That takes the biscuit

It's a never-ending quest for the perfect cheesecake topping.

I have spent my adult life searching for a cheesecake as good as the one I used to eat as a student in Exeter. It was on the menu of a restaurant called Bananas and had a firm, chocolatey, biscuit base, and a mousse-like, lemony topping. The alliance of crunchy biscuit and light mousse - tangy but not sour - was unimprovably good.

This was not what most people would call a proper cheesecake. A proper cheesecake is a creation from central Europe, baked with a filling comprised of curd cheese, eggs, lemon juice and zest, and perhaps sultanas. It has a topping of soured cream. You can get, budget permitting, a superb example at the Wolseley, the restaurant in Piccadilly, London that models itself on central European brasseries. This cake is luxuriously rich and creamy: so rich and creamy that a slice of it is almost too much of a good thing. But my highest-ranking foods compel me to carry on eating them beyond the point of satiety.

Then there is New York cheesecake, baked with cream cheese and often having a mouth-coating consistency that I find a little oppressive. Wikipedia tells me that there are Chicago, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and Ann Arbor variations. But my quest is for something lighter.

I am making good progress towards the ideal base. It does not have to be chocolatey, but it must be firm: a soggy cheesecake base is a dispiriting thing. Delia Smith, aiming for the same texture, recommends mixing the biscuits with grapenuts cereal. I find, though, that a combination of two parts crumbled digestives - American recipes refer to "Graham crackers" - to one part butter, compacted on a base and put in the freezer for a while, produces a satisfying crunch. My next experiment will be to discover whether the advice of some recipes - that you bake the base before chilling it - works even better.

The filling is more problematic. In my book Don't Sweat the Aubergine, I gave a recipe involving cream cheese, cream and condensed milk, along with lemon and lime. I stand by it; but it does not have the foamy quality of the Bananas paradigm. I have tried, too, something called orange and lemon mousse cake, and - without the grapenuts - Delia's key lime pie. The results were similar.

My latest experiment was prompted by A A Gill, who referred dismissively to Sloaney cooks supplying dinner parties with cheesecakes made from Philly cheese and lemon jelly. Instead of thinking, as I was supposed to, "How vulgar," I thought: "I must try that." Googling the ingredients, I found a recipe on Delia Smith's messageboard. The cake tastes of gelatinised condensed milk: delicious in its way, if slightly sickly. I am not there yet.

Perhaps I should forget the cheese, and just prepare a base and tip some lemon mousse into it.

Nicholas Clee, the NS food columnist, is the author of Don’t Sweat the Aubergine: What Works in the Kitchen and Why (Short Books). He is a former editor of The Bookseller, and writes about books for papers including the Times, Guardian, and Times Literary Supplement.

This article first appeared in the 30 July 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Brown v Cameron. Game over?