Making a cheesecake is more about the details of construction and preparation as opposed to an amazing recipe (though we happen to have one). There are small but highly important things that can make or break a beautiful and tasty outcome. Once you make a cheesecake our way, we promise you new friends will be made (assuming you share) and that you'll never look back to your previous methods!
Although there's several things we think we do better than Martha, this isn't one of them. After spending the better part of 3 months making and testing cheesecake recipes, we have to say — there isn't one thing we'd change about her New York Cheesecake recipe. Ok, ok, you know we can't leave a recipe alone so we will admit to adding in 1/8 of a teaspoon finely ground sea salt to the dry flour before adding and we increase the amount of cream cheese to 7 bricks instead of 6. We also double the vanilla, but that's a matter of personal taste. The recipe is fine as it is, we just like the sturdiness and creaminess of the additional cream cheese.
Resources and Tools
• Ingredients for 1 New York Style Cheesecake
• 8-10" Cake Pan with removable bottom (if you don't have one, a regular pan will work)
• 1 Stand or Hand Mixer fitted with beater attachment
• Parchment Paper
• Granulated Sugar
• 1 Roasting Pan
• Aluminum Foil
• 8" Pan or Pyrex
• Large Pitcher
1. Gather Ingredients: If you ignore all other words we say here today, please take one thing away as it is hands down, the most crucial. All ingredients must be room temperature. The cream cheese will take at least an hour, the sour cream and eggs will take just less. There isn't anything you can do to make up for slightly chilly ingredients and the result will be an uneven texture and taste. Take your time on this one. We'll also take this time to note that unless you have access to local artisan cream cheese, make sure to buy Philly Cream Cheese. Yes you can use something else and save a buck, but it really... really won't taste the same. Trust us, we tried.
2. Prep Pan: Cut a circle of parchment paper to fit the bottom of your cake pan. If you pan is new and still has slick sides, you can forgo this step, but it will always make for the easiest transfer from cake pan to cake stand. If your pan has sides shorter than 3 inches, cut a long "tall" strip of parchment paper (preferably doubled up to two thicknesses) that fits around the circumference of your pan with ends overlapping by several inches (to extend the height of your pan and thus the amount of cheesecake your pan can hold). If you need to use more than one piece of parchment, do so. Greasing the sides of the pan will hold the parchment in place while the next steps are completed. This will make for the best presentation as we promise it will come out with pretty, clean and precise sides, each and every time. It can be done without, but results may vary. Wrap the bottom of your pan in aluminum foil, this serves two purposes. The first is to keep out all water and the second is to create even heat.
3. Mix Cookie Crust: Sure you can make a standard graham cracker crust, but for this tall of a cheesecake (which contains a great deal of moisture), we find a cookie crust to be the best choice. You can make any recipe you wish, just as long as it's not a shortbread or brownie, We prefer a rich, dark, slightly crisp chocolate cookie, though you could use a peanut butter or savory cookie instead!
4. Shape Dough In Pan: The key to making a solid crust is pressing it into the pan and making sure it molds into the edges without capturing any air bubbles. To do so we place dough into the pan and sprinkle the surface with granulated sugar. It will make it easy to press out without sticking to your fingers and makes the top extra crispy and ready to take on the moisture-rich cheesecake that goes on top. Once the bottom is covered, use a measuring cup to level things out and press the dough up the sides of the pan slightly. By making a slight lip, it will ensure your cake doesn't separate from the cookie crust during the cooling process.
5. Bake & Press Crust: Follow directions for the cookie crust of your choice, it might not look entirely cooked through, but as long as the middle isn't "wibbley" it will be just fine. Upon removal, press crust with a potato masher to compress and level things back out. Use the same measuring cup as above, make sure to press the sides back in as well. Cool completely, or chill in freezer for 15 minutes while filling is mixed.
6. Prepare Filling: The filling isn't a complicated process. But there are a few points that can make a perfect pie. Cheese pie that is.
• Creaming: The first is to make sure you beat your cream cheese until extra fluffy, allowing as much air in as possible leaves room for easier combining of additional ingredients without overworking.
• Add Eggs & Dry Ingredients: Dry ingredients are whisked together to help make them light in the batter and incorporate evenly. Each egg should be added one at a time. As soon as the yolk breaks, add the next one. If you wait until each egg is fully combined, your batter will be over-mixed.
• Scrape The Bowl: Most recipes involving batter of any kind will inform you to scrape the bowl often. In cheesecake it's no different. After the eggs have been added in, scrape the bowl once more and mix. After that, there's no more scraping. When you go to pour the filling in the bowl, NO SCRAPING IS ALLOWED. Not the bowl, not the mixer, not the spatula. Any stray chunks will be not only be visible, but will be quite distinct when you dig in later on.
7. Fill Pan: Pour mixed cheesecake batter into prepared pan, no matter what your pan size, fill 4-5 inches. If it's a little more or less, no worries. Pour remaining batter into your spare pan or pyrex (if you have any). No worries about not having extra crust or making sure it's greased, just pour it on. We like to call this the "I took an amazing cheesecake to a dinner party and couldn't bring any home to snack on — oh wait, I have a spare mini-cheesecake!"
8. Time For A Bath: Add cheesecake filled pan to a larger roasting pan (or additional oven safe vessel with high sides). Place in center of oven and using a pitcher (or electric kettle) fill roasting pan with water until water line reaches half way up the side of your cake pan.
9. Bake: Cheesecakes bake in 3 stages. The first is at a higher temperature, the second is at a lower temperature and the last is with only residual heat and the oven turned off. By baking in this manner, your cake will get a chance to rise, cook through and then finally set without cracking! You can see Martha's recipe for exact times on the matter.
10. Chill Out: Even though the temptation is great, cool your cheesecake completely on a rack, in the pan. Chill overnight to let flavors and textures intensify, but make sure you don't cover it. Yes that means your fridge probably needs to be clean, but it's worth it. Covering your cheesecake will result in a soggy top every time. No one likes soggy tops. Run a knife around the rim before serving or removing outside rim.
Although the steps can seem a bit tedious, it's well worth it for this mammoth cake and intensely rich taste. The ingredients alone push the $20 mark (thank you 6 bricks of cream cheese) so it's worth your time and energy to jump through all the hoops. This method of cheesecake preparation has been known to make grown women and men alike cry, don't say we didn't warn you!
(Images: Sarah Rae Trover)