Easier than I’d thought to make; better than I’d hoped to eat

In the spirit of doing one thing every day that scares me I made a cheesecake.

Cheesecake was my brother-in-law’s stepmom’s specialty. Rosie baked several cheesecakes most weeks of her long working life for the local diner where she was also a waitress. Take a minute and google “New Jersey Diner Cheesecake.” We’re talking serious dessert here. She continued to make her cheesecakes for family gatherings until she was well into her nineties. That’s a tough springform pan to fill.

I was under the impression that it’s difficult to make a good cheesecake, perhaps, because Rosie wanted it that way. She would present her cheesecake every Christmas to a chorus of oohs and aahs. I can’t say I blame her for wanting to create a magical aura around its creation. And that she did.

Thus cheesecake met my criteria for trying a new recipe: something I’ve never made that will make me a better cook/baker if I make it. There was one little wrinkle: I associate cheesecakes with celebrations and special occasions and I had nothing special on the horizon. So I invited a friend for dinner — which in these pandemic times is reason to celebrate. Voila.

Now that wasn’t so hard

I used the recipe from my go-to baking bible “Jim Fobel’s Old-Fashioned Baking Book.” His recipe is for a crustless cheesecake, which suited me fine. It’s one less step, and crust seems extraneous anyway and might get soggy. I admit, however, that if an Oreo cookie crust had occurred to me at the time I might have reconsidered.

Once I chose the recipe, I was a bit taken aback when I read that it calls for four packages of cream cheese. Yikes. But then, cheesecake isn’t your everyday kind of treat. It’s rich, some people call it decadent, and that’s what makes it special.

I quickly discovered cheesecake isn’t really that hard to make. I had no trouble setting up the water bath for the cake or wrapping the springform pan to ensure the water didn’t seep in, and the rest of the process was also pretty much smooth sailing but for a couple of minor snags.

First, at the last minute I realized that I had a 9-inch pan and the recipe calls for 10-inch. I was worried that if I put too much batter into too small a pan it would spill over. (Uh-huh. I’ve done that. Cake flowed like lava.) I googled the difference in capacity between the two sizes and reserved two cups of batter. I figured I’d use the reserved batter to make cheesecake brownies. (I did. They were excellent.)

I’ve read that the top of a cheesecake can crack and the sides can stick to the pan, but neither of those things happened. But the other small snag came once the cake had chilled overnight and was ready to serve. Separating a crustless cheesecake from the bottom insert of a springform pan is no mean feat. I was able to remove it with a knife, but a little too much cake stayed stuck to the pan. Next time, I’ll leave the cake on the insert to serve or line it with a parchment round for easier removal.

Now, you may wonder what a single person living in the middle of a pandemic did with all that leftover cheesecake. I’m glad you asked. I gave a big piece to my friend to take home and froze the rest. In answer to what might be your next question, yes, you can freeze cheesecake. I just defrosted a piece and tasted it. The texture was great. And by the way, I didn’t get around to making the brownies for six days (though I wouldn’t have waited any longer), and the batter fared perfectly well in the fridge until I got around to using it. And yes, once I made them I froze them, too.

I served my cheesecake with a homemade blueberry compote (I cooked up some blueberries with a splash of water, some sugar, and lemon zest). I don’t think it would have occurred to me a few years ago to do that, so there you go. I am getting better at this stuff.

New York Cheesecake

Click here for printable recipe.
Makes one 10-inch cheesecake

INGREDIENTS
5 large eggs
2 cups (1 pint) sour cream
Four 8-ounce packages cream cheese
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

PREPARATION

1. Let the eggs, sour cream, cream cheese, and butter come to room temperature. Adjust a rack to the center of the oven and preheat to 300°F. Generously butter a 10-inch springform pan. To ensure that no moisture from the water bath seeps into the pan, wrap a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil tightly around the bottom and sides, crimping and pleating the foil to make it conform. Fold the top edge of the foil down so it is even with the top edge of the pan.

2. In a large mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the sour cream until well blended.

3. In a medium-sized bowl, beat the cream cheese with the butter until smooth and creamy. Scrape into the egg-sour cream mixture and beat until smooth. Add the sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest and beat thoroughly, about 2 minutes. Pour into the prepared springform pan and place in a roasting pan large enough o prevent the sides from touching. Place in the oven and carefully pour in enough very hot tap water to reach halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

4. Bake for 2 hours 15 minutes, or until the cake is very lightly colored and a knife inserted in the center emerges clean. Remove from the water bath and carefully peel the aluminum foil from around the pan. Let stand at room temperature until completely cool, about 4 hours. Refrigerate, covered, until well chilled.

Note: When using a water bath, or bain-marie, you must be very careful not to scald yourself with the hot water in the outer pan. This is all too easy to do as you remove the paired pans from the oven: The pans are heavy and unless you can keep them absolutely level, the water sloshes around. Use very thick potholders (preferably mitts) and an outer pan with handles, if you have one.

Recipe reprinted from ”Jim Fobel’s Old-Fashioned Baking Book” by Jim Fobel, Lake Isle Press, 1996

Originally published at https://www.lakeislepress.com on February 11, 2021.

Dara O’Brien is the Creative Director of Lake Isle Press. When she isn’t cooking or writing about cookbooks, she writes plays and sometimes acts in them.

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