She kept it classified “Top Secret” for decades. Here’s the story.
Perino’s Restaurant first opened in Los Angeles in 1932. Years later, in 1950, it moved to a new location on Wilshire Boulevard just up the street from our home.
It was a glamorous dining spot filled nightly with stars of varying degrees of brightness: Frank Sinatra stained the piano with his martinis. Bette Davis had her own booth reserved for her at all times. Charlie Chaplin always ordered Perino’s pumpernickel cheese toast. Cary Grant always had Steak Diane. The mobster, “Bugsy” Siegel was a regular patron before his demise and Cole Porter wrote a song on the back of a Perino’s menu.
But, back to the story of my mother’s recipe. One of her closest friends was her neighbor, Mary. Now Mary had a ‘gentleman friend’ who ate at Perino’s often. He loved their cheesecake. Over time, he befriended the chef who, one day, gave him his personal (and very secret) cheesecake recipe. Secrecy being what it is, he gave the recipe to Mary and Mary immediately gave it to my mother. Then they vowed to not give it to anyone else.
Once my mother had baked her first cheesecake from this recipe, she pronounced it ‘perfection’ and locked the magic formula away. In her eyes, this was like discovering the philosopher’s stone and she was going to keep this bit of culinary alchemy safely hidden!
And that’s what she did, for decades. But, at the same time, she would bake cheesecakes for every family member, friend, celebration or event, be it holiday, birthday, funeral or bris. Everyone adored this dessert and my mother became famous for it. She was generous with her cheesecakes but she never divulged the recipe. It wasn’t until she was seventy-seven years old and in poor health, that I went to her apartment and finally found the recipe. Now, I want to share it with the world in memory of my mother, Anna, and to honor her good taste and her guardianship of one of baking’s great triumphs.
But before I do, here’s a wonderful story which captures so much of my mother’s personality.
In 1967, my mother went to visit her family in New Jersey. I called her and this is how the conversation went.
Me: Hi Mom, how’s the family?
Mom: Everyone’s fine. Thank God.
Me: So what have you been doing?
Mom: Well, my girl friend, Lillian from Los Angeles called and asked me to visit her son, Dusty, in New York City. She’s worried he’s not eating enough. She says he’s skinny so I made him a cheesecake and bought him a corned beef sandwich.Then I took the train into the city, walked up the stairs to his apartment and gave him my cheesecake and the sandwich. At least I can tell Lillian that I saw Dusty, fed him and he’s OK.
Me: You mean you went to the trouble of making one of your cheesecakes and took the train all the way into New York just to feed Lillian’s son?
Mom: Of course. I knew Dusty needed food.
Mom: Yes, Dusty.
Me: Dusty? You don’t mean Dustin Hoffman do you?
Mom: Yeh, sure, it’s Lillian Hoffman’s son, Dusty.
Me: Wait a second. Lillian, the woman you play cards with is Dustin’s Hoffman’s mother?
Mom: Yeh, sure, Lillian Hoffman.
Me: Do you know who he is?
Mom: Yeh, He’s Lillian Hoffman’s son. Dusty. You should see how skinny he is and oy, the way he lives. I was doing such a blessing by bringing him food.
Me: Mom! That’s Dustin Hoffman! He’s a very famous actor. Did you know that? I mean really famous!
Mom: Famous, shamous. All I know is that he needs food. I don’t know how he expects to be an actor. He’s not handsome. He’s short and skinny. But he has a very nice personality…
THE WORLD’S BEST
ANNA’S CHEESECAKE RECIPE
10 inch Springform pan
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2 cups of Graham Cracker Crumbs (Nabisco -13 1/2 oz. box)
1/4 pound butter (1 stick)
Pinch of cinnamon
Melt the butter and mix with the cinnamon and graham cracker crumbs
Press down into pan (a little bit higher on the sides)
Bake for 5 minutes at 350, take out of oven and let it cool)
Turn off oven
Four 8 oz. packages of Philadelphia Cream Cheese at room temperature
1 Cup Sugar
Pinch of cinnamon
1 tablespoon of cake or regular flour
Put cream cheese into a mixing bowl ( 4 pkgs of cream cheese)
Add 1 cup of sugar and 1 tablespoon of flour, pinch of cinnamon and beat mixture
Add 1 egg at a time and beat into mixture
Add mixture into pan
Bake 40 minutes at 375
(PUT INTO COLD OVEN – DO NOT PREHEAT)
After baking the filling remove from oven. Let cool for 30 minutes before smoothing the topping onto the cake.
1 pint container or sour cream
3 tablespoons of sugar
1 tsp of vanilla or almond extract
Beat several minutes together. Smooth on top of cheesecake. Bake for 8 minutes.
Take out cake and place on something to cool. Place in fridge overnight.
Take off collar of spring form pan and pat more graham cracker crumbs onto the sides of the cake.