I forgot how much I love this cheesecake. I’ve made it on and off – obviously mostly off recently – for the better part of my baking life. The first time I made it was for a boss’s birthday many moons ago and then for quite a while it was my go-to party dessert. Somewhere along the way, much like mood rings and shoulder pads in ladies suits, it fell out of favor or I got bored with it … In either case, my loss. But no more!
Last week, I was working on a dinner party menu for dear friends we were very excited to have coming over. I made sure that there was beef for Yousif and I wanted to make a fruit dessert since I remembered (also from a work birthday) that Michelle’s preference leaned toward the fruity end of the spectrum. Since my brain generally goes toward chocolate, I dug through my recipe binder and happily came across this oldie but goodie. I added a raspberry sauce, called it a coulis to make it sound spankier for dinner party purposes, served it on a footed pedestal cake plate, and am happy to report its delicious reputation has stood the test of time.
As an aside, please don’t let dinner parties go the way of the dinosaur. Have friends over. Don’t fret; they aren’t food critics. Make as much ahead as possible, have lots of wine, light candles and enjoy each other’s company. There is something soul-satisfying about offering your hospitality and slowing down to enjoy and deepen friendships. And, well, the leftovers are awesome, too!
Eat well and share…
Before you even think about making this cake, be sure all the ingredients are at room temperature. My non-scientific, non-professional opinion is that room temp ingredients are the secret to having a cheesecake that doesn’t crack. Also, the ingredients combine so much more nicely when they are softened to room temperature. That being said, I am not a proponent of microwave-softened ingredients. That makes things oily, especially butter. Haven’t tried it with eggs though would give big bucks if you were to do it and videotape the resulting, I am guessing, debacle of a mess. I shouldn’t need to say it but I will. Use real cream cheese. That lite stuff has an odd, gelatinous texture that seems like it would be nothing but trouble. Anyway, this is not exactly a diet dish to begin with. Own that tasty fact.
So, now everything is softened and you’re ready to go. Put the crust ingredients into your mixer – though I guess you could do this by hand in a pinch – and mix until everything is the texture of wet sand, like the pic above. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure there are no wayward butter clumps which will make wet spots in your baked crust.
I have a non-stick springform pan that I’ve used forever which I know won’t have a sticking issue. If you do not have non-stick or are not sure, the theory of belt and suspenders dictates you butter the bottom and sides. Better safe than sorry. Put the crust mixture into the springform pan and tamp down evenly over the bottom of the pan. I use a measuring cup because it ensures an even surface. You do not need to push it up the sides.
Bake the crust and then cool on a rack until the bottom of the pan is cool to the touch. Next, because this cheesecake will bake in a water bath, you will need to wrap the pan in a single piece of aluminum foil. You may be more MacGyvery than I, but I cannot cobble two pieces together without a water breach. Water is wiley; you have been warned.
Much like my pet peeve regarding that sprinkly stuff in a green can erroneously called Parmesan cheese, I am equally opposed to using artificial, dried, or “from concentrate” lemon products for this cake. As the star flavor, you need the oils that the rind provides and the freshness of the juice. Make sure to use the finest grater option you have (or a rasp as pictured) so that the zest melts into the cake. You want only flavor, no texture. Added bonus info: I found a hint that has been a lemon-zesting game changer. Hold the lemon steady in your non-grating hand and move the grater over it. I had always held the grater still and moved the lemon which was not only occasionally wickedly painful to my knuckles but also not very efficient. This way, you see every bit of zest and can capture it while leaving the pith alone.
Using room-temperature ingredients not only gives you a nice final product, it will make mixing the ingredients easier since you’re putting quite a heavy load of cheese in. Make sure to stop and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with each addition and then a final scrape and swirl before pouring the batter into the pan.
I use a deep dish pizza pan for my water bath though you could just as easily use a lasagna pan or roasting pan. A pan big enough to hold the springform pan and deep enough that you can safely have at least an inch of water, understanding that at the end of the bake, it will be scalding hot.
I put the pan into the oven and then add tap water – as hot as I can get it – quickly to the big pan and then close the oven door. While it would be best to have a deeper pan so that you can add more water, if you safely have the depth to add at least 1 inch (which is what I have done here), your cake will bake fine.
When the hour is up, gently shake the springform pan. If the cake doesn’t wiggle in the middle, it is done. If you aren’t sure you saw wiggling, take it out. Over-baking will dry out the cake and give it an unpleasant texture like dry ricotta cheese (ask me how I know ….). Using oven mitts or hot pads, gently lift the springform pan from the water bath and then move to a cooling rack. Slip the aluminum foil off of the pan. Let the cake cool on the rack for about an hour. Wrap it – springform pan and all – in plastic wrap. Chill at least 8 hours or overnight. Overnight is best because the flavors and textures only get better.
About half-an-hour before you are ready to serve (or even up to an hour), carefully run a thin knife around the inside of the cake ring and remove the sides of the pan from the cake on a serving dish. The bottom of the springform pan stays with the cheesecake.
Though delicious no matter what you serve it on, this crowd-pleasing dessert looks especially pretty served on a footed cake plate. Its squat, rather unassuming presence belies its Kabam! deliciousness. Think of the footed serving dish as the push-up bra of the culinary world. Sometimes you just need a little oomph to set the tone.