I'm always up for a challenge and I tend to be a perfectionist. So I guess it comes to no surprise that I have a collection of recipes that I want to try over and over again, tweaking and revising, until I reach the exact flavor, color, texture, etc. I want. What falls under that category you ask? Hmmmm let's see, chocolate chip cookies (anybody read the now famous New York Times recipe?), scones (a sad fact that my mom begs me to bring her scones from work instead of asking me to bake her homemade ones), omelets (I can never get the top to flip without breaking, very irritating), are just some on the list. The more I cook and bake, the more the list grows. But nothing beats the challenge of one thing, the thing that I've been toying with for years: cheesecake.
Oh my gosh, the methods are endless! From all cheese, to adding milk, sour cream, whipping cream, flour, cornstarch, and even *gasp* water. I mean water? And I cannot even tell you how many accounts I've read of what people have gone through to prevent their cheesecakes from cracking (the true sign of a good cheesecake). Some people preheat their oven, turn it off, and then just leave it in their oven for seven hours. SEVEN hours. There's also the waterbath, or I guess correctly said bain marie, which is the perfect solution and does the trick beautifully but it's kind of a hassle. Needless to say, cheesecake has captured my attention and any chance I get to try it again with a whole new set of ingredients and variations, I'm down. So....two girls at my work were turning twenty one, and at the request and my delight, one of them (Kasey) asked for a cheesecake. It was all I could do to stop myself from dancing. I know, I know, I'm a nerd.
Perfectly Plain Cheesecake
By Julia Canavera
1 ½ cups crushed graham crackers
2-3 Tbsp. Sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground ginger
6-8 Tbsp. melted butter
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup sour cream
3 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
Zest of one lemon
Juice of one lemon
2 egg yolks
*Make sure everything is at room temperature
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Combine graham crackers, sugar, cinnamon, and ginger in a bowl. Slowly pour in the melted butter until crackers combine and hold their shape when pressed together. Press into a 8”-9” spring form pan and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Take out and let cool. Lower oven to 300°F and put a pan filled with water in the bottom of the oven. (This will help to prevent the cheesecake from cracking without having to go through the trouble of doing a water bath.)
Next combine cream cheese, sugar, sour cream, and flour, beating until light and fluffy. Stir in extracts and lemon zest and juice. In another bowl beat the eggs and egg yolks until thoroughly combined and slightly lighter in color. Slowly pour into the cream cheese mixture and fold. Try to be careful and not over stir as this will also create cracks. Take cool spring form pan and butter the sides where graham cracker crust stops. Pour in cheesecake mixture and put in oven. Let bake for one hour. After an hour, turn the oven off and let the cheesecake sit for another 45 minutes to another hour. Make sure the center is still jingly, that means the cheesecake isn’t over baked and will set up once cool. Take out of oven and let sit on the counter too cool to room temperature (about 2 hours). Then put in refrigerator to chill and set up completely for at least 4 hours. (I just let mine sit overnight).
To make the strawberry variation, I bought good quality preserves and heated it up until it was liquidly (if you need to, add a little bit of water). Then pour half of the batter into the baked crust, spoon strawberry jam over the top and use a knife to make swirls. Add the other half of batter and if you wish, spoon more jam over the top and swirl for presentation. I cut up fresh strawberries and glazed the top with my leftover preserves.