My pursuit into Johnnycake for my Dad’s Father’s Day breakfast had me buying an entire tub of Shortening just so I could use a cup. With all that leftover, me and my cousin got into a recent habit of getting together to make pies; what better use of shortening than some flaky pie dough right? We’ve made Strawberry, Straw-Rhubarb, Apricot-Plum, and Apple with Butterscotch Crumble! Mmmmm, yum.
In our recent week, my cousin’s expressed curiosity in the cooking of Cheesecake, which I myself hadn’t actually done in years… but I don’t know why. Either way I was excited to get back to it, especially with that particularly tasty recipe I used so long back.
… yes, that is exactly what you think it is. I got the recipe off the box that my Springform Pans came in (if you don’t have any, a good round cake pan should do, just really make sure it’s nonstick). I don’t care. I made it 3+ years ago, and I still remember that it was GOOD; fresh, fluffy, and something I could actually eat in a whole sitting (comfortingly).
1 ¼ cups Graham Cracker Crumbs (about 1 package of 9 Crackers)
¼ cup Sugar
¼ cup Butter, melted
2lbs Cream Cheese (… 4 of the 8oz packages)
14oz (1 can) Sweetened Condensed Milk
½ cup Flour
1 Tb Vanilla Extract and ½ Tsp Lemon Zest
We of course gotta start with the crust; it’s a great way to use any stale Crackers you have leftover from an old S’mores day. I just used a combo of the Honey and Cinnamon Sugar since I had them, ground up once again in my handy-dandy tiny-ass robocoup.
Mix with sugar and butter thoroughly, being especially careful with the butter; the final mix should look like this:
It should hold its shape nicely when squeezed, and not fall apart easily when prodded; you may need to adjust to get it where you want, that’s fine. It doesn’t have to be like a dough or cement or anything, but you get the idea. Press this into the bottom of your pan in a nice, even layer; don’t worry about trying to get a delicate, perfect little thin layer of it, it’s a pain in the ass (especially with any non-stick bottom like one should be using) and when it comes to cheesecake, ya need a nice, thick layer to stand up to that rich custard.
You may have leftover, like I did (just made a big batch to the ratios), which you COULD use to make another crust for some other pie or whatever in the future. Or, you could do what I did and mix in some of your favorite spices/flavorings, spread it out on a pan and bake in the oven to use as a “Graham Cracker Garnish,” either in big chunks or crushed up, for whatever dessert (or even savory dish) you want.
I was going to include a “tip” about wrapping the bottom section of the springform pan in parchment paper or foil to avoid leaks going in or out, but I don’t it’s an actual thing… I must have misheard something else, because if anything I think it might make MORE holes than less. I WILL say that you should wrap the bottom and sides in aluminum foil, like so. We WILL be cooking this in a water bath afterall.
Now, many recipes, this one in particular, say you can just leave the crust alone now and let it bake with the batter later. Don’t do this, just… don’t. Even if it does work in some situations, I say don’t take the risk; pre-bake the crust on its own, at about 350 for 10-15 minutes. It still won’t over bake when cooking with the batter later, and will stay nice and crunchy.
Crust done, we can get to the batter. Make sure the Cream Cheese has been sitting out at room temp for at least half an hour to warm and soften up (covered of course); makes whipping it much easier.
… damn that’s a lot of cream cheese. I should probably note right now that I WAS making a double batch on the day in question…
Whip it, whip it good. Beat that cream cheese (don’t try and be manly here, just use an electrical/stand mixer of some sort, be thorough) until creamy and fluffy.
Probably the secret to why I love this recipe so much, we slowly add in the Condensed Milk, offering itself up to cover the job of sweetener and dairy in a rich yet lightly creamy style. I’m not sure what it’s actually doing, but I know I rarely see it in other recipes, and I like what it does to the cheesecake.
Next up comes the start to my favorite little trick in cheesecake cookery. Instead of adding them in whole, separate the whites and yolks from your Eggs. Those who still haven’t heard the caution yet, do this very carefully in a 3 bowl/container system: separate the eggs over one bowl, transfer the yolk to another and, IF none of the yolk spilled in, the whites to a third. This way, if the oily yolk breaks while separating, it doesn’t sabotage ALL the whites you gather; but it’s alright if white gets into yolk (I feel like this is an oddly acceptable double standard…), the recipe originally called for whole eggs anyways.
Carefully mix in the Yolks, Flour, and Flavorings until smooth and creamy.
Now comes the fun part (not eating, that comes later): take those reserved whites and whip them up separately. It doesn’t matter what you use, so long as it’s CLEAN of oil (which will get in between only a few protein chains to destroy the entire matrix you’re about to build) and you can whip it to where you need it to go. I would probably suggest going to the “soft peak” stage for those familiar with meringue making; basically once you whip it into this big cloud, should be able to take the whisk through and have the whites stay their shape while upside down, unless you tap it (stiff peaks, the next step, will act like flippin’ cement in how rigid it is, completely AWESOME for meringues). I like the softer whipped stages, cuz they’re able to make the cake a little “airy” and “fluffy” without turning it into what looks like a failed soufflé. Seriously, I did a cheesecake once with really whipped whites, it rose a bit while baking and once cool had this whole depression across the surface.
Slowly and carefully fold this into the batter in 1/3rds, the first part being used mainly to lighten/thin the batter somewhat so the latter two can better incorporate and fluff up the mixture.
While all of this has been going on, you should at one point get a pan of water boiling; pour this into a baking pan large enough to set your Springform (or other round cake pan) into, about an inch high or less. This will not only help to regulate the heat in contact with the cake, so one doesn’t have to worry about “hot spots” in the oven, as well as keeping a bit of moisture while cooking. It is VERY important one has hot water in it before putting in the oven, otherwise it’ll take a long time to heat up to oven temp and disturb cooking time.
Quickly add the filled pan and move to a 300F degree oven for about an hour. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN until it is done cooking! And even then, I would suggest just turning off the oven light and cracking the door a little to allow for a slooowwww cooling. One of the main issues related to the “cracking surface” effect of cheesecake baking, besides over-cooking and some other issues, lies in the exposing of cool(er) air when in the hot oven. So stick to an hour, or 1½ – 2 hours if you have multiple cakes in the oven (like I did) or it’s really thick (I think I was supposed to use the largest pan vs the medium-sized…), and turn the oven light on to make sure it’s browned a bit on the sides.
If you HAVE to check, do it quickly and carefully, and just quick shake the pan to see if the center is set. Toothpick doesn’t really work, since you’ll have stuff stick even when it’s done; though how much and its viscosity depends on stage of cooking.
Take out, run a knife around the edge, let cool some more and unmold. One can slice a piece now if you want (it’s not too bad warm, though I found mine a touch “spongy,” think maybe it overcooked a tad) or stick in the fridge an hour or so to get that denser New York treat. As I said, I love this recipe, as it yields a rich, creamy affair in a much lighter and “fluffy” package, making a slice of pie one can fully enjoy eating with every bite.
For those who want to add fruit or other flavors to your cheesecake, but can’t find or aren’t sure about other recipes, there’s a fun little trick I learned in school. Get or make a rich, flavorful puree or sauce of some sort: for instance, we made one with raspberries.
Separate a little bit of batter from your mix, say ¼cup or more, and mix with the puree. Then, once done, drizzle and swirl this over the top of the cheesecake batter after initially filling the pan. You can even try doing some layers as you pour for more integration! I would suggest doing this with a whole cake though; I did this with half just so I had pics for the post, but since I had to be careful with crossing I only ended up using a little bit of the puree.
Now that we have a whole cooled cheesecake all to ourselves, we can ponder the various ways to enjoy it. Sliced, frozen, chopped up and mixed with fruit… or turned into little Chocolate Pops.
Cut whatever amount of cheesecake you want into thick cubes, rectangles, or whatever shape you desire (cleaning the knife with a warm, wet cloth after each slice); just make sure it’s thick and sturdy enough to hold together. Stick a toothpick or other holdable in one end for easy management, and prepare your chocolate.
There are a lot of recipes for chocolate glazes out there, and truth be told most of them are probably better than this, the problem is it’s hard to tell which ones will actually set up to make a “shell” of some sorts once cool and which will just stay on as a thick sauce. If you want, you can actually just melt chocolate as-is, especially if it’s a good quality one to use, just remember a few little things.
First, as always, do this gently over a double boiler.
Second, do not melt the chocolate all the way over heat. Melt about 2/3rds – 3/4ths of it, take it off and let melt the rest of the way. I would love to tell you all about the Tempering Process, a technique where one melts the chocolate to a certain temperature, then cools it back down to another (usually through the aid of a marble slab, adding more chocolate, or other means), and then raising it back up to a third before using, thus setting the “crystals” in the chocolate to a perfect ratio so it cools to a shiny and perfectly crisp state (which doesn’t melt when you touch it). But you really need good temperature reading equipment and it’s still a tricky pain in the ass. So at least this almost-complete melting process keeps it from cooking too high and can cool back to a state similar to how it was before.
And Third; I suggest you use either White or Dark chocolate when coating. With my experience, every time I’ve tried melting simple Milk Chocolate, and I’m not sure why, but it’s always much thicker and harder to manage than a higher cocoa% Dark (probably less cocoa butter and more lactic compounds or something).
Another thing to try, and right now I can only have this as a suggestion because, for the life of me I don’t know why, but I can’t find a recipe that backs this up. I know people do this, I could have sworn I’ve seen simple recipes for it with the proper ratios, but I just couldn’t find any myself recently. Either way, adding a little bit of Oil to the chocolate as or after it’s melting helps not only gloss it up but get it to a better glaze consistency. And if you use oils like Olive or Coconut or etc, can add some extra flavor notes to the final mix.
Once melted, quickly and carefully dip your cheesecake pieces in. This is much easier if you have a DEEP bowl of chocolate so you can make a single, simple, even coat over the entire thing, as opposed to trying to fumble all four sides into the small amount you already have. Or, if you don’t mind spending the time in cleaning, lay the cheesecake over a wire cooling rack (which is over a parchment-covered pan) and pour the glaze over, letting it drip a bit before turning over and pouring on the other side.
Transfer to a parchment-lined pan, let cool a bit. If you haven’t done the cooling rack thing, maybe transfer them to ANOTHER parchment pan after those little chocolate squares from excess drippage forms. At this point, one could also sprinkle on little flavor additions if you like spicing it up a bit; I myself added a little of that leftover, spiced graham cracker mix I had baked earlier.
Move to a fridge to ensure complete setting and enjoy whenever you like. Whether you get a perfect chocolate shell or not, it tastes reeeeeaaaallllyyyy good with that fresh creamy center, and a little bit of the crunchy, spicy cracker crumble to punch up the flavor.
Damn that was a long post for me… no wonder I put off a week in actually trying to type it out. Well, hope you enjoyed some of it despite my many meaningless ramblings! Good Luck in your own cheesecake experiments, hopefully they aren’t as long and annoying as this explanation of my own. Good Eating to all, don’t be afraid to comment on your own experiences.