New York Cheesecake

About thirty years ago my daughter gave me a wonderful little book titled The Joy of Cheesecake by Dana Bovbjerg & Jeremy Iggers. It’s not about calendar girls, but about making rich cheese pies and cakes.

I have made many of the cakes in this book, from The Heavy One, which uses 2-1/2 pounds of cream cheese, seven eggs, and a quarter cup of heavy cream, to the light and tasty Apple Bavarian Torte. The most popular among family and friends, however, has been the classic New York Cheesecake.

Over the years, I have found that the key to a good cheese cake has less to do with the recipe and more to do with the quality of the ingredients and the techniques used to make it. Don’t skimp on any ingredients or try to shortcut any of the steps. Use full fat cheese and the best organic eggs you can find. When properly made, this cake far exceeds any you will find in a bakery or restaurant.

After trying for many years to make one of these cakes without cracking the top, I finally found the secret. Thanks to the recommendation of Christopher Kimball and his crew at Cook’s Illustrated, I now bake the cake slowly in a water bath and let it cool for three hours or more before chilling it.

Crust

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

P1000435Crush half a package (about 30) Pepperidge Farm Harvest Wheat crackers by rolling or pounding them in a large plastic storage bag or between two layers of waxed paper. Don’t use a food processor or grind them too much. You want crumbs, not flour.

Thoroughly blend in six tablespoons (3/4 stick) melted unsalted butter and ¼ cup of granulated sugar in a large bowl. A serving fork works well for this.

P1000436Press the crumb mixture onto the bottom and partly up the sides of a greased ten-inch springform pan. A flat-bottomed tumbler works well for pressing it down evenly and against the sides.  A plain aluminum springform pan works as well as the fancy glass-bottom or non-stick treated pans.

Bake for ten minutes, then cool before filling.

Filling

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Don’t use a convection oven or toaster oven, and be certain that the heat setting of your oven is accurate. The rack should be in the middle of the oven.

Using a Kitchenaid or similar powerful mixer, beat together two pounds of cream cheese and ¾ cup of granulated sugar. Don’t rush this step; let it beat for several minutes, stopping to scrape the cheese off the pan about once a minute, until the cheese is smooth and fluffy. You can use a lighter mixer, but it will take a lot longer.

Add two large free-range organic eggs, lightly beaten, one teaspoon of vanilla extract, and two tablespoons of corn starch, beating only until thoroughly mixed. I only use eggs from The Country Hen in Hubbardston, MA, as they are far better than any other.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and gently stir in one cup of sour cream with a spatula.  Note that an 8-ounce package of sour cream is not the same as a cup – one is weight and the other is volume.

Baking

There are several ways to bake using a water bath to keep the cheesecake from cracking. My favorite is to use a spring-form pan with handles inside a five-quart sauteuse pan. The handles suspend the cake pan about an inch above the bottom of the large pan, which has about one-half inch of water in it. This system is easy to take in and out of the oven and avoids the possibility of water getting into the cake pan.

cheesecake

P1000438If you don’t have the fancy pans, you can do a water bath with any spring-form pan and a roasting pan. Wrap the bottom and sides of the pan in a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Place the wrapped pan in a roasting pan with an inch or two of water surrounding the cake pan.

P1000439Bake for about 90 minutes. The middle of the cake should reach a temperature between 145-160 degrees, but not exceed 160.

Let cake cool on a rack for three hours, then chill for at least four hours in the refrigerator before serving.

This cake freezes well. I sometimes cut it into quarters and freeze them separately for later use. It might be my imagination, but I think that both taste and texture are improved by freezing.

 

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