Cheesecake – America’s favorite custard

Yep, technically, a cheesecake isn’t a cake at all.  This is probably why some people tend to have problems baking it, since you can’t really treat it like a regular cake… normally you would check a cake for doneness by sticking some kind of cake tester (toothpick, skewer) into the middle of the cake and checking for moist crumbs.  For a cheesecake (and other custards),  you want the filling to still be slightly “jiggly” in the center, since the residual heat after baking will finish the job.   You would also want to bake it in a water bath (explained later).

I decided to make this cheesecake for Teresa’s birthday party / going away party after realizing I haven’t made a cheesecake in months.  I’ve also never made it correctly (water bath, etc), so I figured it’s time I tried.  I originally wanted to use Rose’s classic NY Jewish cheesecake recipe from The Cake Bible, sandwiching the custard between two slices of biscuit roulad, but I decided to make Dorie’s version first since I’ve always had good luck with her great book (Baking: From My Home To Yours).  The recipe in full can be found here, along with some tips from Dorie herself.

I think over the past couple years I’ve made 4 or 5 different cheesecakes, with drastically varying results.  Some of my first attempts resulted in the typical problems some people have with cheesecake: cracks in the top, inconsistent texture, etc.   I think the water bath and a few different mixing techniques remedied most of these problems now.  However, (putting on Angry Baker face) I think one of the flavor “variations” I tried didn’t really live up to my standards.  Damn you Ghiradelli!  Oh well, I hope Teresa and her guests enjoyed it anyway 🙂  I think I’ll try Rose’s cheesecake in the near future…

Tall and Creamy Cheesecake: A Basic

– makes 16 servings –
Adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan


For the crust (omit the crust for Passover or see above):

  • 1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

For the cheesecake:

  • 2 pounds (four 8-ounce boxes) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups sour cream or heavy cream, or a combination of the two


To make the crust:
1. Butter a 9-inch springform pan—choose one that has sides that are 2 3/4 inches high (if the sides are lower, you will have cheesecake batter leftover)—and wrap the bottom of the pan in a double layer of aluminum foil; put the pan on a baking sheet.

2. Stir the crumbs, sugar and salt together in a medium bowl. Pour over the melted butter and stir until all of the dry ingredients are uniformly moist. (I do this with my fingers.) Turn the ingredients into the buttered springform pan and use your fingers to pat an even layer of crumbs along the bottom of the pan and about halfway up the sides. Don’t worry if the sides are not perfectly even or if the crumbs reach above or below the midway mark on the sides—this doesn’t have to be a precision job. Put the pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven.

–Note: I mixed all the crust ingredients using a food processor

3. Center a rack in the oven, preheat the oven to 350°F and place the springform on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Set the crust aside to cool on a rack while you make the cheesecake.

4. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

To make the cheesecake:
1. Put a kettle of water on to boil.

2. Working in a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese at medium speed until it is soft and lives up to the creamy part of its name, about 4 minutes. With the mixer running, add the sugar and salt and continue to beat another 4 minutes or so, until the cream cheese is light. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one by one, beating for a full minute after each addition—you want a well-aerated batter. Reduce the mixer speed to low and stir in the sour cream and/or heavy cream.

3. Put the foil-wrapped springform pan in the roaster pan.

–Note: My friend Steve attempted using a water bath for a cheesecake before, and he sadly discovered that the springform pan wasn’t leak proof, even after wrapping the pan with aluminum foil.  The problem was probably the springform pan itself… try to get a good “leakproof” springform pan, like Kaiser, since even with aluminum foil, some of the water will leak under the foil.

4. Give the batter a few stirs with a rubber spatula, just to make sure that nothing has been left unmixed at the bottom of the bowl, and scrape the batter into the springform pan. The batter will reach the brim of the pan. (If you have a pan with lower sides and have leftover batter, you can bake the batter in a buttered ramekin or small soufflé mold.) Put the roasting pan in the oven and pour enough boiling water into the roaster to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

5. Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 minutes, at which point the top will be browned (and perhaps cracked) and may have risen just a little above the rim of the pan. Turn off the oven’s heat and prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon. Allow the cheesecake to luxuriate in its water bath for another hour.

6. After 1 hour, carefully pull the setup out of the oven, lift the springform pan out of the roaster—be careful, there may be some hot water in the aluminum foil—remove the foil. Let the cheesecake come to room temperature on a cooling rack.

7. When the cake is cool, cover the top lightly and chill the cake for at least 4 hours, although overnight would be better.

Serving: Remove the sides of the springform pan—I use a hairdryer to do this (use the dryer to warm the sides of the pan and ever so slightly melt the edges of the cake)—and set the cake, still on the pan’s base, on a serving platter. The easiest way to cut cheesecake is to use a long, thin knife that has been run under hot water and lightly wiped. Keep warming the knife as you cut slices of the cake.

Storing: Wrapped well, the cake will keep for up to 1 week in the refrigerator or for up to 2 months in the freezer. It’s best to defrost the still-wrapped cheesecake overnight in the refrigerator.

Ugh, I made some homemade whipped cream so I could pipe some decorations onto the finished cheesecake, but I don’t think I whipped it enough, so it lost its firm peaks after a while and looked more like marshmallows 😦

I made a “black and white” cheesecake by combining 4 ounces of bittersweet chocolate with 1/2 of the batter.  However, instead of Val Rhona or Guittard, I got lazy and melted some Ghiradelli instead… the taste definitely left something to be desired.  Next time I’ll just make a classic cheesecake, or maybe add some lemon to give it the traditional “New York Jewish” flavor.

The other cake in this picture is a golden butter cake with mocha buttercream frosting and will be in a future post… is this called a teaser? :p


9 Responses to “Cheesecake – America’s favorite custard”

  1. December 15, 2008 at 12:30 am

    mmm i really liked the golden butter cake with the mocha buttercream frosting!!

  2. 2 karen jean
    December 15, 2008 at 3:42 am

    I don’t generally enjoy or appreciate cheesecake, but I do love graham cracker crusts!

  3. 3 Steve
    December 15, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    It was very sad indeed when I found out my crust was soaked from the stupid springform pan. 😦

  4. 4 monster
    January 26, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    does this recipe really not collapse after it cools?! all the ones i’ve ever made always make this sort of crater shaped cheesecake… which i end up filling with stuff to make it not look as ugly

  5. 5 Jin
    January 28, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    Nope, this cheesecake didn’t cave in or have any cracks at all! Just make sure to follow all the instructions for a higher success rate 🙂

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