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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn
Recipe Review

We Tested 4 Famous Cheesecake Recipes and Found a Clear Winner

updated Sep 28, 2022
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I’m what some might call an “avid baker.” I bake something new almost every week and am always on the hunt for a fresh and exciting recipe to try. But rarely do I make cheesecake.

The thing with cheesecake is that even the easiest recipes require a fair amount of work (and a significant amount of time), so I find myself not wanting to commit unless I know the recipe’s a winner.

The best way to find that winner? Bake a lot of cheesecakes and see which one stands out. So I sorted through a lot of cheesecake recipes, picked out four of the most iconic ones, and battled them off in hopes of finding the ultimate cheesecake.

The contenders: Junior’s New York-style cheesecake, a copycat Cheesecake Factory recipe, the classic Philadelphia version, and an old stand by from The Joy of Cooking

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

Too often, cheesecakes are too sugary, too soft, or unpleasantly gritty — so for me, the winning recipe had to strike the perfect balance of tart and sweet, be firm enough to hold a slice, and have a dreamy, silky-smooth texture. It should be light but still decadent, and the crust should be crisp, not soggy.

I spent an entire weekend baking and compared the four recipes side-by-side to see which one stood out. After two days of nonstop baking (and 16 blocks of cream cheese), I finally found a winner. Here’s what I thought about each of the recipes.

Meet Our 4 Cheesecake Contenders

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

1. The Old-School Recipe That Let Us Down: The Joy of Cooking’s Sour Cream Cheesecake

The Joy of Cooking is an iconic cookbook with timeless, reliable recipes, so I knew I needed to include its cheesecake recipe. Within its pages I actually found a handful of cheesecake recipes, ranging from one made with ricotta to something called “gelatin cheesecake.” But the most classic recipe I came across was a sour cream version made with a graham cracker crust. 

The recipe itself was pretty straightforward and didn’t require a ton of effort to pull off. The issue, however, is that it just wasn’t very good. The texture was way too loose and the cheesecake never fully set. Once sliced into, it lost its shape and started to melt onto the plate. The crust was also too sweet (it’s made with over a cup of powdered sugar) and made the whole thing a bit sickly. It was disappointing, to say the least.

  • Difficulty to Make: 6/10
  • Taste/Texture: 2/10
  • Appearance: 7/10
  • Overall Rating: 4/10
Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

2. The Basic (but Good) Cheesecake to Keep in Your Back Pocket: Philadelphia Classic Cheesecake

This recipe is as basic as basic gets. It only takes six ingredients to make, comes together in no time, and doesn’t even require a water bath. Sometimes these too-good-to-be-true recipes are actually the best, but sometimes they’re super sleepy and barely get the job done. I was eager to see if such a simple formula could actually produce something worthwhile.

Sadly, this recipe was as basic as the ingredients it takes to make it. While it certainly wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t anything worth making again. The texture was super creamy, and the crust was crisp, so it’s a good base recipe to keep in your back pocket and riff on when inspiration strikes.

Try topping it with fresh macerated fruit, or adding additional extracts to liven it up a bit. It’s such a simple recipe that it’s worth revisiting — just with a little more love.

  • Difficulty to Make: 1/10
  • Taste/Texture: 5/10
  • Appearance: 4/10
  • Overall Rating: 5/10
Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

3. The One with the Unexpected (and Seriously Delicious) Crust: Junior’s Original New York Cheesecake

For those of you outside New York, Junior’s is the place to get cheesecake. It’s a small chain of restaurants known for this dessert. The thing that makes their recipe unique is that it completely ditches the traditional graham cracker crust for a thin layer of sponge cake.

Sure, it sounds weird (and it kind of is!), but I figured it could be a welcomed change to the often-soggy bottoms of most cheesecakes. And as it turns out, the sponge cake “crust” was even more delicious than I imagined. 

The sponge cake made the entire cheesecake light but still decadent, and transformed the dessert into something entirely new. The flavor was also spot-on. It had a tart cream cheese flavor that was balanced with just enough sugar and a touch of lemon extract for added flavor. 

The base is made with a bit of cornstarch as well, so the cake sliced beautifully and didn’t crumble at all. Sure, opting to make sponge cake versus a standard graham cracker crust is a commitment, but it was well worth the effort.

  • Difficulty to Make: 8/10
  • Taste/Texture: 7.5/10
  • Appearance: 8/10
  • Overall Rating: 7/10
Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

The Cheesecake Factory hasn’t actually published their original cheesecake recipe anywhere, so I tried the most popular copycat version, which is as close to the real deal as you can get. We needed to know: Would it actually be as good as the ones served in restaurants?

Turns out, yes! It was — dare I say — better than the cheesecake served at the restaurant. Each individual component — the crust, the filling, and the sour cream topping — balanced each other out and created a cheesecake that was both sweet and tart.

The sour cream topping looked stunning and added an additional layer of flavor, and the crust had a subtle cinnamon flavor that perfumed the whole thing. I would 100 percent make this cheesecake again, and am now a true believer that this recipe was leaked from an actual employee. I mean, it’s too good not to be the real deal!

  • Difficulty to Make: 6/10
  • Taste/Texture: 8/10
  • Appearance: 6/10
  • Overall Rating: 8/10

Your turn! What’s your go-to cheesecake recipe? Let us know in the comments!