...today is National Cherry Cheesecake Day. I don't know who comes up with these holidays, but I am All for it. But, wait a minute, Jen. You said custards; I heard you. What does cherry cheesecake have to do with custards?
Friends, cherry cheesecake is a custard. Not the cherry part. The cheesecake part. A custard is thickened by the Power of Eggs. And there are eggs in cheesecake. And dairy. Yup, custards hide in all sorts of places. Scrambled eggs is just another term for "very curdled custard." And then, there's quiche and fritattas and baked macaroni and cheese and pumpkin pie. Custards are sneaky and must be Ferreted Out.
Anyway, back to our cheesecake. As far as I'm concerned, there are three categories of cheesecake, two of which are custards: baked-with-starch, baked-no-starch, and no-bake. The no-bake kind is the odd man out here, since it doesn't contain eggs. For a nice and light no-bake cheesecake, go check out Drew's site.
That leaves us with the starch versus no-starch custard versions of cheesecake. The starch is generally there to bind up some of the water and help keep things from curdling. Starch is why you can boil a pudding mixture but not an ice cream base. Anyway, cheesecakes that contain starch tend to be a bit heavier than the no-starch varieties. The no-starch kind are smooth like flan, whereas the starch kind can sometimes sidle up to crumbly. When you fork through a cheesecake, if your fork passes through leaving a smooth "cut" behind, the cake probably was made without starch. If the "cut" is kind of shaggy looking, the cheesecake probably has starch in it. Some people have Strong Ideas about which kind is better. I don't think of one as Better than the other; I just see them as Different from each other. I like them both.
Starch-thickened cheesecakes often are baked in a crust in a moderate oven--maybe around 325-350F. The crust acts as a bit of an insulator for the custard, serving as a kind of Cookie Bath as opposed to a water bath.
New York Style Cheesecake
32 ounces (4 - 8 ounces packages) cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup (200 grams) granulated white sugar
heavy pinch of salt
3 tablespoons (35 grams) all purpose flour
5 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup (80 ml) heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Topping (Optional for some. Necessary for me)
1 cup (240 ml) sour cream
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons (30 grams) granulated white sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
First, you need your cookie bath, so make a graham cracker crust and smash it in the bottom and up the sides of a greased 9" springform pan.
Now, the whole deal with the dreaded Cracking of the Cheesecake can be avoided by not whipping any air into the cheese cake mixture. After all, a Cheesy Mixture with a lot of air whipped into it is called a soufflé for a reason. It Rises Up and then settles and Cracks most unattractively. So, the cardinal rule of cheesecake making is Mix on Low. If you're in a hurry, make something else. A hurried day is not Cheesecake Day.
Make sure your cream cheese is at room temperature. It should be Dead Soft. On low speed, mix it all by itself until it is completely smooth. Then, add the sugar, flour and the salt and keep mixing on low until the sugar is mostly dissolved and the mixture isn't grainy. Only then can you consider Adding Eggs. If you don't get every little lump out of your cheese Right Now before the eggs come into the picture, you will never get them out. I swear, it's like trying to fish a wee piece of eggshell out of a cracked egg. Those little lumps become slippery when the mixture is thinned out a bit. You'll sit there and actually See the beater hit a lump, and you'll think, "Yay--that's gotten it!" But that little lump will surface unscathed. And you might curse. Not to belabor a point, of course, but make sure your mixture is Completely Smooth. And do it on Low Speed. Right then; moving on.
Add the eggs, one at a time--gee, this sounds Suspiciously like The Creaming Method. So far, except for the ingredients, it's exactly like it. The only difference right now is that you're doing everything on low speed. This is the Slo-Mo Creaming Method. Anyway, scrape the bowl Often and only add the next egg when his friend that has gone before him is completely mixed in.
Mix in the cream, zest and vanilla until smooth. You can also substitute some sour cream or crème fraîche for some of the cream, depending on how Tangy you want your cake to be. Really, it's okay. Now, taste it and make sure you have enough salt. This is a pretty neutral cake, so play up the flavor by making sure you've added enough salt. Not a tablespoon or anything, but just make sure there's Enough in it.
Pour/scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top. If this completely fills your pan, and it probably will, don't worry. If you have done everything on low speed, it shouldn't rise at all. Or maybe just the wee-est bit.
Put the pan in the center of a 375F oven for fifteen minutes. Then, turn down the heat to 300F and bake until the center is just a little jiggly like Jell-o, maybe another hour or so. It might take longer, so Keep an Eye on it. If you bake until it's completely set, it'll be over-baked by the time the carryover cooking has Had Its Way with it.
Take your lovely cheesecake out of the oven and mix up your topping. Spread this on top of the still warm cake and put him back in the oven for 15 minutes. Now, take him back out of the oven (yes, there is a lot of In and Out with this guy), run a thin knife around the inside of the pan and then let him cool at room temperature. Then, cover him with plastic wrap and refrigerate him overnight.
Goat Cheese Cheesecake (no starch)
Since this guy doesn't contain any starch, he's baked in a water bath at 275F. If you have the time, you could even put the heat lower. The more slowly you bake a no-starch cheesecake, the smoother and creamier he will be.
15 oz. goat cheese
10 oz. cream cheese
1 cup sugar
salt, to taste
1 cup crème fraîche
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 TBSP lemon juice
1 TBSP lemon zest
Put this guy together just like you did the New York Cheesecake. If you're not a fan of goat cheese, use all cream cheese. If you don't have crème fraîche, use sour cream. Or use all heavy cream.
This guy doesn't need a crust. Wrap your springform pan with two layers of foil, put a piece of parchment in the bottom and pour in your filling. Put the pan in a larger pan and add hot water until it comes halfway up the side of your cake. Bake him at 275F until just set--this will take awhile. Start with about an hour and then check on him until he is still just a bit woogle-y in the center. Remove from the oven and from the water bath. Run a knife around the outside of the pan and let him cool at room temperature. Then, refrigerate overnight.
Oh, yeah. It's Cherry Cheesecake Day. Sorry.
4 oz. Port
20 oz. sweet cherries, pitted (duh), fresh or frozen is fine
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
lemon juice (to balance sweetness)
equal parts cornstarch and water
splash o' vanilla
Combine the Port, cherries, sugar and salt in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil and boil for about five minutes, until the mixture is syrupy.
Add lemon juice, a little at a time, until you're happy with the balance--maybe 1-2 TBSP altogether.
Mix cornstarch and water together and stir about 1 TBSP into the cherries. Boil for a few seconds or so until thickened and clear. If you want it thicker, add a bit more. It will thicken upon cooling, so don't get carried away. When you're happy with the Thickness, taste it to make sure the raw starch flavor has cooked out. Remove from heat and stir in a bit of vanilla. Cool and then refrigerate.
Don't think of that topping as a recipe. Look at it like this:
Boil liquid, fruit, sugar and salt. Balance with acid. Thicken. Cool. Eat.
Feel free to add some spices or some citrus zest. Go play.
And that's pretty much it. Remember, if your cheesecake contains starch, it can take a higher temperature, but make a crust for him, just for insurance. If the ingredient list does not contain starch, your cheesecake will be more delicate. Bake him in a water bath at a lower temperature. Enjoy National Cheesecake Day. I'm celebrating by doing more packing. Imagine that.