Recipe Review

The Classic Philadelphia Cheesecake Recipe Is as Easy as It Gets. But Is It Too Good to Be True?

published Sep 26, 2019
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

In our search for the ultimate cheesecake recipe, we knew we needed to include what many people consider the classic: The Philadelphia Classic Cheesecake. With over 206 reviews and an average rating of 4.5/5 stars, it’s safe to say this recipe is a serious crowd-pleaser. With just six ingredients and four steps, it’s also as easy as it gets — you don’t even have to mess with a water bath!

Could something so simple really end up being the best? And can you actually bake a cheesecake without a water bath? It was time to find out.

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

Here’s How to Make the Classic Cheesecake Recipe

The classic Philadelphia cheesecake is arguably the most simple cheesecake recipe you can make (apart from a no-bake version). You’ll start out by combining graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted butter to create a simple crust. The mixture is then pressed into the bottom of a springform pan and set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer, beat cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla extract until creamy. Add four eggs, one at a time, until the mixture is completely smooth. Pour batter over the top of your prepared crust and smooth the top out into an even layer. Transfer the cheesecake to a preheated oven and bake until the center is almost set, about 55 minutes. (Note that this recipe does not use a water bath and bakes the cheesecake directly in the oven.)

Remove cheesecake from the oven, run a knife around the edge to loosen it up, and refrigerate for at least four hours before serving. That’s it! No-fuss, no water bath, and practically zero effort — a seriously easy cheesecake recipe.

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

My Honest Review of the Philadelphia Cheesecake Recipe

The first thing I noticed about this cheesecake was how brown the edges were. It looked almost like the beginning stages of a Basque burnt cheesecake — a cheesecake known for its deep, dark browning. This most likely has to do with the fact that this cheesecake is baked directly in the oven without the protection of a water bath. The center was rather pale, and it also sunk in the center. It wasn’t the most attractive cheesecake — but it wasn’t ugly, either.

Taste-wise, the cheesecake was fairly standard. The crust was crunchy and had a nice texture, but was rather bland. A bit of cinnamon or vanilla extract could have helped it take on more personality. The cheesecake itself was smooth, creamy, and not too sweet. The tang of the cream cheese was still present and provided a nice contrast to the sweetness.

While there was nothing to dislike about this cheesecake, there was also nothing to love, either. The flavors were mild and muted, and nothing stood out as exciting or interesting. This recipe could come in handy if you wanted to create an off-the-cuff cheesecake using fresh fruit you picked up at the market, but it’s not worth making again without a little extra love. Try adding lemon zest, some additional extracts, or topping it with something fun like macerated fruit. The cheesecake is so incredibly simple that it needs a pop of excitement to bring it to life.

I’ll be keeping this recipe in my back pocket, but only as a base formula I can riff on.

Credit: Charli Nowak
Philadelphia Cheesecake

If You’re Making a Philadelphia Cheesecake, a Few Tips

When you’re ready to bake a Philadelphia Classic Cheesecake, here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Lightly coat your springform pan in nonstick cooking spray: This will prevent the edges of your cheesecake from sticking to the sides.

2. Consider using a water bath: If the idea of brown edges on a pristine white cheesecake bothers you, consider baking this recipe in a water bath. Just wrap the springform pan in foil, place it in a large baking dish filled with 1-inch of water, and bake until the center is no longer jiggly. Your edges will be less likely to brown this way.

3. Try adding some spices to the crust: The crust is rather plain, so feel free to add cinnamon or other spices to add some additional flavor. Half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon would completely transform it.

4. Try adding some additional flavoring to the base: Lemon zest, oil, or extract would help take this (rather boring) cheesecake to a whole new level.

5. Don’t rush the cooling time: It needs the full four hours to set — so be patient.

  • Difficulty to Make: 1/10
  • Taste/Texture: 5/10
  • Appearance: 4/10
  • Overall Rating: 5/10

Have you ever made a Philadelphia Classic Cheesecake? Tell us what you thought! 

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

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