I typically bake cake, cupcakes and cookies but sometimes I dabble in pie, buns and other delicious things. When my friend and customer asked about making a cheesecake for her daughter’s birthday, of course I said “sure thing!”
Our family usually bakes one cheesecake a year. Elizabeth adores cheesecake and the rest of us like this decadent treat as well. A couple of years ago after enjoying a cheesecake at home I asked my friend Nana, owner of Good to Go, if she’d like me to add cheesecake to the list of things I bake for them. She thought about it and decided that she wasn’t sure. I already have cake, several kind of cookies and brownies there and then she offers a lot of other options, too. I was so excited about my cheesecake and then I lost momentum. Our family wasn’t going to eat cheesecake all the time, so I didn’t practice much after that.
So, this is how I found myself making Dillan’s birthday cheesecake this October without any recent practice under my belt. I told Sarah that I would do my best and I would add some decoration. After all, it was for Dillan’s 13th birthday!
I recently pulled up the AP Physics class on Khan Academy for my daughter to start looking at. It listed the pre-requisites. I liked how it was very clear; you need to know basic Algebra, Trig and the Pythagorean Theorem. I figured, why not apply this clarity to cheesecake? Is cheesecake an appropriate challenge for a novice baker? It can be, sure! Here is my list of pre-requisites.
- Have access to a mixer and know how to use it properly
- Springform pan
- Food processor or mini chopper (or use another method to crush graham crackers or cookies)
- Patience for long baking times and long cooling times
- Patience for un-molding
- Decorating basics to add some flair to your cheesecake
- Ability to follow recipe directions accurately
I have made cheesecakes using a water bath and without. For this cheesecake I opted for no water bath. My reasoning? They are messy and they are always mentioned for avoiding the crust portion of a cheesecake. I actually like that the middle is less cooked than the outside, so I decided maybe a water bath wasn’t for me.
In the end, I liked how the cheesecake didn’t have the risk of leaking (because even with two layers of foil, you never really know), how I didn’t have to recycle all that foil, and not having to worry about spilling hot water on myself. The cheesecake came out very well, though slightly taller on the edges which I didn’t care for. It didn’t crack, and Sarah and her family thought it was delicious.
I think that patience is the key factor in cheesecake. First, you have to slowly add all the ingredients, taking care not to mix too much but also not to under mix. You have to bake the crust and let it cool, then bake the cheesecake for almost an hour and let it sit in the warm oven for another hour. After that, it has an overnight stay in the fridge before you take it out of the mold.
I usually don’t cut things too close, allowing myself time to re-do things if something goes awry. However, the schedule for that week had me making Dillan’s cheesecake the night before they planned to celebrate. Everything went well and then it started its overnight fridge stay. I knew at 5 am I would take it out of its mold. Everything had to go properly at that point because they were celebrating that night!
As I was taking the cheesecake out of the pan, it was challenging to move. I knew in the back of my head that it would separate from the bottom of the pan, but also that I would have to be very patient. If I tried to rush this, it would crack and I’d be forced to repair a mess or start over and finish before work.
I cheered from my kitchen as it separated perfectly and went on the cake base. Decorating was fun and I was pleased with the result.
I used a King Arthur Flour cheesecake recipe from their All Purpose Baking Handbook. As with many cheesecake recipes, they give an option for heavy cream or sour cream. You can decide the amounts of each as long as the volume is the same. I opted for heavy cream as it makes for a more decadent and slightly sweeter cheesecake. The recipe called for a rolled out pie style crust, but I prefer cheesecake with a graham cracker or cookie crust, so I opted for that. The other recipes I’ve used include; Baking from My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan and The Cake Bible by Rose Beranbaum. Each recipe has its positives and negatives, but they all have resulted in excellent cheesecake!
The Finished Cheesecake