Well before I started cooking professionally, one of the first things I learned to make was, The Cheesecake.
Growing up, a highlight of mine was a visit to our cities most popular delicatessen, Shapiro’s Deli. Among many things, they were known for their New York Style cheesecake. Its rich, dense filling, ample pipping of whipped cream and customary heavily glazed strawberry topping was my go-to purchase. That remembrance of flavors and textures spawned my need to create my own, thus saving a bit from my wallet but not helping my waist line much.
Like so many foods in our country, early versions of the cheesecake can date back as far as ancient Greece. More modern versions can be found in most every country and culture. Baked, non-baked, cream cheese, ricotta, crust variations and fillings both sweet and savory abound.
In the US, most cheesecakes are commonly referred to as New York Style. As always, New York tends to be the epicenter of great food culture, food history and multiple alien invasions and destruction, which all in their own rights….are awesome!
New York style tends to have a dense filling and often characterized by the addition of sour cream that is either added to the batter or layered on top. Cream cheese, lemon, vanilla and eggs round out most basic recipes. You’ll find examples of flour being added, ricotta, heavy cream or even cottage cheese. The crust can vary from ground cookies, graham cracker, cake like or no crust at all. Toppings and fillings are too numerous to count. One of my favorite aspects of cheesecake making are the endless variations of toppings, fillings and flavorings.
My Keys to a great cheesecake
Cream Cheese: I tend to be very brand loyal when it comes to cream cheese. I always use Philadelphia Brand cream cheese. Maybe just me but I always get the desired results. I never use a low-fat style of cream cheese.
Disclaimer: this dessert is not be altered!
I’m sure local grocery stores brands or maybe even regional brands of cream cheese will work, but why take the chance
Eggs: As always use good quality fresh large eggs. Room temperature is key.
Vanilla: A pure extract or bean is best. My recipe calls for extract but fresh bean or bean paste will add another level of richness to your cake.
Sugar: Granulated sugar is standard. I do add a quick step of sifting my sugar just to keep away any lumps or nuggets.
Lemon Zest: regardless of the finished flavoring of my cheesecakes, I always add a bit of lemon zest. I find it really freshens up the cake.
Sour Cream: This is where I stray from traditional NY Styles. I don’t add sour cream. Purist may shun me but I choose to leave it out. Feel free to experiment with your own.
Crust: I usually use a ground graham cracker base but have used other variations including Oreo cookie, vanilla wafer and ginger snaps.
My most often asked question is: “How do you keep if from cracking?” My answer is always, Water Bath, Water Bath, Water Bath. A water bath adds moister to the oven, and helps create even heating throughout the cake. I also tend to bake at a lower temperature, for a longer period of time. A slow rise and bake will help keep the cake from a drastic fall and/or cracking.
I use a 10” cake pan for my cheesecakes. Spring form pans work well, but you have to make sure the pans have a good seal around the bottom edge and usually you’ll have to wrap with aluminum foil before you place in water bath.
Don’t Peek! With all baking, minimizing the opening and closing of the oven helps maintain cooking temperatures and unnecessary movements of the cake.
10” Cake Pan
2 tsp butter for cake pan
3 cups Graham Cracker Crumbs
½ Granulated Sugar
1 ¼ cup Unsalted Butter Melted
5ea 8oz Cream Cheese – let cream cheese sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes
5 large eggs – room temperature
1 1/3 cup Granulated Sugar
1 tbsp Pure Vanilla Extract
1 tsp Lemon Zest Minced
Preheat oven 325 degrees
Prepare cake pan by cutting out parchment paper to fit. Gentle rub butter on bottom of cake pan and insert parchment cutout. Set aside
Mix graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter in small bowl. Combine until crumbs have the texture of wet sand and lightly holds shape when squeezed together. Sprinkle graham cracker mixture on bottom of cake pan and pat with fingers to form a level surface. Bake for 18-20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
Turn down oven to 300 degrees
Using stand mixture with paddle attachment, at low to medium speed, beat cream cheese until smooth 3-4 minutes. Add sugar and beat for an additional 4 minutes. Make sure to stop and scrape sides and paddle often to incorporate any thicker bits of cream cheese.
At low speed, add eggs one at a time and turn up speed to medium just until eggs have been fully incorporated. Add both vanilla and lemon zest after all eggs have been incorporated.
The batter is ready for baking, to create a my basic New York Style cheesecake.
(see below for flavorings)
Take cooled cake pan and butter the sides. Pour in batter. Place pan in large baking dish and fill with hot water ¾ up the sides of the cake pan. Bake for 3 hours. Cake should have a light golden-brown top and a gentle spring or giggle when ready. Carefully remove cake from water bath and let cool to room temperature or at least 3 hours. Cake can then be refrigerated. Preferably, let the cake cool overnight. I like to freeze my cheesecakes and then gently remove by warming the cheesecake pan over a low stove flame. The cake can then be inverted to release and then placed on cutting board to slice. To slice the cake, dip your knife in warm water and slice. Re-dip the knife between each slice. Cake toppings such berries and cream or dessert sauces can be added after slicing. Let frozen cake slices rest at room temperature for
about 20 minutes before serving.
Cinnamon: replace 1/3 cup of granulated sugar with light brown sugar and add 2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon. Reduce lemon zest to 1/2 teaspoon. Cinnamon can be added at the time of the zest and vanilla extract. Bake as normal
Banana: add 2 cups of mashed ripened bananas, 1/4 cup of banana liquor. Bananas and liquor are added after the vanilla extract. Bake as normal
Chocolate Layered: After batter has been completely made; equally divide between two bowls. In one bowl, add 4oz melted and slightly cooled semi-sweet chocolate. Add 3oz of chocolate or hazelnut liquor or syrup (optional). Pour chocolate batter into pan and bake just until layer has set, about 1 hour. Carefully pull cake out of oven and gently pour remaining batter onto chocolate layer. Pour with an even spread. You can use the back of tablespoon or offset spatula to help even the layer. Return cake back to oven and bake for an additional 2 1/4 hours.
This process is not the quickest but its worth the wait!