It was my birthday, and I celebrated as I habitually do by going to Chinatown and eating a lot of duck with pancakes. Then back home for champagne and cheesecake and presents. I had a very happy day!
There’s something about cheesecake that seems so celebratory to me. Its golden creamy richness takes decadence to a level way beyond cake cake.
The only cake the comes close for me is the M&S chocolate caterpillar, which is the go to celebration cake in my family, and even then it only comes close then if I can eat the solid white chocolate face and extra smarties.
Though I flirt with non baked cheesecakes and interesting toppings, when it comes to my birthday I want it plain and unadorned. Just perfect cheesecake.
So while I sat on the balcony in my cape, drinking a cappuccino and reading my birthday magazines in the crisp Autumnal sunlight, Jon set out into New York to find it.
I know, you’re probably thinking Katz / Carneigie / some other deli that’s been around since 1900, and this might be a letdown for gourmets, though try to reserve judgement until you’ve tried it; Gristedes sells an awesome cheesecake. All snobbery aside, really, their plain cheesecake is probably my favorite. We live near a Gristedes. Jon went to it. Disaster. They were all out of cheesecake.
Morton Williams had cheesecake, but it was lavishly topped with pinapple of all things, so obviously that was not going to work.
With mounting panic, Jon considered the options, then ran over to Wholefoods, which didn’t have a plain cheesecake on display, but might have one in the back … he returned home with a smug slightly distant smile on his face, mush as Christopher Columbus must have had when sailing back into Southampton eating potato chips and smoking a Lucky Strike.
So my birthday cheesecake was born out of inventiveness and questing. But when I make them for my friends, this is the recipe that I use.
Classic New York Cheesecake
This recipe is a classic Ina Garten one and it’s perfect. She tops her cheesecake with a redcurrant raspberry sauce, which looks delicious in fairness, but doesn’t work for me. I want my cheesecake aggressively plain – well, maybe topped with a birthday candle, but that’s it.
For the topping1 ½ cups crushed graham cracker crumbs (about 10 crackers) 1 tbsp sugar ¾ stick butter (6 tbsp)
- Preheat the oven to 300 F, crush the crackers and melt the butter
- Mix with the sugar and press into a springform baking tin (about 9 inches)
- Bake on a baking tray for 8 – 10 mins until the crust has hardened and is golden. Leave the tin on the baking tray in case of later leaks
For the filling2 ½ lb cream cheese at room temperature 1 ½ cups sugar 5 large eggs at room temperature 2 large egg yolks at room temperature 1/3 cup sour cream 1 ½ tsp good vanilla extract or seeds scraped out of 1 vanilla pod, in which case, omit the lemon) 1 tbsp lemon zest
- Bump up the oven temperature to 450F
- Cream the cheese and sugar together in a mixer for 5 mins until light and fluffy
- Add the eggs and yolks 2 at a time, mixing in well – scrape down the sides to make sure everything in incorporated
- Add the sour cream, lemon and vanilla then pour into the crust (which should be cool, not hot to the touch. Wait until it is.)
- Bake for 15 mins
- Turn the oven down to 225 and bake for 1 and a half hours. Turn off the oven and let the cake cool there for 45 mins with the door open
- Wrap in plastic wrap and keep cool in the fridge overnight (this really helps it set)
- Dip a knife in hot water and run around the cake to loosen. Open the spring form and let the cake come back to room temperature (about an hour) before serving
If You Can make That You Can Make This
- Add 2 bars of melted chocolate to make chocolate cheesecake
- Top with a cup of raspberries cooked until soft in ½ cup sugar and 1 tbsp water
- Top with fresh peaches and a sprinkling of bourbon
- Replace some of the crackers with ginger biscuits, then serve the cheesecake with a drizzle of syrup from a preserved ginger jar
- Or try this unbaked cheesecake with toffee apple sauce