Monday, October 18, 2010

The Perfect Cheesecake, Part II

Ladies and gentlemen, I think I've found my new standby.

A while back, I talked (okay, rambled) about my ideal cheesecake. Since I'd already found my ultimate restaurant slice, the only obstacle left in my cheesecake conquest was the ideal homemade cake.

I called that post "Part I," anticipating that "Part II" would follow very closely behind it. I was preparing to make Dorie Greenspan's Tall and Creamy Cheesecake, which sounded absolutely wonderful to me, because, well, it's... tall and creamy. I love tall and creamy. (I also love tall, dark, and handsome, but that's another story.) Unfortunately, the recipe that I followed was incredibly flawed. It was missing a vital step and I ended up underbaking the cheesecake. Don't get me wrong, the cheesecake was still delicious enough to eat, but it was underbaked.

Wednesday is my dad's birthday and he requested a simple menu of "sausages, kraut, and cheesecake." Since I'm home for fall break, I decided it was time to give Dorie's recipe another go, this time with accurate instructions.
The final result was, thanks to an extra 90 minutes of baking time, perfectly baked. It definitely lives up to its namesake qualities. The gingersnap crust that I used once again added a much needed spicy element. The cake itself is just sweet enough and ethereally creamy.
However, it's just not as dense as I like. I really wasn't expecting it to be, though. All I was hoping for was a modest (and moderately prepared) recipe that I could come back to whenever I needed to make a cheesecake. Until I summon the courage to use 5+ blocks of cream cheese and half a dozen eggs, I'll continue to use this recipe. Only in my world would this recent series of events feel like a weight lifted off my shoulders. One culinary obstacle down, infinitely more to go.

(Next mission: master pie crust. Stay tuned on that front.)

Tall and Creamy Cheesecake
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan

This cheesecake is a great base recipe for any plain cheesecake, and the quantities are painfully easy to remember for such a wonderful end product. That said, I took a few liberties with the ingredients. The crust is gingersnap because that's my favorite, but you could certainly substitute graham crackers or vanilla or chocolate wafers. Also feel free to add sugar (up to 3 tablespoons) or spices to the crust to your taste (I prefer a less sweet crust). You can also add more butter if you want a sturdier crust. I used low-fat cream cheese and sour cream, but full-fat would work just as well. And I also added half a vanilla bean because... well, it was there. Upon serving the cake, I was frustrated that some of the crust stuck to the sides of the springform pan. For aesthetic reasons, take the extra five seconds and spray the pan with nonstick spray to ensure an easy release. You'll thank me later.

Yield: 12 to 16 servings

For the crust:
About 7 ounces gingersnap cookies
1/4 teaspoon tables salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the cheesecake:
4 (8-ounce) packages Neufchatel cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups l0w-fat sour cream
1/2 vanilla bean
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick spray and wrap it in a double layer of aluminum foil. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the gingersnaps and salt together until the cookies are ground into crumbs. Add butter and pulse until the crumbs have begin to clump together and have taken on the appearance of wet sand.

Pour the buttered crumbs into the springform pan. Using the bottom and sides of a measuring cup, press the crumbs onto the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

Meanwhile, prepare the cheesecake batter. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (you could also use a hand mixer), beat the cream cheese on medium speed until soft and creamy-looking, about 4 minutes. Add the sugar and salt and beat until well-blended, about 3 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure the batter is well-blended. Add the vanilla and mix until well-blended. Beat in the eggs, one by one, mixing well after each addition and scraping the sides of the bowl if necessary. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add in the sour cream, again scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl. Scrape the beans from half a vanilla bean (or a whole one if you have it) and add to the batter. One last time, use a rubber spatula to make sure the batter is entirely incorporated and smooth.

Put a kettle of water on to boil. Pour the cheesecake batter into the prepared crust and place the springform pan in a roasting pan (I use the bottom of broiler pan because we don't have a roasting pan). Quickly (but carefully!) place the roasting pan on the center rack of the oven. Pour enough boiling water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.
Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 minutes. It will rise just above the top of the pan, but it will be beautiful, lightly golden, and crack-free (that's because of the water bath). Turn off the oven and crack the oven door open with a wooden spoon. Allow the cheesecake to "rest" for an hour in the turned-off oven.

After an hour, pull the cheesecake out of the oven. Take the springform pan out of the roasting pan and set it on a paper-towel lined plate (to absorb any water from the roasting pan and to reduce slippage). Let it come to room temperature. Transfer the cooled cheesecake to the refrigerator; chill at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight.

To serve, run a knife around the circumference of the cake and remove the sides of the springform pan. The easiest way to cut the cheesecake is with a long, sharp knife that has been dipped in warm water in between slices.

The cheesecake will keep in the refrigerator, wrapped well, for up to a week, or up to 2 months in the freezer. Defrost the frozen but still wrapped cheesecake in the refrigerator before serving.

That Strawberry Sauce You See

Yield: about 1 cup of sauce, enough for 4-6 servings

About 8 medium strawberries (I used frozen)
1 teaspoon sugar

Put the strawberries in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add enough water to come about halfway up the sides of the strawberries. (This is all very approximate because I just made this up as I went along, but I'd guess I added about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of water.) Cook, stirring occasionally, until the strawberries begin to break down. Add the sugar. Use a potato masher or fork to mash the strawberries. The strawberries will never become completely smooth but you want to make sure there are no huge chunks of strawberries. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the mixture until it is reduced and syrupy. Cool and serve alongside cheesecake or pound cake, on top of ice cream, or straight off the spoon! Yum....


  1. it is delicious! thank you for sharing the recipe (and for baking the cake!) p.s. love your new google photo with buzz!!

  2. i think i'll try this for uncle steve's birthday-i love that you were able to do this a couple days ahead of time. and what a nifty way to press down the cookie crumbs-gotta show that to andrew.

  3. Sorry, I have to ask... what is that blue thing sticking out of the cake?


  4. @elle: that's a birthday candle - it was my dad's birthday.

  5. Aha! I had come up with all sorts of crazy ideas... topping injector, some kind of slice holder for cheesecake pop. Of course, the simplest explanation is probably the right one!

    Congrats on the perfect cheesecake!

  6. @elle: thank you! It has been a long and crazy journey to the perfect cheesecake, I can tell you that much. :)

  7. i'm making my way through your older posts sara, and this cheesecake looks dreamy! your tips are so useful - ima bookmark this to conquer this year :)