Saturday, November 13, 2010

Where's My Tiara?

Alright, I am going to dispense with the humility and just put it out there. I AM THE CHEESECAKE QUEEN.

I guess I should  preface this by saying that cheesecake isn't trendy anymore. In its heyday, it enjoyed a fair amount of fame and accolades, but no one even thinks about it these days, unless you are in a Jewish deli or in one of those Greek diners in New York. Sigh. And sorry, but in my book, The Cheesecake Factory doesn’t count. Generally speaking, I hate chain restaurants.

And of course, cheesecake isn’t on the hit parade these days because it’s not good for you. Well, what is, if it’s a combination of fat and sugar?

Nonetheless, a good cheesecake is smooth on your tongue, a tiny bit tangy, has that great contrast between the silkiness of the filling and the crunch of the crust and it will make you so very happy while you are eating it. We won’t talk about the aftermath. Just head to the gym or get on the treadmill the next day and deal with it. It’s worth it, but only if you have spent those calories and fat grams on a really good cheesecake.

So here I am to give you THE ONLY CHEESECAKE RECIPE YOU WILL EVER NEED. It’s the foundation for any cheesecake you would ever want to make and it is a flat-out showstopper. Once you master the basic technique, you can adapt it to any possible combination of flavors.

CHOCOLATE ESPRESSO CHEESECAKE (flavors inspired in part by Ina Garten)

For the crust:
2 cups graham cracker crumbs (7 oz.)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Butter a 10 X 3-inch cake pan (not springform), line bottom with a parchment round and butter again.

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Place in prepared pan and spread evenly over bottom. Use your fingertips to press into an even layer.

Bake for 10 minutes, or until just barely golden. Remove from oven and place on rack to cool. Reduce oven heat to 250-degrees.

For the filling:
8 oz. (1 cup) chocolate chips
1 tablespoon instant espresso
3 lbs. cream cheese, room temperature
2 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
6 eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
½ cup sour cream

Place chocolate chips and espresso powder in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir constantly until mixture is smooth and no lumps remain. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, place cream cheese into an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until it starts to smooth out, then add sugar and salt. Continue to beat until mixture is COMPLETELY smooth, scraping down bowl three to four times. (Important note: this is the only chance you will have to beat out all the lumps. Once you add liquid, it will be impossible to get it completely smooth, so have patience and take the time to do it properly during this very important step).

When mixture is completely smooth, add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, but not so much that you incorporate a lot of air (too much air is a bad thing as it will cause your cheesecake to rise then fall during baking, resulting in a large crack). Stir in vanilla and almond extracts and sour cream. Fold in the cooled chocolate mixture.

Pour batter into prepared crust. Bang pan sharply on counter to break up any air bubbles.

Place the pan on a dishtowel in a larger pan filled with enough water to come ¾’s up on the sides of the cheesecake pan. Place in oven and bake for 2 hours or until barely firm in the center. Resist the temptation to increase heat for a faster baking time. Cool, then refrigerate overnight.

To remove from pan, fill kitchen sink with about 2-inches of very hot water. Place chilled cheesecake in sink and let sit for about 30 seconds. Remove from water and shake pan until cheesecake loosens from sides. You may have to do this up to 3 times. When cheesecake is loose, invert it onto a plate so it is crust side up. Top with a cardboard cake round, if desired. Place serving platter on top and immediately invert again, so that cake is crust side down.

For the garnish:
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/8 cup heavy cream

Melt chocolate and cream over low heat in a small saucepan.  When completely smooth, remove from heat and cool slightly.  Place into a pastry bag (or use a fork) to drizzle over top of cake.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To cut cake, use long pieces of unflavored dental floss. Bring floss down through crust, then pull out from the bottom. Repeat to cut slices.

Serves 12 - 16

Some Important Cheesecake Notes:

• The preceding recipe is the quintessential cheesecake recipe, originally developed by Glenn Powell and Elise Griffin Hughes for the late-lamented Peasant restaurants here in Atlanta. The basic formula (3 lbs. cream cheese, 2 ½ cups sugar and 6 eggs) can be used for any type of cheesecake. Just add whatever flavorings you like.

• Vary the crust by using different types of cookies, such as shortbread, gingersnaps, oreos or whatever else you can think of, like Pepperidge Farms Bordeaux, Walker’s Shortbread, etc. Just grind them up in a food processor or blender. You will need 7-8 oz. 

• Make sure you bang the prepared pan on the counter a number of times (hard!) before you put the cheesecake in the oven. This will prevent air bubbles.

• Again, don’t raise the heat over 250-degrees. If you do, the cheesecake will rise too quickly and subsequently fall, thus resulting in large cracks. When in doubt, underbake, don’t overbake.

• Don’t even think about skipping the water bath. It’s essential for evenly distributing the heat and ensuring that the cheesecake cooks evenly.

• Be creative! For example, for oreo cheesecake, grind oreos with butter and use for crust. Add crushed oreos to the basic cheesecake batter, along with vanilla. Top with a chocolate ganache (bittersweet chocolate melted with heavy cream as detailed in the recipe above), if desired.

• Other ideas: for coconut cheesecake, add a can of Coco Lopez cream of coconut. Use shortbread or coconut cookies in the crust. Maybe even some lime zest.  For eggnog cheesecake, add dark rum, brandy, vanilla extract and nutmeg to the basic cheesecake mixture. Use vanilla cookies or shortbread for the crust. You get the idea….

• For Liz’s vanilla cheesecake, use shortbread for the crust and add ½ tablespoon grated lemon zest and ½ tablespoon grated orange zest. Pepperidge Farms Bordeaux cookies are also good here. To the basic cheesecake batter, add 1/8 cup orange juice, 1/8 cup lemon juice, ½ cup heavy cream, ¼ cup flour and 2 teaspoons vanilla paste.  You could also substitute mascarpone for the heavy cream.

So now you have my treasured cheesecake recipe, right in time for the holidays.  I hope it turns you into a cheesecake rock star.  (I already hold the "Queen" title, so that's  no longer available).   Oh yes, and better this should go on your hips and thighs rather than  mine!


  1. Wow! What an amazing looking cheesecake! My mouth is watering just looking at it!


  2. I second Amy's comment. And the last time i saw your tiara, it was on your head, right where it belongs. You continue to be my culinary muse.

  3. I love your blog...and this cheesecake sounds delicious! I've been looking for a good pumpkin cheesecake recipe (using real pumpkin v. pie filling). Any suggestions on how much pumpkin/spices I would add?

  4. If you want to make a pumpkin cheesecake with this recipe, omit the chocolate chips, espresso, almond extract and sour cream. Add 2 cups of pumpkin puree, along with 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, 2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg and 2 teaspoons ground ginger. It's good served with freshly whipped cream and I once topped it with spun sugar. Happy Thanksgiving and thanks for reading my blog!

  5. Dear queen Liz,
    Your cheesecake is impeccable!
    Thank you for sharing your expertise.
    We're just about to celebrate Shavuot, and a cheesecake is in order.
    I'd be very happy to make your vanilla cheesecake, and was wondering if you could perhaps offer some advice.
    For pure vanilla, could I leave out the orange and lemon juice? If so, are there any adjustments I should make?
    Can you really flip a cheesecake upside-down?! I always fear it might collapse...
    Thank you very much!

  6. Hi Misty - thanks for reading! It's perfectly okay to leave out the citrus and you don't need to make any other adjustments. You can use either pure vanilla extract or (my preference) vanilla bean paste. Either will work. You could also scrape the seeds from a vanilla bean and use those instead of vanilla paste. Whatever suits you!

    I've used this method/recipe for years and have never had a failure turning it out of the pan. Just make sure that it is WELL CHILLED (at least overnight) first. If you are still nervous about it, you can always use a springform pan - just wrap it well in heavy-duty aluminum foil so you can still place it in the water bath.

    Hope this helps!

  7. Hi Liz, thanks for responding!
    Sounds like the best use for a Madagascar Bourbon vanilla bean paste, that I just happened to find, so that suits me just fine :) Thank you for recommending it.
    Well, even with the pan wrapped in foil, I seem to end up with "soggy bottoms" more often than not, so using your method will put an end to that. I will just try to keep a steady hand...
    Thank you so much!

  8. Good luck, Misty! You clearly know your way around a kitchen, so I have no doubt you will meet with cheesecake success. Let me know how it turns out. Happy Shavout!

  9. Typo - sorry. Happy Shavuot!

  10. Clearly, I do :) It was "soggy bottoms" that gave that away, wasn't it :) But not this time. Turns out you can flip a cheesecake upside down and back again, and keep it in one piece!
    Thank you so much for the holiday wish, the recipe, and your kind words of advice!
    I really enjoyed making this cake, eating it and sharing it with the others.
    I only had one slice, and already like to make another, smaller cake, which requires a smaller deep pan (5"/6"x 3"), that I still need to find.
    I'm glad I used the vanilla paste, instead of extract. It tasted so good...
    Since I left out the citrus, I used 1 3/4 cups (350 grams) sugar, and wonder if I can use less next time.
    One thing that I'm not sure about, though, is the degree of creaminess. It did hold its shape, but was a little too soft in the center, I think.
    For a firmer center, should I bake it longer next time? Or at a slightly higher temperature? Add a bit more flour, maybe?
    What would you recommend to try?
    Thanks again, Liz!

  11. I made the vanilla cheesecake and I get requests to make it monthly. I think the citrus adds a freshness to the cake that makes it incredible. (also, am partial to vanilla oreo crust) I came asearchin' specifically for the pumpkin cheesecake recipe to bring to thanksgiving dinner. not worried about bringing an untested dish to the meal, this blog has yet to let me down.


  12. Thanks, anonymous. I really appreciate your comment!