A Perfect Cheescake….Finally!

There are those recipes you dare to try, going in with great gusto and leaving all inhibitions aside. Cheesecake may safely be said to be one of those such recipes. (At least for me.) I’ve lived in New York City long enough to consider myself a New Yorker and, thus, a fan of cheesecake. Those of you inhabiting the East Coast of the U.S. may likely be familiar with Junior’s cheesecake, originating in Brooklyn; decadently rich and smooth. But, honestly, I don’t know too many people, regardless where they originate or currently find themselves geographically, who don’t enjoy a thick slice of gateaux du fromage.

I’ve attempted my hand at creating a cheesecake worthy of praise a few times in my life. I’ve had some near successes, but certainly nothing I could sell at a corner bakery. Until now…

I recently began reading a book titled, “CookWise,” by Shirley O. Corriher. I haven’t completed reading it cover to cover, so I can’t give a final review at this time, but I can tell you how exciting it is to read sections and chapters at random and get new insights about various recipes I’ve tried without a lot of success, simply due to my lack of food science knowledge. I find this book to be most like a hand guide for those of us home cooks who have always had an inkling to — but never found the time — to attend cooking school.

I tweaked the following recipe — it originally called for sour cream, and I replaced it with Greek thick yogurt, with much success. I added pure almond extract, but you could instead add an almond-flavored  liquor, such as amaretto, or simply omit the almond flavoring and opt for lemon juice and zest. The original recipe calls for chocolate wafers in the graham crust, however I used some tea biscuits and loved the outcome. It’s totally up to you and your preference.

Because this recipe doesn’t contain any starch in the batter, it must be baked in a water bath. The cake pan should be placed in a casserole dish large enough to leave a good inch of space around the entire cake pan. I was a little apprehensive the first time I attempted this recipe, but placing a thick, terry cloth towel underneath the cake pan provides extra protection from heat on the bottom of the pan, and allows the cheesecake to bake nicely without overcooking. The towel will certainly not burn, so not to worry!

Cheesecake will appear to be undercooked when you need to stop the baking process. So if the cake looks a bit jiggly in the center, don’t fret. It will set nicely in the fridge overnight. Most cheesecakes I have made in the past came out cracked in the center, which I later found meant I had overcooked the cake. I made a simple preserve syrup out of frozen strawberries, blueberry/cranberry juice, almond extract, and sugar, but it’s certainly not necessary. This cheesecake is divine on its own, topping or no.

Crust:
14 wafers, or tea biscuits (chocolate or plain)
3 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Filling:
2 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, room temperature
1 c. sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
4 tsp. pure almond extract, or 1/4 c. amaretto
3 c. thick Greek yogurt, such as FAGE brand

Crush the wafers or biscuits in a plastic zipper bag or in a food processor. In a small bowl, stir together the crushed wafers, sugar, and melted butter until a coarse crumb is achieved. Line the bottom of an 8 x 3″ round, straight-edged cake pan with parchment paper, cut to fit. (Despite what you see in the photo below, I do not recommend using a spring form pan, as a little bit of water will leak through the pan during the baking process, making the crumb crust soggy.) Grease the sides of the pan, then press the crumb crust into the bottom of the pan.

Preheat the oven to 350º F. Meanwhile, in a food processor or standing mixer, blend the cream cheese and sugar well, removing all lumps. Add the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition. Add the vanilla, salt, and almond extract (or amaretto). Blend well. Add the yogurt. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Prepare a water bath by folding a thick, terry cloth towel into the bottom of a roasting pan. Place the cake pan on top of the towel. Pull out the oven shelf you intend to use to bake the cake, and place the roasting pan onto the oven shelf. Carefully fill the roasting pan with nearly boiling water until the water reaches about an inch up the sides of the cake pan. Carefully slide the oven shelf back into place. Close the oven door and do not open it for 45 minutes, despite any temptation to do so. After 45 minutes, shut off the oven heat and allow the cake to sit inside the oven for another hour. The cheesecake batter may look undercooked to you, but trust me, it’s going to be fine! Remove the cake from the oven and place it in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, you will need to remove the cake from the pan. It will need to be inverted twice, so cover a baking sheet with plastic wrap and set aside. Turn a burner on low and place the cheesecake pan on the burner for a few seconds. This will allow you to remove the cake from the pan easily. Place the plastic-coated baking baking sheet over the cake pan and invert the cake onto the sheet. Peel the parchment paper from the bottom of the cake and then re-invert the cake onto a pedestal cake dish, or cake plate. Refrigerate until you are ready to serve. Believe me, you (and all your guests) will be blown away by this cheesecake. In fact, I think I am going to have another slice from the fridge as soon as I finish writing this post!

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