Cheesecakes are decadent desserts made of either American cream cheese or ricotta cheese. They are more akin to giant custards than cakes, and, as such, cheesecakes often have complicated baking directions designed to prevent the cheesecake from cracking while preserving a rich uniform texture. New York style cheesecakes are cream cheese mixtures baked without a water bath and are unique because the baking starts at a high temperature (that's quickly dropped down) producing a rich interior and light brown exterior.
The major ingredients in almost all plain cheesecakes are cream cheese, sugar, lemon juice, vanilla extract, egg yolks, whole eggs, and either heavy cream or sour cream. The ratios of these ingredients determine the final taste (tangy or sweet) and texture (dense or fluffy).
My recipe starts with a quick preparation of the crust. Assemble 4 ounces of graham crackers, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, and 4 tablespoons of melted butter. [IMG]
Break the graham crackers into small pieces and place into a food processor. [IMG]
Pulse the food processor until the graham crackers have been reduced to fine pieces (about 10 one second pulses). (The crackers can also be broken by placing them into a large resealable plastic bag and crushed by rolling a pin over the bag.) Then, in a medium bowl, mix the sugar and butter with the crackers until all the crackers take on a wet appearance. [IMG]
Melt one tablespoon of butter and use half of it to butter the bottom of a 10 in. springform pan. Then, pour the graham cracker mixture into the pan. Use a flat bottomed cup to press the cracker crumbs down into an even layer. [IMG]
Use a flatware teaspoon to press in the outer circumference of the crust. [IMG]
Bake the crust for about twelve minutes at 325°F. [IMG]
Once the crust has become fragrant and turned a golden brown, remove it from the oven to cool on a wire rack. When the crust has cooled, use the remaining half tablespoon of butter to butter the sides. [IMG]
While baking the crust and letting it cool, assemble and prepare the filling: 2-1/2 pounds cream cheese (at room temperature), 1/2 cup heavy cream, 1-3/4 cup sugar, 1/8 tsp. salt, 2 tsp. lemon juice, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, 2 large egg yolks, and 6 large eggs. [IMG]
Cut the cream cheese into small chunks and place the pieces into work bowl of a standing mixer. Beat the cheese on low until smooth, about two or three minutes. It may be easier to beat half the cream cheese first, followed by the second half. Once the cheese is smooth, add the salt and about a third of the sugar. Beat until integrated and scrape down the sides. Add another third of the sugar and continue to mix until the sugar is mixed in. Then add the final third of sugar and mix in. Optionally, three tablespoons of flour can be added with the sugar to help add a bit of stability to the cake. Adding flour will not affect the taste or texture of the cake, but will reduce the likelihood of a cracked cake. Add the lemon juice and vanilla extract and mix. [IMG]
Scrape the sides down and add the heavy cream. The cheese should be much easier to work with at this point. [IMG]
Add the egg yolks and mix until they are blended in. [IMG]
Now add three whole eggs and mix until the eggs have been completely mixed into the filling. Scrape down the sides and beat in the final three eggs. Now, pour the filling into the springform pan onto the cooled crust. A 10-inch pan should fill up to almost its rim with this filling. Lift the pan an inch or two above your counter or cutting board and drop it to bring any bubbles trapped inside to the surface. Place the springform pan onto a sheetpan (for easy handling and safety), and slide into the middle of an oven preheated to 500°F. [IMG]
After ten minutes, reduce the temperature to 200°F and allow the cheesecake to bake as the oven gradually reduces temperature (do not open the oven door). Bake the cheesecake until the center of the cake registers as 150°F (making sure it does not exceed 160°F), about 1 hour and 40 minutes. Feel free to use an instant read thermometer in the center of the cake - a slightly blemish is worth a perfect cake. Note: When baking the example cheesecake, I kept the cake at 500°F for only five minutes (thinking that the pizza stone would keep the temperature higher for longer). Notice that the edges of the cake had begun to brown, but the whole surface of the cake is still a light shade. This cake resulted in the texture of a New York style cheesecake, but failed to achieve the look. Remember to keep baking at 500°F for the full ten minutes. (Some recipes even call for fifteen minutes, but I generally use ten.) [IMG]
The cake will not fully set until fully chilled, but the cooling process should be gradual. First remove the cake from the oven and onto a cooling rack. After a about ten minutes, run a paring knife along the rim of the cake to release it from the walls of the pan. This will reduce the risk of cracking as the cake contracts and tries to pull away from the walls of the pan. Joy of Cooking also recommends the practice of covering the pan with a large bowl for added insurance. The bowl helps keep the heat in as well as some moisture which further slows down the cooling process. After about two to three hours of cooling, wrap the pan tightly in plastic wrap and place the cake into the refrigerator to chill for at least five hours.
Remove the cake from the refrigerator about thirty minutes before serving and slice with a sharp knife. Use a tall glass of warm water to dunk the knife into between cuts to make slicing easier. The strawberry glaze from the Strawberry Glazed Angel Food Cake works well with this cheesecake. [IMG]
Plain New York Style Cheesecake (serves twelve) Graham cracker crust
I have read in numerous places that you need to be careful not to overbeat a cheesecake batter. I've never had a problem with the top cracking, so I suppose I must not be overbeating it. Or is there actually no basis in that advice? If there is, what is it? Why would overbeating cause the top to crack?
Joined: 10 May 2005 Posts: 1595 Location: Austin, TX (USA)
Posted: Thu Aug 11, 2005 6:21 am Post subject:
re: overbeaten / cracking
As I understand the potential problems while making a cheesecake, overbeating does not contribute directly to a cracks forming on the surface of the cheesecake. However, overbeating could introduce air bubbles into the batter. If these air bubbles are around while baking, then the bubbles could expand causing the cheesecake to rise. Then, the bubbles will burst (because a cheesecake has very little in terms of structural support - no flour) and the cake will fall. The solution? Use low speeds on your mixer and help the air bubbles rise by lightly dropping the cake before baking. A popular "trick" is to run a knife in a multiple 'S' pattern through the batter after it's been poured to help release air bubbles.
Cracking occurs for a variety of reasons. The three most likely reasons on a cake this size is rapid cooling and under or overcooking of the filling. A cracked cheesecake does not affect taste, but it might be an indicator of texture. The cheesecake shrinks a little when cooled. When cooled rapidly, the cake may not change shape uniformly resulting in a fissure forming through the middle of the top of the cake. It's best to cool it slowly in a warm, moist place. Some recipes suggest cooling in the oven (after it's been turned off), but this takes a really long time and may not be perfectly safe since the cake is kept in the bacterial danger zone for many hours.
If the middle of the cake is not fully cooked, then it might also crack during cooling. Using an instant read thermometer ensures the center of the cake will cook enough to coagulate the eggs while not overcooking. In addition, adding 3 Tbs. all-purpose flour to the recipe (mix in with the sugar) will help bind the cake without a noticable change in texture or flavor. In fact, now that I'm thinking about it, we should include this 3 Tbs. flour whenever we can. I'll add it to the recipe.
The last way I'd expect cracks to form is in the oven. If the center of the cake completely solidifies, the surface will start to crack as more and more liquid evaporates. This used to be a sign that the cheesecake was done, but in fact the interior is a bit overdone. Also, you'll have an unsightly top to your cheesecake. Many of these cracking issues can be avoided by baking in a water bath, but then it wouldn't be New York style anymore.
This will sound like a really stupid question to any Americans, but could you describe what gordon crackers are like?
There's no such thing outside the US, at least not where I live. From the image I'd say they look more like biscuits than regular crackers (as in cheese & crackers). What would you advise as a substitute?
In my experience, cracking occurs when the cake spends too much time baking at too high a temperature, but that doesn't necessarily mean the interior is overdone. I've done tests keeping the oven at an even 300-350 for the whole baking time, and the cakes cracked like the devil even though the final color and texture were good. The problem lies in the fact that the filling doesn't cook uniformly.
Solidity starts at the outer surfaces, then works its way in. Cracks occur when the solid layer at the top is about 1cm thick and the filling has puffed enough that the surface is fully domed. Basically, the custard can't stretch enough to take the stress (custards are notorious for low tensile strength), so it breaks and you get a panful of tasty fault lines.
Puffing does *not* occcur uniformly, though. It starts as a ring around the edge of the pan and then moves in to the center. The trick to getting a good, light cheesecake is to have the puffing stop just as it reaches the center, then maintain that level of puff while the rest of the filling solidifies. Give the cake too much heat, and it will crack. Give it too little, and it will collapse.. you'll end up with a bowl-shaped, crumpled top.
The key to controlling puff is knowing when to switch the oven from 500 down to 200. You don't want to wait until the top is fully domed, because the filling will continue to puff while the oven temperature falls, and you'll get cracks. Nor do you want to drop the temperature too early, because the center won't puff and you'll end up with a bowl. 10 minutes is a decent rule of thumb, but really, you have to watch the cake.
I personally drop to to 200 when the un-puffed zone at the center is about 4-5cm in diameter. That happens to be the sweet spot for the cakes I usually make. Your mileage will vary based on the diameter of your pan, the depth of the filling, the amount of air you've whipped into the filling, humidity, your oven, the phase of the moon, and who knows what else. Just assume that your first two or three cakes will be ranging shots, and figure out what works best for you.
That bit of timing is the 'secret' of cheesecake, though.
This recipe sounded so good, I made it yesterday. We had a small slice with breakfast this morning and my wife declared it the "best cheesecake ever!" It was delicious. Light and fluffy inside and a little denser on the edges.
A few comments/questions:
1. The post says to cook the crust at 350, but the listing at the bottom says 325.
2. I didn't fully understand the part about the tablespoon of melted butter on the bottom of the pan. Are you saying to use 1/2 tablespoon of melted butter? It was confusing because you never mention what to do with the other half.
3. My cake developed a large crack around the other edge after only 20 min. I thought most cheesecakes cracked during the cooling, not the coking. I will mention that mine didn't turn brown after the 10 min at 500. so I gave it another 2 min. Maybe that had something to do with it.
Nonetheless, it was a delicious cake. Thanks for the great recipe and site.
Joined: 10 May 2005 Posts: 1595 Location: Austin, TX (USA)
Posted: Thu Aug 11, 2005 6:24 am Post subject:
re: crust temperature
Whoops. I made a mistake. The crust should be baked at 325°F for about 12 min. I don't think baking at 350&176;F would hurt anything.
re: 1/2 tablespoon butter
Ah, yes. I left out the all important line: "When the crust has cooled, use the remaining half tablespoon of butter to butter the sides." So, yes, use half a tablespoon for the bottom and half for the sides. Sorry.
re: browning and cracking
Although, many consider a "perfect" cheesecake to be a uniformly colored one without blemish, I think the most important aspect is probably taste. You can always top a cracked cheesecake or hide it with clever cutting. In this case, I'm not sure why the cheesecake cracked (often it's hard to tell). There are a few things you might want to try - although, you may be eaten many cheesecakes through this experimental process. (1) Use a water bath to introduce more moisture in the oven. I use a gas oven, sot here is some inherent moisture. An electric may be too dry for a cheesecake (pure conjecture on my part). Try placing a large pan of hot water in the oven on a rack positioned below the cheesecake. (2) If, you kept the door closed the entire time of the bake, then maybe try reducing the temperature a bit faster by cracking the oven door during the transition between 500°F and 200#176;F. Or, perhaps your oven's 200°F isn't 200°F (often the case). (3) If you opened the oven door while baking to peek, try not doing that.
Cheesecakes are finicky things and require a bunch of patience to get "perfect". (As you can see with the cheesecake I baked as an example, it did not come out perfectly because I was in a bit of a rush. This just goes to show that perhaps cheesecakes shouldn't be baked on weekday evenings after a long days work and when you have an early morning meeting so you need to get to bed and the cake is still cooling at 1:00 am.)
You really had your work cut out with the responses from this recipe!
One comment - the term 'graham crackers' is confusing. Are they like ritz or jatz (i.e. flaky) or are they like biscuits (i.e. crumbly)?
To overcome the language barrier, perhaps you could describe what they are made of in order for us to work out what they are. I think they are actually available here (in Australia) under a different generic name.