I discovered that one very important recipe was missing from Food Nirvana, one for a very creamy cheesecake. Oddly, of all the foods I made over many years I never made a cheesecake until now. I am guessing the reasons had to do with the fact my mother never made one, nor did my wife, Marie, who was an excellent cook. Beyond that we consumers are typically easily convinced that places like the Cheesecake Factory® must make the best cheesecake so why bother?
During the 2015 Christmas holidays I had a slice of salted caramel cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory®. It looked beautiful, as do all of their special cheesecakes. But when I considered the taste and texture exclusive of the salted caramel topping and blond brownie bottom, I was not impressed. The cheesecake itself was too sweet and had too little flavor. It was overwhelmed by the strong tastes of the topping and the overly thick bottom crust.
Then an ancient memory came back to me. The year was 1969 and the event a family gathering of my then wife Pat's relatives in Asbury Park, NJ. One of the relatives by marriage was a physician from New York City. His food contribution to the gathering was his own home made creamy cheesecake. Mine was my home made dandelion wine.
We were both so impressed by each other's offerings that we decided to exchange recipes. Oh, how I wished I had never lost that recipe! Moving ahead to the present time, I had no way of getting that recipe. I did, however, have many opportunities, like everyone else, of doing Internet research and then using my food knowledge to identify the optimal recipe. Thus, the recipe below is one that I found and slightly modified and the cheesecake I just made is excellent. It is so good that it does not need any fruit or other topping, though I include topping instructions in the recipe.
So, why compete with the Cheesecake Factory®? The simple answer is that I now make a creamy cheesecake that is superior in texture and taste to their commercial offering. In short, I was not as pleased as I should have been with their expensive product. Well, I've done this type of competitive thing so often, with success, with other types of foods, that I saw no reason to hesitate relative to cheesecake. So be it. I hope you enjoy this recipe, which I obtained from the Internet and modified just a bit. And I must confess, the professionalism in the description of how to make a perfect creamy cheesecake truly impressed me. It was a rare find and I owe a debt of gratitude to the creator.
There is one other item I must mention. I did not have graham crackers so I made a crust using two cups of almond flour, 1/4 cup of sugar, 5 tbsp. of melted butter, 1/4 tsp. of cinnamon and 1 tbsp. of water. It too is perfect. You can buy almond flour via the Internet. Peggy likes the crust far better than one made with graham crackers.
You will be very popular if you make and serve this cheesecake to family and friends. It is truly delicious!
For the cheesecake:
2 pounds of regular Philadelphia® brand cream cheese
1 cup of sugar
2 tsp. of cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup of sour cream
2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
3 extra large eggs
1 egg yolk from an extra large egg
For the crust:
12 whole Nabisco® graham cracker rectangles (6 ounces), or use 2 cups of almond flour, 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 tsp. of cinnamon as I did
5 tablespoons of butter, plus extra to grease the pan
If needed, one or two tbsp. of water
For the topping: (optional)
One 21 oz. can of either cherry or blueberry thickened and sweetened pie filling
9-inch or 10-inch springform pan (I used a 9" pan and 65 minutes of baking time)
Aluminum foil (use an extra wide roll)
Food processor (or use a rolling pin or wooden kitchen mallet and a one gallon Ziploc® freezer bag)
Electric stand mixer
Measuring cups and spoons
Roasting pan or other deep dish or deep skillet big enough to hold the springform pan
Preheat the oven and warm the cream cheese: Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the lower-middle position. Take the blocks of cream cheese out of their boxes and let them warm on the kitchen counter while you prepare the crust, about 30 minutes.
Rub the pan with butter: Use your fingers to rub a small pat of butter all over the bottom and sides of the pan.
Wrap the pan in foil: Cut two long pieces of foil and lay them on your work surface in a cross. Set the springform pan in the middle and fold the edges of the foil up around the sides of the pan, but not over the top. Note that if you use an extra wide roll of aluminum foil one piece may be enough to cover the bottom and sides of the springform pan. The foil gives you extra protection against water getting into the pan during the water bath baking procedure.
Prepare the crust: Crush the graham crackers in a food processor (or in a Ziploc® freezer bag using a rolling pin or wooden kitchen mallet) until they form fine crumbs — you should have 1 1/2 to 2 cups. Melt 5 tablespoons of butter in the microwave oven or in a small pan on the stovetop and mix this into the graham cracker crumbs. The mixture should look like wet sand and hold together in a clump when you press it in your fist. If not, add extra tablespoons of water (one at a time) until the mixture holds together. Transfer it into the springform pan and use the bottom of a drinking glass/tumbler to press it evenly into the bottom.
Bake the crust: Place the springform pan in the oven (be careful not to tear the foil). Bake for 8 to 10 minutes until the crust is fragrant and just starting to brown around the edges. Let the pan and crust cool on a cooling rack while you prepare the filling. (I let my almond flour crust bake for 12 minutes and it did not brown around the edges.)
Mix the cream cheese, sugar, cornstarch, and salt: Combine the room temperature cream cheese, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until the mixture is creamy, like thick frosting, and no large lumps of cream cheese remain. Scrape down the beater and the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Then mix a minute longer on medium speed.
Mix in the sour cream, lemon juice, and vanilla: Add the sour cream, lemon juice, and vanilla to the bowl and beat on medium-low speed until combined and creamy. Scrape down the beater and sides of the bowl with a spatula. As before, mix on medium speed for one more minute, then again scrape down the beater and sides of the bowl.
Mix in the eggs and the yolk one at a time: With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the eggs and the yolk one at a time. Wait until the previous egg is just barely mixed into the batter before adding the next one. At first, the mixture will look clumpy and broken, but it will come together as the eggs are incorporated. Do a final scraping with the spatula and then mix on medium speed for one minute.
Stir a few times by hand: Scrape down the beater and sides of the bowl with a spatula. Stir the whole batter a few times by hand, being sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl, to make sure everything is incorporated. The finished batter should be thick, creamy, and silky. Don't worry if you see a few specks of un-mixed cream cheese here and there; they will melt into the batter during baking and won't affect the finished cheesecake.
Pour the batter over the cooled crust: Check to make sure the crust and the sides of the pan are cool — if they are cool enough to touch comfortably, you can proceed. Pour the batter over the cooled crust and spread it into an even layer against the sides of the pan.
Transfer the springform pan to the water bath: Transfer the pan to a roasting pan or other baking dish/deep skillet big enough to hold it. Bring a quart of water to a boil and pour some of the boiling water into the roasting pan/dish/skillet, being careful not to splash any water onto the cheesecake. Fill the container that holds the springform pan with the boiling water to about an inch below the top edge of foil.
Bake the cheesecake: Bake the cheesecake at 350°F for 50 to 60 minutes. Cakes baked in a 10-inch pan will usually cook in 50 to 55 minutes; cakes in a 9-inch pan will usually cook in 55 to 60 minutes. The cheesecake is done when the outer two to three inches look slightly puffed and set, but the inner circle still jiggles (like Jello®) when you gently shake the pan. Some spots of toasted golden color are fine, but if you see any cracks starting to form, move on to the next step right away.
Cool the cheesecake in the oven: Turn off the oven and crack the door open. Let the cheesecake cool slowly for one hour.
Run a knife around the edge of the cake and cool the cake completely: After an hour, remove the cheesecake from the oven and from the water bath, unwrap the foil, and transfer the springform pan to a cooling rack. Run a thin-bladed knife around the edge of the cake to make sure it is not sticking to the inside of the pan (which can cause cracks as it cools). Let the cheesecake cool completely on the rack to room temperature.
Chill the cheesecake for four or more hours in the refrigerator: Chill the cheesecake, uncovered, for at least four hours or up to three days in the refrigerator. This step is crucial for letting the cheesecake set and achieving perfect cheesecake texture — so don't rush it.
(Optional)Top the cheesecake with the pie filling and serve: Take the cheesecake out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you plan to serve it. Unmold the cake from the springform pan and then top the cheesecake with cherry or blueberry pie filling just before serving.
You can serve the cake right from the bottom of the springform pan, as shown in the picture of the cheesecake I just made, or use a large off-set spatula to gently unstick the crust from the pan and transfer it to a serving platter. Leftovers (if any!) will keep, uncovered and refrigerated, for several days.