If I had to pick one recipe that represents my signature dish, I wouldn't hesitate to say cheesecake. I made my first cheesecake for my mom's card club pals back in the mid 80's. The recipe was from the most popular diner in Massillon, Ohio-The Sugar Bowl. The cheesecake was too sweet, had too thick of a crust, and was concave. The bridge players loved it.
To that point, it was the only cheesecake I had ever eaten. As I went off to college, and then moved out of state, I cultivated a cheesecake awareness which led to a mild obsession. I purchased several cookbooks devoted exclusively to cheesecake and I studied them diligently. When I worked for GE in Atlanta, I ran a little side business making baked goods for my coworkers. The most requested dessert was cheesecake. I began to experiment with different flavors-pumpkin, key lime, Black Forest, and whatever else my imagination or my client's taste could come up with. All that practice allowed me to hone my technique, which is critical in creating the perfect cheesecake. Normally I don't look at a recipe as a binding set of rules that must be adhered to, but with this confection, you must. Follow my instructions, use the ingredients I suggest and you'll be fine, just fine.
The Rules of Cheesecake
- Rule number one You cannot rush a cheesecake. It must be made the day before serving, and allowed to chill at least overnight.
- Rule number two You must allow your ingredients to come to room temperature prior to mixing. Yes, even the eggs. Trust me when I tell you that I've never had anyone fall victim to salmonella poisoning after consuming my cheesecake.
- Rule number three Make sure your oven has been preheated for at least a half hour prior to putting the cake in.
- Rule number four You must use a spring form pan. There is no acceptable alternative.
- Rule number five There are no substitutions for the ingredients either, with the possible exception of the sour cream which may be unavailable regionally. Still, use Daisy if you can get it.
Amy's Perfect Cheesecake
This recipe is for a deep 8 inch, New York style cheesecake. You can also make it in a nine or ten inch spring form pan, it just won't be as thick.
Graham Cracker Crust
For a basic cheesecake, I use a graham cracker crust. For some of my flavored varieties, I use ginger snaps, Oreos, Nilla Wafers or a homemade cookie dough crust. I love a good graham cracker crust with this though and it's pretty traditional. My crust just covers the bottom of the pan. I don't work it up the sides, although you can do that-just increase the ingredients by 50%. This is not a super sweet cheesecake. I prefer desserts that don't require an insulin injection after consumption. If you want it sweeter, add another 1/4 cup sugar.
1 1/2 C graham cracker crumbs
1 TBSP sugar
3/4 C melted butter
(optional) 1/2 C ground pecans (I don't typically use these when making a traditional cheesecake, unless someone specifically requests them.)
Combine the ingredients well. Prepare your spring form pan by covering the removable bottom with waxed paper, then securing it with no wrinkles by locking the sides. This enables a clean removal from the pan and makes serving much, much easier.
24 ounces Philadelphia Cream Cheese (3 boxes)
3/4 C super fine sugar
1 C Daisy sour cream
1 TBSP + fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 TBSP Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla
Using a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese and sugar on high speed for five minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl just once or twice during the process. Once completed, switch mixer to the lowest speed setting and add vanilla and lemon juice. I prefer just the faintest hint of lemon, so I start with one tablespoon, then gradually add more a couple drops at a time. I wave my hand over the batter until the aroma is just right. Lemony enough to be detectable, but not so lemony that you have a citrus cheesecake. (update: over Christmas, I found I had no lemons, only limes. Christmas Eve, 9 PM. No chance of finding a lemon at that hour. I used the lime and it was no less fantastic. In fact...I daresay it might have been a little better than usual)
Keeping the mixer on the lowest speed, add the eggs one at a time, waiting to add the next one until each in completely incorporated into the batter. Finally, add the sour cream and mix until perfectly smooth. Pour the batter into the crust. Bake at 350 degrees for ten minutes, then turn oven temperature down to 225 degrees. Check the cheesecake after 40 minutes, if the center is jiggly-it's not done. The top should be smooth and dry, and won't move if pan is gently shaken. Do not overbake, or you'll have a cracked surface. Once the cheesecake is done, remove from the oven immediately and take a thin, sharp knife and run along the edge of the cheesecake, using the pan edge as your guide. This will prevent the cake from sticking to the pan as it cools. It must be done as soon as it is finished baking. Go slowly around the perimeter so as not to break the edge of the cake. Allow the cake to cool slightly before refrigerating, rushing it into the cold environment will cause condensation. Again, allow it to cool overnight. Top with fresh strawberries or red raspberries. Oh yeah! The easiest way to cut your cheesecake is by using unflavored, waxed dental floss. Works like a dream!