I have fond memories of my mother’s cheesecake…the aroma of the batter as it was mixing (I got to lick a beater from the mixer back when eggs were a safe food)…the smell that filled the house while it was baking…the inevitable disappointment when it cracked, it pretty much always cracked…the sight of the funny ridges left by the knife as we cut it…and final the near ecstatic joy when we ate it. It was a special occasion!
I have been the chef in quite a few restaurants. In every one of them I have made a cheesecake from scratch to put on the dessert menu (with the exception of one). Cheesecake is a favorite, at least within a 400 mile radius of New York; so much so that there is an entire restaurant chain devoted to the satisfyingly rich dessert. I just don’t understand why with all of this public acclaim there is so much crappy cheese cake available today. I am not even talking about cheesecakes made with ricotta which are not my favorite, I am talking about cheesecakes that are obviously filled with gelatin, gums or other stabilizers or topped with gloppy goopy fruit pie fillings. In the old days it was either plain or for another 10 cents you could get macerated strawberries, thats it – and coffee…a good hot cup of coffee. It is just another way in which our food supply has been filled with garbage, more evidence that we need to get back to basics.
There seems to be a lot of confusion about the basic (New York style) cheesecake. Lindy’s cheesecake is the one that comes to mind when you say the word cheesecake and is probably the one that most people think of when they utter the words, “New York Cheesecake.” At any rate that is the recipe that floated around in the 70’s, Lindy’s famous cheesecake. According to Lindy’s recipe, New York style cheesecake is made from a lot of cream cheese flavored with citrus zest, vanilla, sugar and lightened with eggs and cream in a pastry crust. So that is when everyone rushed out to buy a spring-form pan and give it a whirl. It seems to me that cheesecake almost did not survive the low fat hysteria and the low carb diets of the following decades, but there are many intrepid bloggers out there who have given some life back to the old recipe not to mention the restaurant chain.
Most of the blogs about cheesecake have a problem (the same problem my mother had when she made cheesecake, she makes a wonderful cheesecake)…cracking and/or caving. Most of the pictures out there are of cracked cheesecakes. The problem is not in the recipe, most of those are almost identical to the Lindy’s recipe published in the New York Times so many years ago; it is in the cooking method. The recipe calls for starting the oven at 500°F and turning it down; blah, blah, blah. I am here to tell you, friends, that is not the way. In a professional kitchen, we use a water bath and cook it at a nice even temperature without opening the door. This poses a small problem when you want to use a spring-form pan because water could get into the cake. There are ways around it, but I would like to share my method; it is simple, straightforward and it works every time. A solid 3″X10″ cake pan and a water bath. The cheesecake will come out of the oven looking slightly puffed and rounded (as long as you don’t overcook it and crack it) which will settle to be perfectly flat with no dip in the middle and be golden brown on top. I use a graham cracker crust on the bottom with only a dusting on the sides which is not in the original recipe (they used a pastry crust), but we like it better that way. The recipe is adapted for the larger pan, but it remains essentially the recipe made famous as Lindy’s cheesecake, and there is a trick to cutting it.
New York Style Cheesecake
1¼ cups graham cracker crumbs
¼ cup sugar
5 Tbsp melted butter (I always melt a little extra to grease the pan with)
Mix these together until the crumbs hold together when pressed. Press an even layer on the bottom of the prepared cake pan (details below). Reserve for later.
3 lbs cream cheese, softened
2 cups sugar
6 whole eggs
3 egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla extract
zest from 1 orange (fresh is best and I don’t worry about the measurement, about 1½ tsp each)
zest from 1 lemon
4 Tbsp all purpose, unbleached flour
½ cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 350°F and prepare the water bath by placing a pan inside the oven that will accommodate your cake pan and some hot water; heat some water. Prepare your cake pan by lightly greasing the bottom and sides with butter, place a parchment circle on the bottom, sprinkle the sides lightly with graham cracker crumbs then press the graham cracker crust onto the parchment.
Lightly beat the cream cheese until it is smooth with few lumps but not loose. Add all of the sugar, beat until it is combined well with the cream cheese before adding anything else. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla extract and the zest and beat into the cream cheese. Add 1 egg at a time beat until each is completely incorporated, scrape down the mixing bowl after each addition finishing with the egg yolks. Add the flour and the heavy cream and beat until just incorporated. Pour into the prepared cake pan. Place the cake pan into the pan in the preheated oven and pour the hot water into the outer pan until it comes at least half way up the sides of the cheese cake pan. Bake for about 90 minutes. The cheese cake is done when the top is golden brown and the center has raised a little with tiny cracks starting to appear at the surface. Remove the cheese cake from the oven, let it cool a bit at room temperature and then place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours until completely cooled.
To remove the cheesecake from the pan: Dip the cheesecake pan into hot water for about 15 seconds, dry the outside of the pan, cover the top of the cheesecake pan with a serving platter and invert the cheesecake on top of the plate. The cheesecake usually just slides out after a few seconds. Remove the parchment and put your serving platter on the bottom of the cake and turn it right-side up. To cut the cheesecake I use a thin brass wire (available at an hardware store near you). A 10 inch cake can easily be cut into 16 nice sized pieces. Enjoy!