Saturday, March 22, 2014

The One that Started It All - New York Cheesecake

* No pics for now, I'll update when I make this next. I thought I had taken pics of the cheesecake, but I guess not.

Cheesecake was the first thing I ever baked successfully and it was the first dessert that was the stepping stone to my baking journey. I had baked muffins, cake mix cupcakes, and refrigerated cookie dough cookies before, but the disappointments only solidified my dislike of baking at the time. For a lot of people, they either like baking or they don't and at the time, I really didn't.

While I still often have baking disasters that are disappointing, there's just something about it now that keeps me coming back for more. It's an outlet for me when I need some time for myself. Having an organized and well stocked baking pantry helps, so whenever the mood strikes, I can bake something. Now, for things that I bake consistently like my chiffon cake, I like the preciseness of measuring the ingredients and seeing a beautiful cake come out time and time again. I like the process of tinkering with a recipe to get it exactly the way you want it or reinventing it into a new flavor. Once your skills improve, it's also rewarding to see people enjoying what you made.

Cheesecake was what really started me down this path, so even though I don't make it as much anymore, it will always have a special place in my heart. It's actually kind of funny that I started out with cheesecake as my foray into baking since it's a rather complicated dessert for a beginner, but not if you're not concerned about cracking which I wasn't at the time. I believe I was around 13 and either I or my mom, who is a real cheesecake lover, decided I should try making one using the recipe on the back of the cream cheese box for Thanksgiving. At the time, we were also regular consumers of Philadelphia's Cheesecake snack bars which were also new in stores.

Back then, I used premade oreo and graham cracker crusts for ease and I used this recipe for 2 pie sized cheesecakes without the fruit topping. My cheesecakes cracked on occasion, but it didn't really matter. I remember being super proud of myself for making something that seemed quite difficult to others as baking isn't common in an Asian household. It was the first time that I became the go-to person in my family for something. Once I got comfortable making it, I bought a springform pan and started making it as it's meant to be. I still hadn't mastered the technique to prevent cracking, but it was still an accomplishment for me nonetheless.

Then I moved on to Giada's Mascarpone Cheesecake which is already on here and then Japanese Cheesecake more recently and those became the favorites. Over the years though, my sister has always missed the dense NY Cheesecake that was my first signature dessert and has requested it several times. Unfortunately, the recipe on the back of the box had changed since then. Since I liked trying new recipes, I tried other NY Cheesecakes from Martha Stewart, Ina Garten, and many others, but nothing ever really tasted even close until I went back to the source and tried this one by Kraft recently. A decade and a half later, it's nice to be reunited with an old favorite.

Many say their NY cheesecake the best, but this is the best in my opinion as it's the flavor of cheesecake I know. It's dense, sweet, but slightly tangy and gets better when you let it sit in the fridge longer, so it's great to make a few days ahead. This time I baked it in a springform pan with a chocolate cookie crust, but next time, I think I'll bake it in a pie dish for old time's sake.

Update: The original recipe posted here was basically the one found on the back of the box, but as I was looking through my old recipe binder, I found the actual recipe that I had originally used. I had cut out the recipe from the cream cheese box and stapled it to a piece of paper. The recipe uses one less egg, so I've updated the recipe below to reflect my childhood cheesecake.

New York Cheesecake
Recipe adapted from Kraft Philadelphia
Makes one 9 inch cheesecake

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
3 tbsp. granulated sugar
2 1/2 pounds cream cheese(5 8-oz packages), left out overnight and softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
Large pinch of salt
1 cup sour cream
3 Extra large eggs
3 tbsp all purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350 deg F. Mix the graham cracker crumbs, 3 tbsp. sugar, and melted butter, press firmly into the bottom and up the sides of a 9 inch springform pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the crust is golden brown. Let the crust cool about 5-10 minutes.

In a food processor, mix the cream cheese, sugar, salt, and vanilla extract together until well blended. Add the flour, then the sour cream, mixing well after each addition. Add the eggs, one at a time mixing until just incorporated.

Pour the filling over the crust and bake for about an hour and 10 minutes until the center is almost set. Remove from the oven and run a thin knife or metal spatula around the rim of the pan to loosen the cheesecake and help prevent cracking.

Let the cheesecake cool completely on a rack before placing in the fridge. Refrigerate at least 8 hours, preferably overnight, before serving. Cheesecake will last for several days in the fridge.

To bake in a water bath, double wrap the springform pan in aluminum foil once the crust has been baked. Place the wrapped pan in a larger pan in the oven and pour boiling water into the larger pan halfway up the sides of the springform pan. When cheesecake is done, remove the springform pan from the water bath to cool.

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