Have Your (Cheese)Cake (and eat it, too!)

I realize it may be completely absurd to be celebrating the first of a new year with a post about cheesecake, especially amid all the diet-related resolutions that may be floating around out there. But I think there’s nothing more lovely and decadent with which to say goodbye to the old and hello to the new. Also, according to one of my friends who has become somewhat of a cheesecake aficionado, making cheesecake is a great stress reliever when your job involves being surrounded by people half your age, rampant with budding hormones and figuring out the way the world works (but that’s another story).

Four Cheese Orange Vanilla Cheesecake (loosely adapted from Giada De Laurentiis and Giada De Laurentiis and Alton Brown)

Make the crust:
– 18 large graham crackers (to be exact, I used 16 honey flavored and 2 cinnamon graham crackers)
– 1 tablespoon sugar
– 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1. Preheat the oven to 300F. Crush the graham crackers in a large zip top bag (or food processor). You’re going for crumbs, but it’s okay to leave some larger chunks too. Mix in the sugar and the butter and stir together so that all the crumbs are coated with some butter. They should stick when smooshed together but not be dripping with butter.

2. Pour the crust into a prepared springform pan. Tamp it into place with a weighted glass (mine contains pie weights) and use the sides of the glass to press the crust up against the sides of the pan.

3. Bake for 15 minutes then let cool completely. Turn the oven down to 250F.

Make the filling:
– 8 oz. cream cheese, softened

– 8 oz. mascarpone cheese, softened
– 8-10 oz. fresh ricotta cheese
– 2 oz. goat cheese
– 4 eggs at room temperature
– 1 cup sugar
– 1 teaspoon good vanilla extract (I use Madagascar Bourbon vanilla)
– grated zest from 1 orange
4. Combine the cheese and sugar in a stand mixer and blend until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, continuing to mix.

5. Add the vanilla and orange zest and mix to combine.

6. Pour the cheese batter into the cooled, graham cracker encrusted pan.

Prepare the water bath:
Note – You might want to make sure you have a large enough roasting pan before beginning this recipe. You need something with at least 2″ high walls and that will let the springform pan sit flat in the pan. Mine did not. But I wasn’t about to waste 30 ounces of cheese!

 

The Howard Taft of Cheesecakes...

You may not be able to tell from this photo, but my springform pan is actually floating – it is not touching the bottom of my roasting dish. Oh well.

7. Once you’re situated, you want to pour boiling water into the roasting dish so that it comes half way up the sides of the springform pan (note that I wrapped the bottom of my springform pan in aluminum foil to prevent any leaking). Place the whole thing into the oven. (Note also that if you have unsteady hands, you may want to put the whole pan in the oven and then pour in the boiling water so that you don’t have to risk splashing yourself with scalding water).

8. Most recipes I consulted before making this recommended baking it for an hour and five minutes. I baked mine for 2.5 hours. This could be because I added hot (not boiling) water for the bath, or it could be because my springform pan wasn’t touching the bottom of the roasting pan, or who knows?! Worried that I was going to have cheese pudding rather than a fluffier cake texture, I did turn up the heat to 280F for the last hour and fifteen minutes or so. Keep an eye on it. You don’t want it to be jiggly, but you also don’t really want to see any burns or cracks on the surface of the cheese. Apparently cooking it at a low temperature helps to prevent these cracks (see also step 9).

9. Let it cool by turning off the oven and opening the oven door for about one minute to let the hot hot air escape. Then close the door and let it sit for about an hour, undisturbed, before removing it from the oven.

10. Transfer to the fridge and let chill for at least 5 hours before slicing and serving. (Never sliced a cheesecake successfully? Click here to watch Alton Brown’s excellent explanation starting at around 7:10).

If you’ve only ever made (or eaten) cheesecakes made from cream cheese, you’ve got to try one made with other cheeses. They contribute different textures and subtle differences in flavor. I chose to brighten everything up with orange zest because it’s still the holidays after all, and it really seemed to bring some extra cheer to the cake. At once light and rich, cold and warm, solid and melty, cheesecake is the perfect way to ring in the new year. And whether you visually savored this cheesecake, consumed it enthusiastically like Alex’s niece, or plan to make it so that you can consume it enthusiastically, may you remember to reward yourself from time to time and really enjoy the little things in this new year.

Mine was a simply and elegantly flavored cake, but what’s your favorite flavor of cheesecake? Any big resolutions this year?

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