Years and years ago, when I was still working as a research scientist, my boss made a New York Cheesecake. I can’t remember the occasion, just that I was somewhat surprised to learn that she could bake ( I know, I know. A woman can either be a great housewife or a great career woman, never both. Well, I learned my lesson that day.) The cheesecake was, for lack of a better word, perfect. Creamy, firm, with a high crust and dotted with poppy seeds, and unsurpassed for almost a decade. It was only when I met the boyfriend, who is an avid cheesecake lover, that I decided to give the cheesecake-baking thing another go. After a lot of umm-ing and aaah-ing and a few test runs, I have now firmly settled on my own – smaller – version of a New York Cheesecake recipe by Deb from the Smitten Kitchen (who in turn adapted it from Gourmet Magazine). It’s almost foolproof – I can’t bake and I can bake this cake – and very, very tasty.
For the very tall crust:
220g digestive biscuits or Graham crackers
110g unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt (or a little less table salt)
For the cheesecake filling:
3x 220g packages of cream cheese (I use the cheapest)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons plain flour
3 medium eggs
2 medium egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or 1 packet of vanilla sugar)
1 teaspoon each of grated lemon & orange zest (optional)
For the crust, blitz the biscuits until they resemble semolina or fine breadcrumbs. Stir in sugar and salt, then melt and add the butter to the biscuit mixture. Press the crust ingredients onto the bottom and sides of a buttered springform pan to form a 0.5 cm thick crust (maybe a bit thicker on the bottom), stopping about half a centimeter below the rim. I use a super old fashioned (and fiddly) round cake tin, which has a diameter of about 12 cm, but any smallish springform pan is fine really. Basically, the smaller the form, the taller the cake. You’ll probably find that you won’t use all of the biscuit mix, but I find that it’s better to have too much of it than too litte. Nothing more annoying than having to blitz another 3 digestives to patch some holes in the crust. Pop the whole thing in the freezer until your cheesecake filling is ready.
Preheat the oven to fan 250°C (yes, that’s right).
For the filling, beat together the cream cheese, flour, sugar and citrus zest. Once you have a homogenous mass, add the vanilla and then the eggs and egg yolks one at a time whilst beating on low speed. In between adding each egg scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula to prevent cheese cake streaks in the cake. The filling should be quite light and fluffy, but don’t beat for more than a few minutes. Over-mixing can cause the filling to crack.
Put the springform crust into a shallow baking pan to catch drips. Pour the filling into the crust (the springform pan will be full to the brim). My oven gets very hot at the top so to prevent the cake from browning too quickly I cover it with tinfoil for the first bit of the baking.
Put tinfoil covered cake in the oven and bake at high heat until it has ‘puffed up’, no longer than 10-12 minutes. Do keep an eye on it, if it gets very brown very quickly turn down the heat. Once the cake has puffed up turn down the heat to 100°C and bake until the filling is only slightly wobbly in the middle. This will take 40 minutes to an hour. Let the cake cool before taking out of the springform pan. Chill in the fridge for 2-3 hours (no need to bring to room temperature before serving!).
This masterpiece tastes perfectly marvellous without any fruity adornments, however, if you want to add a topping for some extra-specialness… Bring to the boil 250g cherries (fresh or frozen, sweet or sour) in 1/2 cup of water, 1/4 cup of sugar and juice of 1/2 a lemon. Once this is boiling, mix 1 tablespoon corn starch with 1-2 tablespoons of the hot cherry liquid and stir this back into the cherry filling mixture. Cook for 2-3 minutes until thickened, then take off the heat and let cool. Spread topping over the chilled cheesecake, hey presto.