Cheesecake has a long history. There are references to the dish as far back as ancient Greece. The ancient Romans adopted (blatantly stole and claimed) the recipe as well and there’s mention of the cake being used for religious purposes. Cheesecake comes up again in England in the 14th century, perhaps an old gift from Roman conquest.
Like just about all ancient dishes, I doubt the cheesecake of antiquity would be very tasty or even recognizable to the standards we have today. The modern version that we know and love has roots in New York in the 1870’s. This is the time and place when a man named William Lawrence developed what we know as cream cheese, the staple ingredient of cheesecake. It’s not surprising that a unique variety of cheesecake was created in New York as well. For those of you wondering, NY style cheesecake is denser and firmer than a regular cheesecake, baked without a water bath and always tall (usually 5-6in.). The cheesecake we’re making today isn’t NY style, but rather smoother and creamier in texture and baked at a low, slow temperature in a water bath.
Being a chef, you’d think I’d have a wealth of poignant food memories that fueled me towards a career in the kitchen. False. Even over the years cooking professionally I don’t have many life changing food experiences that I can recall as though it happened yesterday. But one food memory I do have is the first time I ever ate cheesecake. I was around 8 or 9 and my parents and brother and I took a summer vacation to colonial Williamsburg (we weren’t a Disney family). One night during our trip we ate at a restaurant for dinner and I ordered NY cheesecake for dessert. I’m not sure if it was literally the first time I’d ever eaten cheesecake but it’s definitely the first time I remember eating it. In a word, it was incredible. The texture, the richness, the balance of sweet and tangy, I couldn’t believe it. I was hooked from that moment on.
Cheesecake isn’t too common a taste for a kid but it must run in the blood because my dad loved cheesecake as a kid too, and would ask for it on his birthday because the other kids would always pass on it, leaving more for him. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Mixing your cheesecake batter will inevitably incorporate air into it and that can cause holes or air bubbles on the surface of the cake. Rather than under mixing the batter, when I have time I will let the batter rest in the fridge overnight, poured over the par baked crust but otherwise unbaked, before putting it in the oven. This gives air in the batter time to escape. Then again, a few air holes isn’t going to keep anyone from eating the damn thing so it’s up to you!
Other than air holes, almost all cheesecake issues fall into two categories: “lumpy batter” and “cracked surface.” Here are a few tips to avoid both.
Most will tell you to bring all of your ingredients to room temp. before starting your batter to avoid lumps. I disagree that this is necessary, and use my ingredients cold or at whatever temperature they happen to be. If you add your ingredients in the order of my method, temperature won’t cause lumps. What will cause lumps though is adding your eggs too quickly. It’s important to slowly add your eggs (one at a time) and very thoroughly scrape the bowl followed by a second mix before adding the next addition.
If you use a different recipe for cheesecake, then bringing your ingredients to room temperature may be a good idea depending on the thickness of the batter.
Either way, if you get lumps, you can pass the batter through a chinois or hand blend it to smooth it out.
As the cheesecake bakes, it expands. Once cooled, the cheesecake will contract to create its signature dense texture. If the cake is stuck to the side of the baking pan when it’s trying to contract, the surface can easily tear. To avoid this, make sure to properly prep the pan you’re using with non-stick spray. Personally I use an 8” round silicone baking pan because it requires zero prep and the cheesecake will never stick to it.
Another cause of a cracked crust is from the surface of the cake drying out or expanding too quickly. Always bake a cheesecake in a water bath to avoid any drying out, and use a low temperature to prevent the cake from rising too quickly.
Finally, let the cheesecake cool slowly. I like to turn the oven off, open the door fully for 30 seconds or so to let heat escape, and then close it again with the door cracked. Another method is to remove the cake from the oven and place a mixing bowl over the cake to insulate some of the heat and slow the cooling process down. Your call.
graham cracker base
140g graham cracker crumbs
90g butter unsalted
Simply melt the butter and add it to the graham crumbs, mixing thoroughly until it is the consistency of wet sand.
Evenly sprinkle the mixture over the base of your baking pan, and press it down to compress the mixture. For this I like to use the end of a pin rolling pin, but the flat bottom of a glass would work too.
Bake the crust for 5min. at 350F/176C.
675g cream cheese
50g all-purpose flour
150g whole eggs
65g whole milk
175g sour cream
12g vanilla extract
12g lemon juice
Combine the cheesecake and sugar and mix until smooth in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.
Add the all-purpose flour and mix until combined.
Add the whole eggs, one at a time. Mix until the egg is fully incorporated into the batter then thoroughly scrape the bowl and mix again until homogenized. Repeat this process with each egg. If you’re going to develop lumps, now’s the time it will happen so don’t cut corners!
Add the whole milk, sour cream, lemon juice and vanilla extract.
Pour the cheesecake batter over the par-baked graham crust.
Bake at 300F/148C with a water bath for 45min. to 1hr. The cake should still have a slight jiggle in the center.
Turn off the heat and let the cheesecake cool slowly in the oven. Refrigerate overnight to fully set the cheesecake, then unmold.
140g water A
5g van extract
34g water B
Combine the cornstarch and water B, mixing well to create a slurry. Reserve to use later.
Combine the blueberries, sugar, water A, salt and vanilla extract and bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally, over low heat.
Add the cornstarch slurry to the blueberry mixture and whisk well to combine. The liquid will have a milky look to it that will turn clear as the starch heats up and gelatinizes.
Return the mixture to the stove and bring to a boil over low heat. Let the topping cook for 30sec. to a minute to remove any starch flavor or texture.
While the topping is still warm, pour some into the center of the chilled cheesecake, spreading it just to the edge of the cake with an offset spatula. Quickly return the cake to the cooler for 5min. or so to allow the topping to set.