Happy Hanukkah! The Jewish Festival of Lights begins this weekend, on the evening of Saturday, Dec. 8. Everywhere, for eight nights, happy celebrants will light candles at sundown, recite blessings, sing songs, spin dreidls, and share presents. And, of course, they'll eat delicious foods.

The most typical Hanukkah dishes, which are widely known and loved, are the jelly-filled doughnuts, called sufganiyot, and the crispy potato pancakes widely known as latkes. These recipes have in common the fact that they are fried in oil, commemorating the fact that a scant one day's worth of oil kept the eternal lamp glowing for eight nights when the great Temple in Jerusalem was rededicated after Jewish freedom fighters recaptured it 2,176 years ago.

But there's another category of holiday treats well worth enjoying as well -- those featuring cheese. This particular tradition stems from the story of a beautiful young Jewish widow in the time of the Hanukkah story, who beguiled (and then beheaded) the evil Assyrian general Holofernes by plying him with cheeses and wine. So dairy recipes, including the cheese-filled crepes called blintzes and various kinds of cheesecake, are also popular parts of the Hanukkah table.

With that in mind, I'd like to share with you my recipe for one of the most popular flavors of cheesecake: cookies and cream. Unlike many commercial versions of this treat, mine doesn't feature store-bought sandwich cookies. Instead, both its crust and its filling feature a richly flavorful, crumbly, home-baked chocolate cookie dough. And the cheesecake mixture itself is flavored with melted white chocolate. (To melt the chocolate for the recipe, break it up into small pieces, putting them in a small microwave-proof cup or bowl. Cover with a paper towel and heat in the microwave for 30 seconds; then stop and stir, repeating the microwaving once or twice more.)

There are a few simple secrets to making cheesecake successfully. Use a springform pan with a clip-secured detachable side, which makes unmolding the cake easier, and grease its inside well. Before filling the pan, wrap its bottom and partway up the side in aluminum foil: This is necessary to help waterproof the joint between the bottom and side, because you'll be baking the cheesecake inside a water bath that will help the filling bake more gently and evenly.

Make the cheesecake the day before your Hanukkah party (or any holiday get-together), so it will have time to set and chill thoroughly in the refrigerator. Then, use a thin, sharp knife dipped in a glass of hot water to help loosen it from the pan's side and then cut it into wedges. A scattering of fresh berries -- whole blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries, or sliced strawberries -- makes a perfect garnish.

Let the celebration begin!


Yield: Serves 10

Chocolate Crumble:

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 ounces unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 4 pieces

3 large cage-free egg yolks

3 tablespoons heavy cream


1-1/2 pounds cream cheese, cut into small pieces, at room temperature