It’s a (very large) piece of cake.

At Eli’s we have a tradition of making huge special occasion cheesecakes for events like the Taste of Chicago, the White Sox 2005 World Series Championship, and visits from VIP guests like Jay Leno or Hillary Clinton (just to name a few). Eli’s granddaughter, Elana, always told me that “big cakes taste the best.” I wasn’t sure what she meant until I tasted a piece at the Taste of Chicago a few years back. Sure, I’d helped design, promote, and serve these fantastic confections for years, but we’re always so busy at special events I never get the chance to sit down and enjoy it.

Well, she was right. It was fantastic!

I think it’s so good because of the slow baking process. Every cheesecake we make is slow baked, but the giant special event cakes are sloooow baked, for hours and hours. The result is a dense deliciousness you can only find in a massive hunk o’ Eli’s.

This month we have the honor of baking a big cheesecake for the Commander in Chief’s Ball in Washington D.C. for the Presidential Inauguration. It will consist of layers of Eli’s Original Plain and Apple Cheesecakes, decorated in red, white and blue fondant, gold and white stars, and edible seals representing the five branches of the armed forces. The apples are a nod to President Lincoln’s love for apple cake (speaking of Lincoln – check back next month for the giant cake we’re baking for his bicentennial in Springfield, IL).

We’re not interested in trying to break world records with our big cakes. We’re more interested in baking desserts that will actually be eaten and enjoyed. I’ve heard that the giant cheesecakes we baked for both of President Clinton’s inaugurations were quite stressful for the Eli’s pastry team because of the cakes’ huge measurements (photo, left) so we’ve decided to tone it down a bit for President Obama.

If you consider a 500 pound cheesecake toning it down.

It’s quite simple, really. Here are instructions if you’d like to try it at home:

Roll and bake 7 round discs (about 4 lb. each) of Eli’s all-butter shortbread cookie crust for each layer of cheesecake. Accidentally break one and use it for taste testing purposes.

Add cultured cream cheese, which has been brought to room temperature, to a large mixing bowl. You’ll need about 100 pounds, or 200 of the little 8 oz. packages you can buy at the grocery store. You could also use that amount to top 1600 bagels, should you find yourself in a situation to do so.

Measure granulated sugar into the mixing bowl. Ours arrives in 2500 lb. bags and have to be lifted with a crane.

Cream together sugar, cream cheese and bit of flour in large capacity Italian mixers until well blended.

Next add the additional ingredients, like 20 dozen eggs (ours arrive pre-cracked, thank goodness), 20 lbs of cultured sour cream, a quart of Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon vanilla, and powdered sugar. For the apple cheesecake, add about 12 tablespoons of freshly ground cinnamon from the Chicago Spice House and 50 pounds of peeled, sautéed Michigan apple slices.

Find a metal fabricating company to create six 42” round baking pans. Make sure they have handles for easy in-and-out at the oven.

Find an oven large enough to fit the ginormous pans and slow bake each layer at 275 degrees F for about 6 hours.

Freeze the cheesecakes at -20 degrees F until firm. Hire a few pastry chefs (or get yourself 20+ years of pastry experience) and decorate as desired with 100 pounds of handmade rolled fondant.

If you’re lucky enough to attend the Commander in Chief’s Ball (it’s by invitation only) you can taste a piece of this 500 pound behemoth on January 20th at the National Building Museum in Washington D.C. Or, if you can wait a bit longer, we’ll be handing out free slices of a giant birthday cheesecake at the Taste of Chicago on June 27th at Buckingham Fountain in Chicago. Available while supplies last.

Just be sure to be one of the first 2,500 people in line.


The Eli’s team with executive pastry chef Laurel Boger, who has begun frosting the top layer of our giant, tiered Inaugural cheesecake.

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