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Cheesecake Recipe: Create Your Own

Learn the basic method for creamy, light cheesecake, and you have thousands of recipes at your fingertips.

by Abigail Johnson Dodge

from Fine Cooking
Issue 104

When it comes to favorite all-American desserts, cheesecake might be second to apple pie, but it’s number one on my list. Utterly delicious and super easy to make, cheesecake isn’t technically a cake; it’s a custard baked in a crumb crust. The smooth filling is typically made with cream cheese, sugar, eggs, and vanilla, and the crust is a mixture of cookie crumbs and butter.  

With the straightforward method here, you can also choose your crumb crust, flavorings, and toppings; just start with some of the combinations below (all rigorously tested in our kitchen), and then go on to create your own fabulous cheesecakes.

Serves 10 to 12

Make the crust

Cookie crumbs and butter are pressed into a springform pan for the easy crust.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F.

Pulse 8 oz of your choice of cookie crumbs (see options below)  in a food processor until crushed to fine crumbs. You should have 2 cups.

In a medium bowl, stir together the cookie crumbs and 3 Tbs. granulated sugar. Mix in 3-1/2 oz. (7 Tbs.) melted unsalted butter until the crumbs are evenly moist and clump together slightly. Transfer the mixture to a 9-inch springform pan and press evenly onto the bottom and about 2 inches up the sides of the pan (to press, use your fingers or a flat-bottom measuring cup). Bake until the crust is fragrant and slightly darkened (this will be more obvious with lighter crumbs, but even the ginger and chocolate crumbs will darken a bit), 9 to 12 minutes. Let the pan cool on a rack. Lower the oven temperature to 300°F.

Choose a cookie for the crust

  • graham crackers
    Graham crackers
  • vanilla wafers
    Vanilla wafers
  • chocolate wafers
    Chocolate wafers
  • gingersnaps
Make the filling base

The key to a cheesecake’s perfect texture lies in a proper balance of eggs and dairy. As long as you maintain that balance, you can customize the filling by replacing some of the cream cheese with other ingredients (like ricotta, chocolate, or dulce de leche), and the cake won’t lose its rich texture.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine three 8-oz packages of room-temperature cream cheese, an add-in (see options below) OR an additional 8-oz. package of cream cheese, 2 Tbs. all-purpose flour, and a pinch of table salt. Beat on medium speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle frequently, until very smooth and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Make sure the cheese has no lumps.

Choose an add-in (optional)

  • milk chocolate
    Milk chocolate: 10 oz., melted and cooled
  • semisweet chocolate
    Bittersweet or semisweet chocolate: 10 oz., melted and cooled
  • ricotta
    Ricotta: 1 cup
  • strawberry puree
    Strawberry purée: 1 cup
  • c00236_01.jpg
    Blueberry purée: 1 cup
  • banana puree
    Banana purée: 1 cup
  • dulce de leche
    Dulce de leche: 3/4 cup
  • dulce de leche
    White chocolate: 8 oz., melted and cooled
  • crème fraîche
    Sour cream or crème fraîche: 3/4 cup
  • mascarpone
    Mascarpone: 8 oz., at room temperature
  • pumpkin purée
    Canned pure pumpkin purée: 1 cup
Flavor the filling

Add 1-1/4 cups granulated sugar and continue beating until well blended and smooth. Add 1 Tbs. pure vanilla extract and your choice of flavorings (see options below) and spices (see options below), if using, and beat until blended, about 30 seconds. Add 4 large room-temperature eggs, one at a time, beating just until blended. (Don’t overbeat once the eggs have been added or the cheesecake will puff too much and crack as it cools.) Pour the filling into the cooled crust and smooth the top.

Choose up to two flavorings (optional)

  • peanut butter
    Creamy peanut butter: 1/3 cup
  • crystalized ginger
    Finely chopped crystallized ginger: 2 Tbs.
  • instant espresso
    Instant coffee: 2-1/2 tsp. (or 2 tsp. espresso powder)
  • lime zest
    Finely grated lime zest: 2 Tbs.
  • lemon zest
    Finely grated lemon zest: 2 Tbs.
  • orange zest
    Finely grated orange zest: 2 Tbs.
  • mini chocolate chips
    Mini chocolate chips: 1/3 cup
  • amaretto
    Amaretto: 3 Tbs.
  • baileys
    Baileys: 3 Tbs.
  • chambord
    Chambord: 3 Tbs.
  • kahlua
    Kahlua: 3 Tbs.
  • grand marnier
    Grand Marnier: 3 Tbs.

Choose up to four spices for a total of 2 tsp. (optional)

  • ground nutmeg
    Ground nutmeg (up to 1/2 tsp.)
  • ground ginger
    Ground ginger
  • ground cloves
    Ground cloves (up to 1/2 tsp.)
  • ground cinnamon
    Ground cinnamon
Bake the cheesecake

Bake at 300°F until the center jiggles like Jell-O when nudged, 55 to 65 minutes. The cake will be slightly puffed around the edges, and the center will still look moist. Set on a rack and cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 8 hours and up to 3 days. The cake can also be frozen for up to 1 month. (To freeze, put the unmolded, cooled cake on a rimmed baking sheet in the freezer, uncovered, until the top is cold and firm; then wrap it in two layers of plastic and one layer of foil. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.)

Top and serve

Unclasp and remove the side of the springform pan and run a long, thin metal spatula under the bottom crust. Carefully slide the cake onto a flat serving plate. Add your topping (see options below) and/or garnishes (see options below). To cut, run a thin knife under hot water, wipe it dry, and cut the cake into slices, heating and wiping the knife after every slice.

Choose a topping (optional)

  • caramel sauce
    Caramel sauce: see recipe below
  • chocolate ganache
    Chocolate ganache: see recipe below
  • brulee shards
    Burnt sugar: Sprinkle 2 Tbs. granulated sugar evenly over the top and slowly pass a hand-held kitchen torch over the sugar until melted and caramelized.
  • strawberries
    Glazed fresh fruit: see recipe below
  • lemon curd
    Lemon curd

Choose up to three garnishes (optional)

  • chopped nuts
    Chopped toasted nuts
  • chocolate-covered coffee beans
    Chocolate-covered espresso beans
  • cocoa powder
    Cocoa powder (sift over cake)
  • crushed amaretti cookies
    Crushed amaretti cookies
  • whipped cream
    Whipped cream
  • confectioners sugar
    Confectioners' sugar (sift over cake)
  • chocolate shards
    Chocolate shards
  • pecans
    Toasted pecans
Chocolate Ganache Topping

In a small bowl, melt 3 oz. chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate and 5 Tbs. unsalted butter. Add 1 Tbs. light corn syrup and whisk until smooth. Pour on the cheesecake and spread evenly.

Caramel Sauce Topping

In a 2-quart saucepan, combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 3 Tbs. water and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is clear, 2 to 3 minutes. Increase the heat to medium high and cook without stirring until the sugar begins to turn golden-brown around the edges. Gently swirl the pan over the heat to even out the color, and cook until the sugar turns golden-amber, 3 to 5 minutes. Off the heat, carefully add 1/2 cup heavy cream, 2 Tbs. unsalted butter, and a pinch of table salt. Cook, whisking constantly over medium-low heat, until well blended and smooth. Set aside until the caramel has cooled slightly, 15 minutes. Pour on the chilled cheesecake and spread evenly.

Glazed Fresh Fruit Topping

In a small saucepan, heat 1/4 cup seedless jam (such as strawberry, raspberry, or currant) with 1 Tbs. water, stirring frequently, until melted and smooth; strain. Arrange 1-1/2 quarts halved strawberries or 4 cups other berries or sliced fruit of your choice on top of the cake. Brush the fruit with the melted jam mixture.

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