Thursday, May 6, 2010

How To Make The Perfect Cheesecake

Follow these instructions exactly to get perfect results. Prepare the night before you intend to serve (or the morning of, if you aren’t working that day and serving that night)

Equipment Needed:
* springform pan ($17.99 at Target)
* aluminum foil
* 2 mixing bowls
* masher
* 2 sauce pans
* 2 large mixing spoons
* measuring spoons/cups
* non-stick spray
* hand blender (optional, but it helps!)
* cutting board
* 1 small knife (for slicing fruit)
* 1 large knife (for slicing cake)
* basting brush

* 6 whole graham crackers
* 2tbsp butter
* 1/3 cup sugar
* 1/4 tsp cinnamon

* 4 packages (8 oz) cream cheese)
* 1 & 1/2 cups sugar
* 3/4 cups milk
* 4 eggs
* 1 cup sour cream
* tbsp vanilla extract
* 4 cup all purpose flour

* fresh fruit, sliced (enough to cover the top)
* 1 jar of jam, same flavor
(for the purposes of this recipe, I'm using strawberries, but in general, if they make jam in that flavor, it‘s good for a cheesecake topping)

* Take cream cheese out of the refrigerator until it reaches room temperature.
* Wrap the springform pan in aluminum foil (they tend to leak).
* Spray bottom of pan with non-stick spray.
* Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Making Crust:
* Place graham crackers in mixing bowl. Using masher, crush the graham crackers until it's just crumbs. Mix sugar and cinnamon.
* Place butter in saucepan and let melt.
* Spray bottom of springform pan with non-stick spray.
* Pour melted butter into graham cracker mixture, stir until even.
* Dump contents into the springform pan and spread around so it covers the bottom evenly.
* Using the lid of the nonstick spray, press the crust mixture down to compact the mixture, starting from the center out to the sides of the pan.
* Place in preheated oven and cook for 8-10 minutes.
* Remove from oven.

Making Batter:
* Place room-temperature cream cheese and sugar in a bowl and mix thoroughly.
* Blend in the milk.
* One at a time, mix in the eggs, mix until even.
* Add extract, vanilla extract and sour cream. Mix until even.
* Once you’ve mixed, if you see lumps, this is where the hand blender comes in handy. Use hand blender to remove any lumps.
*Spray sides of springform pan with nonstick spray (IMPORTANT: in the cooling process, the cake will recede from the pan. If it is sticking, it will crack!)
* Take bowl and gently tap against countertop for 3-5 minutes. This will remove most of the air bubbles that are trapped within the batter. If you have air bubbles in the batter, your cake is likely to crack when cooling, and it’ll create extra work for you!
* Pour batter on top of crust, and place pan in the oven.

Cooking Instructions:
* Cook mixture for 1 hour at 350 degrees.
* After 1 hour, turn the oven off. Do not open door, just let the cheesecake sit for 3 hours in the oven and allow it to cool. (It can go as long as 5 hours if needed, so don’t worry about time here, just make sure you’ll be around to get the cake out of the oven between 3-5 hours).

The cheesecake needs a very gradual cooling process: it expands while cooking and contacts while cooling, so don‘t be alarmed if your cheesecake looks misshapen if you turn the light on and look through the door when turning the heat off, it should correct itself during cooling. If you shock it by exposing it to room temperature air too soon though, it won’t turn out well.

Topping Instructions:
* Rinse strawberries, cut off the tops, and slice enough berries to cover the top, perhaps a few more to be safe.
* Place jam in sauce pan over medium heat about 20 minutes before you’re ready to open the oven door and let the jam turn into the consistency of a sauce. Stir often.
* When you remove the cake from the oven, spoon enough of the jam on top to completely cover. * Place sliced strawberries over the cake as you wish (I prefer to start from the outside and work my way in to the center.).
*Once covered with berries, use a basting brush thoroughly cover the berries, which will hold them in place and keep them from drying out.
*Place in fridge overnight.

(NOTE: I learned the hard way that if you slice the fruit and the juices is coming out, it will thin out the topping and soak the crust. You may want to wait until just before serving to top it!)

If The Cake Cracks:
Don’t fret all is not lost. Obviously it’s best if the cake doesn’t crack, but don’t toss it if it happens to crack open. Cheesecake is pretty forgiving, and while you might sacrifice a bit of the seal that forms on top, just use a warm knife (Run it under hot water, and then wipe it dry), just treat it as though you were spackling a wall and smooth it over. Your topping will cover it, so it won’t be an issue, presentation-wise.

Slicing The Cheesecake:
* Take a large knife, and run it under hot water, slice cake in half.
* Run under hot water, wipe clean, and slice in half the other way.
* Repeat until you have 16 pieces, making sure to rinse under hot water and wipe dry before each cut.

Removing From Pan:
* Run a knife around the edges to make sure the cake is not sticking to the sides.
* Pull foil away from the sides
* Unlock the spring, expand and pull sides away.
* Insert thin but sturdy knife between the crust and the bottom of the pan and run along the edges.
* Transfer cake to a flat plate.

Also, if you want to get a better handle on making a cheesecake, here's a video series that might help you see the techniques in practice.