Growing up, Ben Lilly's favorite food was his Grandma Lilly's cheesecake. In fact, the unique dessert, topped with an icing made from sour cream and sugar, made such an impression on Lilly that, as an adult, he was startled to learn all cheesecakes were not created equally.
"I remember the first time I ever tasted a cheesecake that wasn't hers, being super excited, because cheesecake was widely known to be my favorite food," Lilly, who lives in San Jose, California, told TODAY Food. "When it arrived, I was like, 'What the hell is this? Where's the top layer?'"
"I didn't realize her recipe was special," Lilly explained. "I just thought it was normal cheesecake."
But Marsha Lilly, whose grandchildren would request the special cake whenever she visited them, had a special take on the popular dessert: a top layer of icing made of sour cream, sugar and vanilla.
Ben Lilly shared his grandma's recipe in the Old_Recipes subreddit, calling it "the recipe so good and unique that it defines (his) family." His fellow Redditors were quick to jump in with their own comments on the sour cream-topped cheesecake.
"Apparently sour-cream–topped cheesecake was a thing before it was killed by the dieting fads of the '70s," Lilly said. "Because my grandma grew up in San Diego, and because it seems like the lame, default, one-layer cheesecake is always called New York cheesecake, I've told my friends in the past that I thought ours might be more of a West Coast-style cheesecake."
"Grandma Lilly was the keeper of family stories," he continued. "By learning more about this recipe, now I get to color in and verify details of our stories about her. It feels right, like I'm bringing things full circle."
A big cheesecake fan myself, I couldn't wait to try Grandma Lilly's recipe. After making a graham cracker crust in a pie pan, I added the cheesecake batter, made of cream cheese, eggs, vanilla and sugar, and baked on 350 F for 20 minutes. It came out perfectly.
After letting the cheesecake cool in the refrigerator, I mixed up Grandma Lilly's sour cream icing, added it to the top of the cake and put it back into the refrigerator to firm up.
This cheesecake is truly incredible. As someone who prefers custard-based desserts like creme brûlée over chocolate cake, I was in heaven while sampling a slice. The slightly tangy sour cream icing perfectly complements the buttery crust.
Lilly says he was making the cheesecake recipe for his boyfriend when the idea to share it with his fellow old recipe lovers on Reddit occurred to him.
"Transcribing it into a post was a fun little mini-project with which to spend the afternoon," he said. "Grandma Lilly sent little bits of her mark out into the world throughout her life — a parody New Age book she wrote with her friend, a stand-up comedy routine she performed at nightclubs, and yes, even an original recipe she got published by winning a magazine contest.
"Sharing the recipe with the world felt very her."