Wednesday, September 26, 2012

New York cheesecake

After days of deliberation, I arrived at a serious decision: This would be The Cake for my birthday party.

The Cake is a New York cheesecake, adapted from Smitten Kitchen's New York Cheesecake. I'd bookmarked this recipe at least a couple of years ago, but buying five bricks of Philadelphia cream cheese in Moscow would have been prohibitively expensive, not to mention, who was going to eat a cheesecake weighing 5 pounds or so?

I eventually made a few adjustments to the recipe, substituting a fifth of the cream cheese with ricotta for a bit more lightness. I love cream cheese but I didn't want a cake weighing like a ton of bricks. But if you prefer a denser cheesecake, go ahead an use all cream cheese!

4 bricks cream cheese (32 oz.)
8 oz. ricotta cheese
5 large eggs
3 egg yolks
1 1/4 cup brown sugar (you can use white sugar here)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 lemons (the zest of 3 lemons and the juice of 1 1/2 lemons)
4 tablespoons flour

8 oz. graham crackers
4 oz. (1 stick) butter
1/4 cup brown sugar (I highly recommend brown sugar here, to get a caramelly crust)

Preheat your oven to 550F - but if you have a pan with Teflon coating or something that says safe up to 475F or something, then, obviously, follow those directions. And you cannot use silicone for this recipe. Nope.

Basically, you will be baking it at very high temperature at first until the top of the cake cooks, then at a much lower temperature until the whole cake is baked. This supposedly prevents cracks. I got a crack anyway, but I don't mind cracks, really.

Let's do the crust first. In a food processor, reduce the graham crackers to a sandy texture. You can also put the crackers in a sturdy plastic bag (a large ziplock, let's say,) and beat it with a stick. But my mother assures me this is extremely tiresome to do. I'll take her word for it.

Pour the cracker crumbs into a bowl, add the sugar (make sure there are no lumps) and mix with a spoon. Melt the butter (in a microwave if you like) and pour it over the dry ingredients. Mix quickly with a spoon until the crumbs are sort of moist.

Dump the whole contents into your pan. Smitten Kitchen uses a 9 inch springform pan (at least 3 inches high, please) but I didn't have one, and I used a large gratin dish (about 9 by 12 inches), which worked out fine.

One important, important thing: Don 't be like me (see picture above) and make the crust go all the way to the top. Leave some space the width of your finger, because when you bake this, the cheesecake will expand considerably and carry the crust up with it - and the crust will crumble and fall out over the sides of the pan.

Push the crust into place - using the bottom and sides of a glass could help; I also used a triangle shaped measuring spoon to get the corners. When everything is more or less in place, put it in the freezer while you make the batter - or, the fridge for an hour.

Bring your ingredients to room temperature (cold cream cheese is a tough one to mix!) In a large bowl, measure in the sugar, ricotta cheese and cream cheese. Blend well with a mixer (making sure to wipe down the sides) and add the eggs one by one, then the yolks. After all that is very well blended, add the lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla extract. Mix well (and make sure there are no streaks of cream cheese stuck to the sides or anything).

Sift in the flour and mix until incorporated.

Pour in the batter..... it goes almost all the way to the top! I would put the whole thing on another pan or something, because some of it might spill over - mine didn't, but better safe than sorry.

Pop it in the oven - blast away at 550F at first, for about 12 to 15 minutes or until puffy.

Reduce heat to 200F and continue baking for 45 minutes to an hour - it depends on how tall your cake is - the deeper the batter, the more time you need. When you shake the cake, the middle should appear a little jiggly. Don't worry.

Now, leave your cake in the oven for half an hour more, with the heat turned off and the oven door open an inch or so.

And no, that is not a picture of a pillow, that's my cheesecake.

Take it out and let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight.

Smitten kitchen says this cake can keep up to 2 weeks, well covered. I don't know - who would let a cheesecake like this alone for two weeks?! I made mine two days in advance of the party, and everyone was very, very, happy.

I would say this cheesecake will feed 12 to 16 people comfortably - less if some people want seconds, more if you also feed them tons of cauliflower and egg pilaf and fill them up with wine and cheese beforehand.

One last tip: if you are afraid of the graham cracker crust sticking to your pan, leave it out for half an hour before serving. The colder it is, the more likely it will be stuck to the bottom and sides.



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