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New York Cheesecake is all it's cracked up to be

Thursday, June 19, 2003

What does it take to make the perfect cheesecake?

 

According to "The All New All Purpose Joy of Cooking," by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker, cheesecakes (by the way, cheesecake is not a cake, it is a custard) require low heat and proper stirring, baking and timing.

And if the steps are not done properly, your cheesecake will be marred with cracks or crevasses or you could end up with a sunken batter. At least one of these problems has happened to all of us bakers in the past. That is why we pulled out "The Food Lover's Tipionary," by Sharon Tyler Herbst.

Reading through the cheesecake tips helped. Our cheesecake turned out with only a tiny crack on the outer rim. Before you read through the tips below, here is the most important one -- cracks don't ruin the flavor of a cheesecake. You can always cover them with fruit or another topping.

Cheesecakes are usually made with cream cheese, ricotta cheese or cottage cheese. Textures vary from light and airy to dense and rich or creamy and smooth.

Today's recipe, New York Cheesecake, is made with cream cheese. It is a little creamier than a traditional New York Cheesecake, but that's OK because it's fantastic. Next week, we'll feature a cheesecake made with cottage cheese.

This recipe was sent by Susie Holmes of Wexford, in response to a request from Sandy Simchak of Johnstown for a New York-style cheesecake recipe.

So, how do you make a perfect cheesecake? Follow these tips:

Don't make any substitutions to the recipe, because the cheesecake could be drastically altered.

Before mixing the filling, position the oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat for 15 minutes.

Exact baking temperature is vital. If you have an oven thermometer, use it.

Add and blend the cheesecake ingredients in the exact order given.

Beat cream cheese until light and fluffy (do not overbeat) before blending in the other ingredients.

Cottage cheese or ricotta should be beaten or processed in a blender until smooth before the remaining ingredients are added, or your cheesecake may have a grainy texture.

Once the cheese is beaten until smooth, add the other ingredients slowly, beating or stirring gently. Beating too much air into the cheesecake may cause it to puff up during baking only to fall while cooling. This creates cracking.

Cheesecakes require even heat to rise properly -- for this reason, do not open the oven door during the first 30 minutes of baking.

Partially cooling a cheesecake in the oven, with the oven door ajar, helps prevent cracks.

New York Cheesecake

Shortbread crust:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest, optional
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 egg white, beaten

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch springform pan. Whisk the dry ingredients together by hand or in a processor (process about 10 seconds). Mash in butter with fork or process until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add egg yolk and mix or process just until the dough forms a ball.

    Press about 1/3 of the dough evenly over the bottom of the pan. Prick dough all over with a fork. Bake until crust is lightly golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Cool completely on rack. Press remaining dough around the sides of the pan, making sure that the dough is attached to the bottom crust. Brush the bottom and sides of the crust with the egg white. Refrigerate the crust until ready to use.

    Filling:

  • 2 1/2 pounds cream cheese (5 8-ounce packages)
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, optional
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

    Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Have all ingredients at room temperature.

    Beat the cream cheese in a large bowl until creamy. Gradually add the sugar and flour; beat until smooth and creamy, scraping the beaters and sides of bowl, about 1 to 2 minutes. Beat in the lemon zest and vanilla. Beat in the eggs and yolks one at a time, just until incorporated, scraping the sides of the bowl and the beaters after each addition. On low speed, beat in the cream.

    Scrape the batter into the crust and smooth the top. Bake for 15 minutes at 500 degrees. Reduce the oven temperature to 200 and bake for 1 hour more. Turn the oven off, prop the oven door open. Let the cake cool in oven for 30 minutes. Remove to a rack and let cool completely in the pan before unmolding. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, preferably 24 hours before serving.

    Makes about 15 to 20 servings.

    Gelatin confusion

    Kitchen Mailbox has received a number of calls regarding last week's recipe, Orange-Cottage Cheese Salad. Here it is again: Place all ingredients except the gelatin in a large bowl, mix well. Add the DRY gelatin; mix well. Chill for at least 6 hours before serving. The moisture from the cottage cheese will dissolve the gelatin.

    Requests:

    Sherri Gold, formerly of Pittsburgh, now of Portland, Ore., writes: "Any chance of getting the recipe for the pastries with chocolate centers (they might be called babkas) from Simple Treat on Murray Avenue in Pittsburgh? Also, could you get the recipe for Mineo's pasta sauce so I could get the same flavor when I make it here? I think Pittsburgh has terrific recipes and food!"

    Pat Cerni of Churchill sends this request: "In the June 12 Post-Gazette Food section, there was a letter written by Virginia Sendek, in which she says she has the 'secret' recipe for Klein's crab imperial. Would it be possible for you to obtain and publish that recipe?

    My husband and I were long-time customers of Klein's Restaurant, and I always had the crab imperial while he usually had the broiled Maine lobster with crab meat stuffing and, of course, tons of garlic balls. We enjoyed the article on Klein's, and I intend to make the garlic balls soon.


    If you want to answer a recipe request from a reader or are looking for a recipe, please write to Kitchen Mailbox, c/o Arlene Burnett, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222; or e-mail toaburnett@post-gazette.com . Please include a name, neighborhood and a daytime phone number on all correspondence.

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