This is how most cooks play with recipes: try several, tweak, tweak again and again and again ad infinitum, then write down a mashup of the methods and ingredients that worked best for them. That’s how all of the things we made in the bakery regularly were developed and perfected, and that’s how the pizza dough recipe was birthed for our wood-fired pizzas. Cheesecakes present a problem that has always escaped perfection though. They don’t crack in the middle anymore (that was overbaking, which took a long time and many Grand Canyons before I really believed that it has to come out of the oven while it’s still jiggly), often they still crack around the edge at the top. This seems to be more of a problem with bigger cheesecakes, like this recipe, but accepting visual flaws is a quality to be cultivated. Appearance perfection has never been high on my list of important qualities and it never keeps anyone from eating what’s in front of them. When the top is drizzled with caramel and chocolate and nuts, or covered with berries and whipped cream, it’s easy to hide any imperfections. If someone brings you a lovely slice of cheesecake, topped with caramel and chocolate and toasted pecans, will you be a critic?
The real test of the learning curve was a few years ago when our oldest daughter asked me to make 16 cheesecakes for her wedding. This recipe book was my inspiration and she bookmarked the ones that appealed most to her. We ended up with a variety of flavors and put them all out on the dessert table, much to the delight of the guests, who ate every piece. The photo at the bottom of this post was taken by the wedding photographer.
This requires a little planning ahead. Let the cream cheese, eggs, and sour cream sit out at room temperature for a couple of hours before you use them. While many recipes call for flour or cornstarch it’s hard for me to tell what difference either makes, so I leave it out. Cheesecakes are easily customized with liqueurs, fruit or fruit juices, coconut, or nuts. Sometimes there are chopped nuts in the crust, sometimes the crust is crushed cookies or shortbread instead of graham crackers, sometimes it’s just a plain cheesecake with toppings like seasonal berries that steal the show. Once you’ve got the basic recipe figured out you can play with it.
Some recipes call for tightly wrapping the bottom and up the sides of the pan with foil and placing it into a larger pan half-filled with boiling water while it bakes. Try baking one with this step and one without, then decide if you think it’s really necessary. Getting the baking time right is really important, though. While it would be hard to bake a cheesecake so long it would be dry, getting it just to the right point takes a little practice. Don’t obsess over it if it develops some cracks. Cut it and serve it with a smile, and some fresh coffee.
– Joan, 20 September 2019
For the crust:
- 1 sleeve (9 full crackers) graham crackers (chocolate if making a chocolate cheesecake)
- 3 tablespoons melted butter
- 3 tablespoons sugar
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Break up the crackers and process in a food processor till fine, or place in a large plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin. Stir in the sugar till blended, then the melted butter. Grease the sides of a springform pan and cut a piece of parchment to fit the bottom. Pour in the crushed crackers. Press some of it about 1″ up onto the sides and press the rest evenly on the bottom. Bake at 325°F for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside while you make the filling.
For the filling:
- 4 8-oz. packages full-fat cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 eggs, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 1 cup sour cream, room temperature
- 4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, optional
Beat the cream cheese and sugar till smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating at low speed just until blended. Beat in vanilla. Fold sour cream into mixture by hand. If making this a chocolate swirl cheesecake, melt the chocolate in a microwave, 20-30 seconds at a time, till you can stir it to a smooth consistency. Move 1 cup of the filling to a bowl and stir in the melted chocolate until completely blended.
Pour half of the filling into the prepared crust, then use half of the chocolate mixture to put 3-4 large dollops on top of the plain filling. Use a table knife to swirl them together, being careful not to get the crust mixed in. Repeat the process with the remaining filling and chocolate filling. Bake at 325°F for 45-50 minutes. The center should still be jiggly. Remove from oven, run a knife all around the outside edge to loosen it from the pan (this helps prevent cracks as it cools) and let it cool in the pan for 30 minutes. Cover loosely and refrigerate till completely cooled, at least 4 hours. It can be removed from the pan and stored in a covered container, or left in the pan, covered tightly with foil and then in plastic wrap or a 2-gallon ziplock freezer bag, and frozen. Remove from pan and let thaw several hours before serving.