Recipe Review

The Unexpected Crust Technique That Makes Junior’s Cheesecake So Darn Good

published Sep 25, 2019
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

Ask just about any native New Yorker where to find a quintessential slice of New York-style cheesecake, and they’ll send you to Junior’s — a local chain of restaurants known for their exceptional cheesecake. But what makes their slice so beloved? It all comes down to the crust — or lack thereof, I should say.

Junior’s ditches the standard graham cracker crust for a thin layer of sponge cake, transforming the typically heavy dessert into something light and airy. The cheesecake base is also a bit unusual and is made with cornstarch to help it set. But is the sponge cake crust and cornstarch combo really what makes their cheesecake so special? Or is it something that simply can’t be replicated at home? To test it out, I baked up a Junior’s cheesecake myself.

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

How to Make Junior’s Cheesecake

Junior’s cheesecake recipe starts out by having you prepare a sponge cake “crust.” To do so, sift cake flour (a fine flour with a low protein content), baking powder, and salt into a small bowl and set aside. Next, beat egg yolks in an electric mixer for three full minutes. Slowly add in some sugar and continue whipping until the yolks are light and ribbony. Beat in both vanilla and lemon extracts, gently fold in your flour mixture, and stir in some melted butter. Remove from the mixer, transfer into a separate bowl, and wash the mixing bowl. (Pro tip: Make sure to really wash the bowl well, as any leftover fat from the yolks could mess up the next step.)

Place the bowl back onto the mixer and whip egg whites with cream of tartar until frothy. Slowly add in sugar, and whip until glossy and stiff. Fold in the egg yolk mixture, transfer into a buttered springform pan that’s wrapped in foil, and bake until golden. Let cool.

As the sponge cake is cooling, prepare the cheesecake batter. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat one package of cream cheese, sugar, and cornstarch until creamy. Blend in three more packages of cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla extract until the mixture is completely smooth. Pour mixture over the cooled sponge cake layer and place into a water bath. (This is to make sure the edges don’t brown too quickly.) Bake until the top is lightly golden-brown. Remove the foil and let cool for two hours, then transfer to the fridge to cool for an additional four hours.

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

My Honest Review of Junior’s Cheesecake Recipe

Appearance-wise, out of all the cheesecakes I tested, this one was by far the most attractive. It was perfectly golden, smooth, and domed in the center. The crust (or, in this case, the sponge cake) remained a distinct layer and made for a beautiful slice. Just looking at it made me feel like it would be delicious. And you know what? It was!

The sponge cake “crust” completely changed this cheesecake. It made it feel like it was light, refreshing, and summery. (Not words I thought I would ever use to describe a dessert made with four packages of cream cheese.) It tasted as if the entire cheesecake was aerated and made with whipped eggs, even though the filling was rather traditional. It wasn’t dense in the least bit, but still tasted decadent.

The texture of the cheesecake layer was also really impressive. The cornstarch helped it come together and made it slice really cleanly, and the cream cheese flavor was tart without being overwhelming. Overall I absolutely loved this cheesecake. I would have never thought to ditch the crust for a sponge cake, but it worked wonderfully. The only downside is that making the crust is a fair bit more work than a graham cracker crust — and if you’re looking for a super-classic cheesecake, this might not be for you.

Credit: Charli Nowak
Junior's Cheesecake

If You’re Making Junior’s Cheesecake Recipe, a Few Tips

When you’re ready to bake Junior’s Original New York Cheesecake, here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Feel free to make the sponge cake a day in advance: If you want to get a head start on baking, bake the sponge cake the day before, wrap it in plastic wrap, and keep it at room temperature.

2. Let the cake cool completely before adding your cheesecake filling on top: The sponge cake is delicate, so make sure to completely cool it before you attempt to add the cheesecake batter on top. Otherwise, as you attempt to smooth out the batter, you may rip and tear the soft cake apart.

3. Don’t confuse cake flour for pastry flour: Although similar, they’re not the same, and using pastry flour instead of cake may result in a slightly different texture. Cake flour has less protein, so it will keep the sponge nice and light.

4. Don’t worry if you don’t have cream of tartar: It’s used to stabilize and help incorporate air into the whipped eggs, but you can omit it if you don’t have it. Just make sure to whip your eggs until they’re nice and thick.

5. Let the cheesecake cool for at least four hours: This gives the cake time to set and firm up before you slice into it.

  • Difficulty to Make: 8/10
  • Taste/Texture: 7.5/10
  • Appearance: 8/10
  • Overall Rating: 7.5/10

Have you ever made Junior’s Original New York Cheesecake? Tell us what you thought!

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

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