Tuesday, April 23, 2013

the big cheese

There are two, maybe three of you who may remember that I don't cook. I put up a brave front, I try new things, I have the AllRecipes app, I make a mean PB & J, but the reality is that I have zero instincts when it comes to cooking. Why did this happen to me? I love the Food Network. I mean I really love that place.

A friend and I got into a discussion the other day about cooking vs. baking. I divulged to him that I am rather adept at making wholly delicious yet wholly unhealthy confections. Cookies, cakes, brownies, Chex Muddy Buddies - right in my wheelhouse. He proposed that the reason I can rub elbows with Cake Boss, but flounder at the prospect of boiling noodles al dente, is that cooking is largely intuitive. Like, "throw a handful of thyme on that roast, if you're feelin' it. What's that broth need...a little garlic yeah? You know what would be great in that stir fry? BACON." Conversely, baking is a science. (Another reason to confound me as to why I can bake: I never achieved better than a C in any science class from chemistry to physics to botany. Oh, and I had to google "types of science" just now to come up with that third science example for you.) Anyway, if you use 3/4 teaspoon of baking soda rather that 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda, it's a different cookie. Not necessarily a bad cookie, but a different one. And like the good little homeschooler I was brought up to be, I follow directions to the letter of the law. Hence, I bake. I bake it good.

That preamble was largely unnecessary because what I'm really here to tell you is I am giving you the keys to the Kingdom. The Cheesecake Kingdom. The Cheesecake Factory, even. The cheesecake from last week was another creamy delightful success, so it's safe to say I've got this recipe down. Lock it in.

The ONLY part that requires a little extra effort is that you have to triple wrap your springform pan with heavy duty aluminum foil. This is because the cheesecake is going to take a water bath in a roasting pan while it's baking, and you don't want water leaking in the sides. (That happened to me once when I took the lazy route of only one layer of foil, and it was a soggy, saddening mess.) If you don't use a springform pan, I imagine you don't have to do this. I've never not used one, so proceed at your own risk if you choose not to. The rest of this recipe is a piece of [cheese]cake.

a casual, not-staged photo of cheesecake

And so:

For the crust
2 cups finely ground graham crackers*
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Make crust:
Preheat the oven to 350 and triple-wrap your springform pan in heavy duty aluminum foil (foil should come up the sides and just barely over the lip of the pan.) Stir graham crackers and butter in a bowl, then press into springform pan. The crumbs will not appear very moist, but once you press them down into the pan (I use an offset spatula) they form a nice crust. Bake 10 minutes, cool at least 15 minutes (no joke, you'll be done with everything else within that time span.)

*I buy whole graham crackers, because my Bug likes to sit on the counter and munch on them while observing the intriguing method of food processing crackers into crumbs. This time around she threw some well-gnawed cracker stubs into the processor, because she's a helper. Ih, it was just a cake for my family. I doubt they noticed the extra flavoring, compliments of Jordan. Anyway, I think you can buy already pulverized graham cracker crumbs, so you can skip this [not-all-that-time-consuming] step.

For the filling:
4 - 8 ounce packages cream cheese, room temp
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
5 large eggs

Make filling:
Beat cream cheese, sugar, lemon juice, vanilla and salt in your Kitchenaid or what have you until very smooth. Beat in the flour and blend well, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Only when the texture has achieved the dreamy creamy quality of Alec Baldwin's '80s hairdo can you beat in the eggs, one at a time until just incorporated.

 like so

Pour batter on to the crust. Pour hot water into a roasting pan or similarly large baking agent, until it is almost halfway up the sides. Lower your cheesecake into it's steamy bath. This ensures even baking in the middle. Bake for 55 minutes.

For the topping:
2 cups sour cream
3 tablespoons of granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make topping (I do this when the cake has come out and is cooling - it takes 2 seconds):
Whisk sour cream, sugar and vanilla in a medium bowl to blend. When the cake comes out and has cooled for ten minutes, spread topping to cover and bake another 10 minutes. Refrigerate overnight or at least 8 eight hours.

The damage after a mere 15 minutes. Sean had three pieces. And yet I'm the one gaining weight. Real fair.

Now having written that all out, it looks like a lengthy process, but I really can't stress how easy it is. You know what else is cool? You can do flavor variations! Yayyy! Add 2 tablespoons of instant coffee if you want a java jolt, or 2 tablespoons of amaretto if you want a buzz. (Like amaretto is gonna get you there...but whatever, it's a yummy flavor.) For my mom's birthday, I finely chopped fresh strawberries and let them macerate in the fridge with a dash of sugar while we ate dinner, and it made an incredibly delicious syrup to go over the top.

I make this at least once a year, for Sean's birthday. For this reason, I'm his favorite wife. Not for the reason that I'm his only wife, because technically that would also make me his least favorite wife. Sean and cheesecake are like Patrick Star and chocolate bars

Go forth and be favorite wives. 


  1. Mmmmm... I've only made cheesecake once (in 2007!!!!) and I was surprised by how easy it is. I'm also surprised that I had no idea how dreamy 80's Alec Baldwin was.

    And there's nothing more casual than a perfect cheesecake next to a dozen beautiful roses in a vase (said in the fancy way: vaaaaaze). I imagine you all eat cheesecake off of crystal plates and drink Perrier out of crystal goblets. Especially Jordan.

    The Brayn of Chalayn

  2. looks delish and love how alec is in the post too. nothing like food and men.

  3. Remember the days we used to bake chocolate chippers together? Those were the days.