Cheesecake is so dense, creamy, sweet and luscious, it's no wonder it inspired an entire restaurant franchise! Yes, the calorie-count is high, as is the relative fat content. But it is so, so good. When you do have it, you should go all out.
The delicious versatility of cheesecake
Cheesecake is not really a cake at all. It's more a custard tart made with soft cheese and other sweetened dairy ingredients, and there are variations in numerous world cuisines, from European to Asian. If you treat a cheesecake like a custard, you'll like your results even more.
The really great thing about cheesecake, though, is that once you learn a good (or great!) basic recipe, you can dress it up, add to it and generally make it different — but just as wonderful — each time you make it. You can experiment with crusts and additions to the filling and sauces to finish it off.
Imagine a standard graham cracker crust, a little amaretto added to the filling, and the whole thing topped off with caramel and toasted almonds. Or, a cheesecake with a gingersnap crust, topped with a warm pear compote. What about a cheesecake with chocolate cookie crust, nothing added to the filling, topped with a fresh raspberry coulis. One basic recipe, three very different results.
The only special equipment you need to make a cheesecake is a springform pan, however, some even dispute that. We do find them easier to manage than straight-sided pans, though.
Cheesecake crust options
Your cheesecake crust is as individual as you are. You can use:
- Graham crackers
- Chocolate wafers
- Lemon or orange wafers
- Coffee-flavored wafers
- Ground nuts
- 2 cups crumbs, or mix of crumbs and nuts
- 3-4 tablespoons melted butter
- Combine the crumbs and the butter.
- Press evenly along the bottom and half way up the sides of a springform pan, and set aside until your filling is ready.
This basic filling is a terrific foundation recipe for building many different flavors of cheesecake.
- 2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 3 eggs
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups sour cream
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a springform pan with your desired crust ingredients and wrap the bottom of the pan in heavy-duty aluminum foil.
- In a large bowl, beat together cream cheese, sugar and cornstarch until very smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add the lemon juice, vanilla and salt. Beat in the sour cream until just incorporated and very smooth.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Place the pan in a larger baking pan, and then add very hot water to the outer pan, so it goes about 1 inch up the springform pan.
- Bake for 45 minutes. Turn off the oven and let cheesecake sit in the oven for another 45 minutes. Remove the cheesecake from oven and let it cool completely. Refrigerate overnight before removing the sides of the springform pan.
Cheesecake additions and variations
Once you have the basic cheesecake recipe down, experiment with different ingredients.
Here are just a few cheesecake additions and variations:
- Chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, butterscotch chips or other baking morsels
- Crystallized ginger, finely chopped
- Liqueurs and liquors — Amaretto, Frangelico, Grand Marnier, rum, bourbon and more. If you add more liquid here, cut down on the sour cream slightly.
- Pureed fruit, such as banana, berries, mango and other tropical fruits are lovely... again, cut down on the sour cream if you add a particularly wet fruit
- Floral and herb infusions, such as lavender and mint
Toppings for cheesecakes are where you can really go to town:
- Hot fudge
- Whipped cream
- Caramel or dulce de leche
- Fresh berry coulis with fresh berry garnish
- Chopped nuts
- Chutneys and compotes
- Crushed cookies
- Liqueurs, such as Chambord, Bailey's Irish Cream, Godiva
- Fresh lemon or lime curd
- Fresh fruit
With the countless ways to make cheesecake, you can always have a novel cheesecake dessert.