Let it be known: I never claimed to be an expert baker. Part of the reason I added the baking element into this blog was because I wanted to hold myself accountable to trying new things and actually getting in the kitchen more. That being said, I can make a mean cheesecake.
Cheesecakes are a little adventurous, I admit. They take awhile and it seems so easy to mess them up. But over the last few years, I like to think I’ve got the cheesecake thing down to a science. Every time I bring one anywhere, I always get compliments, and strangely enough, it’s what I feel the most comfortable making. And if you’ve been using the boxed stuff, you are missing out. This is worth it, promise.
Now, the first step: Procure your oven for the day. This seems like a simple step, but if you live with other people, ask them if they plan on using the oven that day. If the answer is “Yes”, find a different time to make this, because this pile of deliciousness is going to sit in there for hours. This is the boring part. Then get on with the fun part.
I’ve always used Chantal’s New York Cheesecake as a starting point, though I’ve learned to customize it a little for maximum benefit. First, assemble your ingredients. If you’re going to make the crust yourself (which you should! Graham cracker crust is as easy at it can get, and it taste so much better than the dry stuff you get at the store. This is not your delicate pie crust, and is almost impossible to mess up!)
Graham Cracker Crust
15 crushed graham crackers
3-4 tablespoons butter(the original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons, but I’ve found 4 typically works better)
1/4 tablespoon vanilla extract
You’re going to melt that butter until it’s liquid gold, add in just your tiny bit of vanilla for extra flavor, mix in your graham cracker dust, and press it into the pan. Your crust works best when it comes up to 3/4 the edge of the pan, but it can go higher than that too.
4 (8 0z) packs of cream cheese, thawed
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
The original recipe also calls for flour, but being the lazy college student that I am, the first time I tried this I didn’t have any on me, so I made it anyway. It turns out perfect and firm without the flour, but you can add the 1/4 cup if you really think it’s necessary.
Preparation & Cooking
All right, here’s the part where we go old-fashion. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water, and take off your jewelry, because you’re about to knead. Add the cream cheese and sugar together in a large bowl, and knead like you’re making bread. This helps prevent cracks that cheesecakes can be so infamous for. Ever since I’ve made it this way, my cheesecake has never cracked. Next comes the milk, then each egg individually. At this point, your kneading is done and you can use an electric mixer/mix by hand, but I typically choose to mix by hand just to be safe. Then come the rest of the ingredients.
Good news: You’re almost done! Pour that mixture into your graham-cracker crusted pan, pop it in a preheated oven at 350 F, and let it cook for an hour.
Now the hard part: waiting. After an hour, turn the oven off. And leave that cheesecake as-is. It’s going to sit in there for at least five hours (this is why you procure your oven at the start). This is the part where it’s so hard to be patient, but go with it. After five hours, refrigerate until you serve.
Note: I have found that when following the above steps, my cheesecakes turn out perfect about 90% of the time. Cheesecakes are finicky creatures, so even if you follow the steps above, this is no guarantee everything will turn out beautifully without looking like the Grand Canyon, but I have found that following this procedures help immensely. Even when cheesecakes have cracked using this recipe and method, they still turn out delicious.
To Recap(Steps to Take to Prevent Cracking):
- Knead cream cheese and sugar together instead of mixing
- Mix by hand– DON’T use your electric mixer
- After turning oven off, leave cheesecake in the oven for at least five hours
The Book Recommendations:
Cheesecake is lovely, sweet, and velvety, but it’s a pretty hefty dessert, as far as sweets go. This is not the dessert you pair with your fun beach-read romance novels; this is the decadent dessert you eat when you want to savor every beautiful word on the page. My recommendations for pairing are:
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (fiction, young-adult)
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (fiction)
Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller (spiritual memoir)
Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist (memoir)
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (fiction, classic)
Follow-Up: I’m including this post as part of the Weekend Cooking link up hosted by Beth Fish Reads! You can visit the site to check out other food-related posts!