Stop Ruining Cheesecakes!

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Cheesecake Slice

Cheesecake, when it's really good, it's just so wonderfully luxurious and just plain delicious. Not like those dead wedges at the Thanksgiving buffet or conference center dessert table. A few years ago I was asked to make a pecan cheese pie (a cheese pie being a sort of lazy man’s cheesecake). That didn't work out so well actually, but turned out to be the beginning of my quest to make my own cheesecakes and have them come out great.

I bought the book I mention below and started on my way. More mishaps occurred (though even a cheesecake wreck is pretty tasty), the ‘giant crack’ being the most common. So began phase two: looking for tips and tricks to make my cheesecakes come out as close to perfect as possible every time. That was four or five years ago and I am pretty good at reaching that goal now.

What I have here in this post really has four parts. The first part (1) is, of course, the New York Cheesecake. It was actually only a couple of months ago when I first made what they call a New York Style cheesecake. I've made many others, coffee flavored, almond or orange liqueur topped, fruit, etc. I've always anticipated making the classic New York style, but just didn't for whatever reason.  

I was so glad I finally did and they are definitely my favorite now. Really the embodiment of my idea of perfect cheesecake: fresh, rich, firm and a simple kind of deep flavor. Of course, if you were able to check a bunch of different cheesecakes being called New York style in New York City, Jewish delis, etc., I think you would certainly find some variation in ingredients and technique.  As far as I can tell though, New York style cheesecake is mostly defined by the use of heavy cream, and greater quantities of cream cheese, eggs and egg yolks than other cheesecake recipes. Shouldn't every cheesecake have heavy cream in it? I think so. And cottage cheese in with the cream cheese? NO! Only cream cheese (if I ever go off on a 'rustic' cheesecake kick, I'm sure I will eat my words...) When I come up with my own cheesecake variations (soon, already know what I want to do), I am definitely going to use the New York style recipe as the base for them.

Secondly is (2) the video here, which shows the process of making that cheesecake. The video itself does not focus on the recipe used here, but simply on the process and especially the techniques I used to insure that the cake came out great. The video is me making this recipe here though, just no recipe details in it.

The other parts are both here in the blog post. One being the (3) list of tips and such, which is at the bottom. That’s after (4) the recipe, which is adapted from a really incredible book: 125 BEST CHEESECAKE RECIPES by George Geary. As well as covering all of the basics as far as equipment, techniques, etc., the book not only includes the 125 recipes, but what's great is that there are so many totally different types of cheesecake.  It includes chapters with recipes for chocolate cheesecakes, fresh fruit based cheesecakes, mini cheesecakes and bars, no-bake, even savory cheesecakes and more.  I learned all the basics from this book and tons of the recipes are worth trying.  In this adapted version of the book's New York Style cheesecake, I did not change the ingredients at all, only added all of my detailed steps and tips. The techniques here should be useful for just about any type of cheesecake.

There is a lot of information here. You may want to pause the video, or turn down the sound to get through repeated viewings. I’ve used a lot of bold in the text, trying to use it as a visual marker of topics and important steps. If the amount of information in the text seems overwhelming, you can see in the video that there isn't really all that much to it. Happy baking.

Ingredients:

Crust:

  • 1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs (one box of graham crackers has enough for about three cheesecakes).
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter

Batter:

  • 5 8 oz. packages of Cream Cheese
  • 1 ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ tsp fresh lemon zest
  • 1 ½ tsp fresh orange zest
  • 5 whole eggs                                                         (I buy large eggs.)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ¼ cup heavy whipping cream / heavy cream    (Whatever you can find.)

Equipment:

  • 9-inch (23 cm) cheesecake pan, ungreased.
  • Stand mixer (You could use a hand mixer, but I have not tried as I do not have one.)
  • Parchment paper
  • Extra wide foil (I use 18-inch wide, heavy duty foil.)
  • A larger, thick oven-safe container to place the cheesecake pan (and batter) into before baking. Mine is ceramic.
  • A dinner plate to cover the cake in the pan while cooling.

Ingredients:

Crust:

  • 1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs (one box of graham crackers has enough for about three cheesecakes).
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter

Batter:

  • 5 8 oz. packages of Cream Cheese
  • 1 ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ tsp fresh lemon zest
  • 1 ½ tsp fresh orange zest
  • 5 whole eggs                                                         (I buy large eggs.)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ¼ cup heavy whipping cream / heavy cream    (Whatever you can find.)

Equipment:

  • 9-inch (23 cm) cheesecake pan, ungreased
  • Stand mixer (You could use a hand mixer, but I have not tried as I do not have one.)
  • Parchment paper
  • Extra wide foil (I use 18-inch wide, heavy duty foil.)
  • A larger, thick oven-safe container to place the cheesecake pan (and batter) into before baking. Mine is ceramic.
  • A dinner plate to cover the cake in the pan while cooling.

Instructions:

Prepare the pan and crust:

  1. Cut a round piece of parchment paper to the exact size of the base of the cheesecake pan. However, leave two ‘handles’ opposite each other on two sides of the circle. Take the base out of the pan to help get the shape and size right when you cut the parchment paper with your scissors. Once cut, put the pan base back in the pan and press the paper circle into the bottom. Press it very flat and push the two handles up against the side of the pan. The parchment paper and handles will be used later to get the cake off of the base of the pan once it is finished and completely cooled. 
  1. Pull a piece of foil which is about two inches longer than your cheesecake pan is wide. Sit the cheesecake pan onto the foil. Fold the foil up around the sides of the pan. It needs to come up at least 1 ½ inches or so up the sides of the outside of the cheesecake pan all the way around with no gaps, so that the pan is water proofed up to that height. 
  1.  Melt butter on the oven on low heat. Don’t leave the spoon in the pan like it did… Hot! 
  1. Make 1 ½ cups of graham cracker crumbs in your food processor or blender. I use my Ninja and it works great. It takes just a little more than one of the individual packages in the box to get 1 ½ cups of crumbs. 
  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs and the melted butter. Once well combined, the graham cracker crumbs and butter will feel like damp sand. There will be additional moisture from the batter during baking, so the crust mix does not need to be soaking wet. 
  1. Pour the crust mixture into the cheesecake pan, on top of the parchment paper. Use a spoon and something with a flat bottom, like a ¼ cup metallic handled measuring cup, to tamp the crust down firmly into the bottom of the bowl. Use the spoon first, then finish off with the measuring cup. The cup works well because you can also use the sides of it to press against the sides of the pan and down. This helps to compress the crust well all the way up to the side of the pan. Make sure that the two paper handles are flush against the side of the cheesecake pan, not covered by crust. Once the crust is firm and even on the bottom of the pan, clean any crumbs off of the sides of the pan with a dry paper towel
  1. Cover the pan and crust with plastic wrap (or foil, or a plate) and place in the freezer for at least 5 or 6 hours, but preferably overnight.

 Some ingredient preparation:

  1. Set the seven eggs, heavy cream, and packages of cream cheese on the counter to come to room temperature. This doesn’t mean for 30 minutes; it will take hours to really get to room temperature and this is important. If the ingredients are not at room temperature, the batter will not mix as well and this could cause problems, including cracks in your finished cake. The cream cheese, in particular, needs probably 4 to 5 hours to get to room temperature. Even the eggs and cream will definitely take a couple of hours to get there. I understand not wanting to leave the eggs and cream out for 5 hours. 
  1. This is a great time to zest your lemon and orange. You may find it a hassle if you wait until you are about to mix the batter as it take a few minutes. Lemons and oranges both come in various sizes. Especially for the orange zest, I recommend having at least two of each fruit (per cheesecake) to be sure you end up with enough zest. 

Get your oven ready:

  1. Make sure there is an oven rack in the center position
  1. Preheat oven to 500° F (260° C) 

Mix the batter:

  1. Beat cream cheese and sugar on a medium speed for about 3 minutes. 
  1. Add flour, lemon and orange zest and mix them in. 
  1. Add eggs (5) and (2) egg yolks in one at a time and mix after each. 
  1. Mix in the cream and vanilla

Get ready to bake:

  1. I hope your oven is pre-heating already… 
  1. I hope your crust has been in the freezer for at least 5 hours… 
  1. Run the faucet so that the water gets hot and you won’t need to wait as long once the cheesecake pan and batter are ready. 
  1. Have the batter ready to pour and get the pan and crust from the freezer
  1. Pour the batter onto the frozen crust. Place the cheesecake pan and batter (and the foil) on top of a dish towel spread out on the counter. 
  1. Pick up and drop your pan and batter from about a ½ inch or an inch high, back onto the dish towel. This helps to gets air pockets out of your batter. Air in the batter can cause cracks and other disfigurations. One spot can bubble up multiple times before it is all out. I don’t show every drop in the video, but I dropped that cheesecake about 50 times. In the video you can see one of the bubbles at the top of the pan near my right thumb. 
  1. Place the pan into your larger, heavy ovenware. Something that leaves about an inch of space between the side of the pan and the side of the larger container.  My ceramic piece measures 9 1/2 or 10 inches across at the opening. It is solid ceramic with thick walls. Use something that is somewhat of an insulator, not metal. Add about an inch of water to the ceramic container around the cheesecake pan, as hot as you can get it from the tap. The water will help to evenly distribute the rising heat into the baking cheesecake. The water also helps to keep the top moist while baking. 

Time to bake!

  1. Carefully place everything on the middle rack in the oven. Your oven should be at 500° F (260° C). After 10 minutes, lower the oven temperature to 200° F (100° C) and continue baking for an additional 60 minutes. When it's done, a cheesecake will still have a good bit of jiggle left in the middle, not yet firm. 
  1. Carefully remove the cheesecake pan from the water and place it on a rack or stove top to cool for 2 hoursCover it while it cools to prevent the top drying out. While cooling on the counter, I use the cover from my plastic cake carrier. You can also use a plate as described for the refrigerator in the next step.
  1. After cooling for two hours, it’s time to move the cheesecake pan and cake to the refrigerator for at least an additional 6 hours. It is best to let it cool overnight (i.e. 12+ hours). When your cake is cooling, both in and out of the fridge, cover it carefully. Be sure not to knock any condensation from the underside of whatever you cover it with. There will be condensation. Water droplets will discolor the top of your cake if they fall. Just handle your cover gently and dry it off before putting it back when you take a peek. I cover my cake, still in the pan, with an upside down plastic dinner plate (i.e. something light and easy to handle gently. I find it very easy to have water droplet accidents when using plastic wrap and do not recommend it).
  1. After your cheesecake has completely cooled, take it from the refrigerator. Remove it from the pan by gently pushing up from the bottom.
  1. Find and pull one of the paper handles to pull the cake off the pan base and onto whatever you will keeping your cake on. Use the tip of your paring knife to pull the paper away from the side of the cake if needed to get it started. It may be a little hard to find them at first glance. 
  1. Use your paring knife to trim any visible paper, including the handles if you won't be moving the cake around anymore. 
  1. That's it! You're ready to serve. Keep your cake refrigerated. If you will be doing any decorating, do it when the cake is cold. Do not try to decorate with whipped cream and then keep it for later. Regular whipped cream is best applied on the plate because it will not hold up long. 

Summary of tips, tricks and techniques to use with any cheesecake:

  • Use real cheesecake pans.
  • The crust mix does not need to be soaking wet when it goes in the cheesecake pan.
  • Use hot water in a second heavy ceramic bake safe container to evenly distribute heat and keep the top of the cheesecake from drying out. Use extra wide foil to waterproof the cheesecake pan.
  • Make and freeze the crust the day before to make baking day easier. Freeze the crust for as long as possible, overnight if you can. Don’t take the crust out of the freezer until your batter is ready to pour.
  • Once the cheesecake batter is poured into the pan (on top of the crust), drop the whole pan onto a cloth over and over to force air pockets out of the batter.
  • There should still be a good amount of jiggle left in the center of the cake when baking is complete.
  • Be sure to let the cake cool on a rack or counter for a couple of hours before putting it in the refrigerator (check your recipe’s instructions). Cover the cake to keep it from drying out while cooling, on the counter and in the refrigerator. Plastic wrap can sag and will easily get condensation onto the top of the cake. This won’t ruin the cake, but it will mark up the top with spots and light areas. It isn’t pretty and you won’t like it.
  • After cooling on the counter, the cheesecake needs to chill in the refrigerator for at least five or six hours and overnight if at all possible before serving or decoration (check your recipe’s instructions).
  • Use a parchment paper circle with ‘handles’, cut to fit the cheesecake pan base, to remove the cake easily from the pan base. After baking and complete cooling in the refrigerator, lift the pan base and cheesecake up and out of the cheesecake pan from the bottom. Then place the cake where you are going to keep it and use the paper handles to pull the cake off of the base.
  • Clean any paper remaining around the edges with a sharp knife. A pairing knife works well.
  • The problem with slicing cheesecake is that it tends to stick to the knife. I like to use a filet knife, as the width of the blade is very narrow which means less surface for the cake to stick to as it is sliced. I understand wetting the knife can help as well but have not tried it. I’ve also heard of using fishing line.
Posted in Baking, Desserts, Food, Sweets and tagged , , , , .

One Comment

  1. To ruin such a beautiful cheesecake by hacking through it with poor slicing technique would be travesty. Achieving nice, clean slicing lines, is easy. Simply run a sharp knife under very hot tap water for a few minutes, and then wipe it dry. Slice through the cake with the warmed knife, rewarming it under the water if the filling begins to stick or tear.

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