the history of cheesecake can be found here, here, here, and here

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