Cheesecake is like ice cream. Think of a flavor and it can be made into a cheesecake. New York Cheesecake is something like good old standby vanilla ice cream. It is a classic.
I baked my first New York Cheesecake for a boyfriend so many moons ago. I thought the recipe was an original. It was one of those "Mark's best friend's Grandma's neighbor got it from her son's girlfriend's best friend's cousin's recipe." It was an original to be carefully guarded so far as I knew.
Imagine my surprise when I found that very recipe in my first brand new after college graduation cookbook but in that cookbook it was not a New York Cheesecake; it was an Oregon Cheesecake. I next found the recipe in a magazine where it was presented as a Vanilla Cheesecake.
I have found this recipe with only minor ingredient differences in many cookbooks, websites, and magazines since the old boyfriend days. The big difference from recipe to recipe to recipe is the baking method. All of the recipes suggested cranking the oven to a high temperature, bake the cheesecake for a few minutes and then lower the temperature for a longer bake. Some recipes suggest turning the oven off after a set time and letting the cheesecake continue to bake as the oven cools. Other recipes suggest turning off the oven after the bake time and cracking the door open as the oven cools.
All of these methods left me with an improperly cooked final product. Some of my cheesecakes were tragically overdone with a big ugly crack down the middle. Others looked fine for the first hour or so after pulling it from the oven only to sink in the center so that it looked more like a poorly made donut than a grand cheesecake. Perhaps even worse are those sloppy center, under-done cheesecakes.
I think I tried every suggested bake time and temperature suggested in these many New York Cheesecake repeats but none of them worked particularly well. But finally! Finally! A cheesecake aficionado suggested that I try her baking method. Bake the cheesecake at a low 200° for an extended time until the internal temperature reaches 165°. Take it out of the oven and crank the temperature to 500°. Return the cake to the hot oven for 5-10 minutes until the top browns. Finally! Perfection!
I topped my latest New York cheesecake with a simple cherry compote made with frozen black cherries. It was yummy but totally optional.
New York Cheesecake
Graham Cracker Crust
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted 8 whole graham crackers, broken into rough pieces and processed into fine, even crumbs 1 tablespoon sugar
Filling 2½ pounds cream cheese, softened
1½ cups granulated sugar ¼ teaspoon salt ⅓ cup sour cream 2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest 1½ teaspoon vanilla extract 6 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
16 ounces cherries (frozen or fresh, pitted)
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup water
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon lemon juice (fresh)
To make the crust, adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 325°.
Prepare a 9-inch springform pan by brushing the bottom and sides of with ½ tablespoon of melted butter.
In a medium bowl combine the graham cracker crumbs, 5 tablespoons melted butter, and sugar. Toss with a fork until the crumbs are evenly moistened.
Firmly press the crumbs evenly into the pan bottom. Bake 12-13 minutes until fragrant and beginning to brown around the edges. Cool on a wire rack while preparing the filling.
Reduce the oven temperature to 200°.
Measure sugar into a small bowl. Stir zest into sugar and let stand 10 minutes.
Use a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat cream cheese, ¾ cup of the sugar mixed with lemon zest, and salt at medium-low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Beat in remaining ¾ cup sugar mixture until combined, about 1 minute.
Scrape beater and bowl well; add sour cream, lemon juice and vanilla and beat at low speed until combined, about 1 minute.
Add egg yolks one at a time and beat at medium-low speed until thoroughly combined, about 1 minute. Scrape bowl and beater. Add whole eggs two at a time, beating until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds after each addition.
Pour filling through fine-mesh strainer set in large bowl, pressing against strainer with rubber spatula to help filling pass through strainer.
Brush the sides of the springform pan with ½ tablespoon melted butter. Pour filling into crust and set aside for 10 minutes to allow air bubbles to rise to top. Pop the bubbles with a toothpick.
Bake cheesecake on lower middle rack for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, remove cake from oven and use toothpick to pierce any bubbles that have risen to surface.
Return to oven and continue to bake until center registers 165 degrees, 2¼ to 2¾ hours longer. Remove cake from oven and adjust oven rack to the upper ⅓ of the oven. Increase oven temperature to 500°.
When the oven temperature reaches 500° return the cheesecake to the upper rack to bake until top is evenly browned, 5 to 10 minutes.
Set cheesecake on wire racks and let cool for 5 minutes. To prevent the cake from splitting run a paring knife between cheesecake and side of spring form pan.
Let cheesecake cool on wire rack 3 hours until barely warm. Wrap cake tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold and firmly set, at least 6 hours.
To unmold the chilled cheesecake, carefully remove sides of pan. Slide thin metal spatula between crust and pan bottom to loosen, then slide cheesecake onto serving plate. Let cheesecake stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving.
In a medium saucepan, bring the cherries, sugar, and water to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring often.
In a small bowl, stir the lemon juice and cornstarch together until smooth. Whisk it into the boiling cherry mixture.
Return to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching.
Cook until the liquid has thickened, about 1 minute.
Remove the pot from the heat and taste. You can add a little extra sugar or lemon juice if needed at this point, depending on your personal preference.
Spoon over slices of cheesecake.