I’ve made cheesecake before, I said. This is old hat, I said. We’ll just make it pretty and tasty, red for Valentine’s Day, and be done with it. One recipe and out. Simple, I said. I’ll get a well-respected recipe — yes, like this one from the Cheesecake Factory, I thought. What could possibly go wrong?
Hmm. How about everything?
I’m not entirely sure what happened, but the first time, I looked into the oven about the time it should have been done and saw — not a cheesecake — but something that more closely resembled an enormous pop-over. The top was completely browned and puffed up like a chef’s toque, inches above the edge of the springform pan. I immediately turned off the oven and popped open the door a bit, as the instructions instructed. But it was much too late.
Five things I learned:
1. As soon as it began to cool, that thing sunk like a popped balloon, and a gaping crack ran from one side to the other like the Grand Canyon. I know that cracked cheesecakes will taste fine, but this was beyond the pale. It was over-browned on the sides as well. It was an unqualified disaster. And I didn’t have time to make another one before the photo shoot.
This brings me to my first piece of advice on homemade cheesecakes: If they sink/brown/crack, don’t panic. Just have a can of pie filling on hand. Cherry, raspberry or strawberry, even blueberry will fill in the crack, and add panache and flavor to your creation and shine pretty for pictures. I should add that the cheesecake was delicious and enjoyed by all.
2. As to why it behaved this way, I have a couple of theories: First, according to www.myrecipes.com, “Over-mixing incorporates too much air, which makes the cheesecake rise during baking (the way a souffle does), then collapse as it cools.”
That’s exactly what happened to mine, so I must have beaten the cream cheese mixture too long.
3. Another thing that didn’t help is that my oven tends to run hot. I always have to use the shortest amount of time suggested in recipes and instructions. The website goes on: “Cracks form when the cheesecake gets too dry.” It sure did. One suggestion they give is a good one: “As soon as you take the cheesecake out of the oven, run a knife along the edge to prevent it from sticking to the sides of the pan.” That makes a lot of sense. I wish I’d read it before.
4. The good news is that I made the recipe again, didn’t mix it so much, and only heated the oven to 315 F instead of 325 F. It didn’t do that blow-up/collapse thing, but it still cracked, probably because I didn’t take it out to run the knife around the edge. I was afraid to touch it until it was cool, frankly. But I should add that the second cheesecake was again delicious and enjoyed by all.
5. I’m sure about 1,000 of you out there are wondering why I didn’t use the water bath method, which involves wrapping the springform pan in foil and cooking it in a baking dish full of water, which cooks cheesecake more gently. I’ll tell you why: Because, perhaps predictably, I’ve tried that before — with even more disastrous results.
The moral of this story is, there’s nothing simple about the physics and chemistry of making cheesecake. It’s a specialty item that takes practice and attention to detail to perfect and even then variable conditions might cause “failure.” But I have to say that even overblown/collapsed, browned, cracked cheesecake is still pretty darned tasty. I didn’t have to throw any of my attempts away, and I’m a bit sorry I’m done experimenting with them for the time being.
One last note: You should plan to make your cheesecake about 24 hours before you want to eat it. It’s the kind of food, like dips, soups or chilis, that benefits from “seasoning,” or time for the flavors and textures to meld. Keep it in the refrigerator and cover it with a cutting board or plate of raw vegetables, so no one bothers it.
Jennie Geisler writes about her adventures as a home cook every other Wednesday. You can reach her at 870-1885. Send an email to [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ETNgeisler.
For the crust:
• 18 whole graham crackers or 10 ounces vanilla wafers
• ¼ cup light brown sugar
• ½ teaspoon kosher salt
• ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
• ¾ cup unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
• 1½ pounds cream cheese
• 1 1/3 cups sugar
• 5 large eggs
• ¼ cup flour
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 2 teaspoons lemon juice
• 16 ounces sour cream
• 1 16-ounce can pie filling
Heat oven to 325 F.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine graham crackers or vanilla wafers, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon and process into fine crumbs. Transfer the crumbs to a medium bowl and add melted butter. Mix well until no dry spots remain.
Press crust evenly into the bottom and at least 1½ inches up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan. Use the bottom of a measuring cup to make sure the bottom is as even as possible. Bake on the middle rack until crust is set and just starting to brown around the edges, 20 to 25 minutes.
Remove pan from the oven and set aside while you prepare the filling.
All filling ingredients should be at room temperature.
Start by beating the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Keep the mixer on a low setting throughout the beating and mixing process.
Add the sugar a little at a time and continue beating until creamy.
Add one egg at a time and beat after each egg. When eggs have been mixed into the cream cheese add flour, vanilla and lemon juice, mix well.
Add the sour cream last and beat well.
Pour cream cheese mixture into the spring pan.
Place on the top rack in the middle of preheated oven for one hour.
When time is up, turn oven off, prop open oven door and leave in oven for one hour.
Remove from oven. Let cool to room temperature before refrigerating up to 24 hours before serving.
To serve, release springform ring and spread raspberry pie filling across the top of cheesecake. Slice.
Crust recipe adapted from https://cooking.nytimes.com; filling adapted from www.geniuskitchen.com.
Nutrition information per serving: 599 calories; 35 g fat (19 g saturated); 171 mg cholesterol; 437 mg sodium; 67 g carbohydrate; 2.5 g fiber; 47 g sugar; 8.9 g protein