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!