Monday, May 17, 2010

Cheesecake from "A Well-Seasoned Kitchen"

I'm a sucker for cheesecake. If a restaurant has an interesting cheesecake on the menu, there's a good chance it will be mine.

But I don't make cheesecakes at home very often. Most recipes make big cheesecakes, and they're so rich that a little slice is more than enough for a serving. They end up being way too much dessert to have on hand for just two people.

But this recipe could change all that. It makes two cheesecakes, they're relatively thin, and freezing is part of the recipe. So this is something that can be made in advance and portioned as needed while the rest is kept frozen. No need to worry about finishing off a whole cheesecake in a short time.

The recipe is from A Well-Seasoned Kitchen, by Sally Clayton and Lee Clayton Roper. Lee Clayton Roper wanted to preserve her mother's recipes, and this cookbook was born of that idea. Sally Clayton participated in the project as much as she could, but passed away before the project was completed. Lee Clayton Roper as pledged that a part of the proceeds from the book will go to the Alzheimer's Association in honor of her mother.

The cheesecake is very smooth and creamy and almost custardy compared to other cheesecakes that are more heavy, dense and grainy. The sweetness of the sour cream was balanced by the fact that the cream cheese portion had so little sugar, so it worked out well. The flavor reminded me of the old Sara Lee cheesecakes, but in a good way.

Next time I make this (and yes, I will), I will probably let the cheese layer bake just a little bit longer. While sunken sour cream wasn't a problem, I think it might have been nicer if there were two distinct layers rather than a swirly combination.


Aunt DeeDee's Cheesecake
Adapted from "A Well-Seasoned Kitchen" by Sally Clayton and Lee Clayton Roper

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese at room temperature
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
2 cups sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

If you've bashed up your graham cracker crumbs in a plastic bag, you can do the mixing in the same bag. Otherwise, use a mixing bowl to mix the crumbs, powdered sugar and butter. Reserve 1/4 of the mixture, and divide the rest between two 8-inch pie pans. Press the mixture firmly into the bottom of the pans.

Bake for about 10 minutes. In my oven that was about 2 minutes too long, so check to make sure the crumbs aren't getting too brown. Or maybe it was because I used
homemade grapham crackers.

While the grahams are baking, beat the cream cheese until it's soft. Add the eggs and 1/4 cup of sugar and mix well. Divide the mixture equally into the two pie pans, and bake again for another 10 minutes.

Whisk the sour cream, 1 cup of sugar, and vanilla. When the 10 minutes of baking is up, pour this mixture on top of the cream cheese mixture.

This is where I thought the recipe was starting to go wrong. The sour cream mixture remained in top of the cream cheese towards the outside edges of the pie, but it poured right into the cream cheese towards the center. I contacted the author on Facebook and she said that yes, sometimes it sinks in, so I carried on.

Bake the mixture a final 10-15 minutes.

At ten minutes, the cheesecake seemed excessively jiggly to me, so I baked for the full 15 minutes. It was still jiggly, but I pulled it out rather than risk overbaking.

Remove it from the oven and sprinkle each cheesecake eith the remaining graham cracker crumbs. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate to chill. Wrap in aluminum foil and freeze for at least 24 hours.
I put them in zip-top bags after covering them with foil, because things in my freezer get moved and jostled a lot, and I doubted that a layer of foil was going to be enough protection.

Thaw and serve at room temperature.

The cookbook notes that freezing gives the best results, but that it can also be well-chilled and served without freezing. Since I didn't try that, I can tell you what the difference is, but it seems that the advantage to freezing is that you can make these in advance of any party or event, and dessert is safely out of the way. Or they're ready for unexpected company or for any night when you need a little dessert.

I liked the cheesecake just slightly chilled rather than completely at room temperature as was suggested, but it was a great temptation to poke at it while it was still semi-frozen. I found that it was easiest to cut while it was still mostly frozen, and I got nice, clean slices, even the first one out of the pan. And since I wasn't thawing the whole thing, I could slice as much as I was going to serve, and put the rest of the cheesecake back in the freezer.

Honestly, when the sour cream mixture did its sinking routine, I wondered if this recipe was going to work at all. It was nice that the author responded and reassured me that I wasn't headed for disaster.

Also, when I tasted the sour cream mixture, it seemed too sweet for my taste, and I was worried about that as well. But after a day in the freezer, I removed the pie, let it warm up just enough so I could cut it, and removed a slice.

I let that slice warm up to, er, test. Yeah, that it. It was a test.

The cheesecake is very smooth and creamy and almost custardy compared to other cheesecakes that are more heavy, dense and grainy. The sweetness of the sour cream was balanced by the fact that the cream cheese portion had so little sugar, so it worked out well. The flavor reminded me of the old Sara Lee cheesecakes, but in a good way.

Next time I make this (and yes, I will), I will probably let the cheese layer bake just a little bit longer. While sunken sour cream wasn't a problem, I think it might have been nicer if there were two distinct layers rather than a swirly combination.
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