Cheesecake is my favorite dessert (read my post in Unwanted Opinions to see why) but baking a full one had always intimidated me. Every single cheesecake recipe always contains a plethora of *WARNING* type messages about how you will most likely fuck up your cheesecake. Your cream cheese isn’t soft enough? You fucked up your cheesecake. You overmix the batter? Fucked. Up. No water bath? Just give up, Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, for my birthday I like to be as Extra and Luxurious as possible, which means I A. Bake my own damn cake and B. Do something tricky that I’ve never done before, stress out about it and end up crying as I stare into the oven willing my creation to bake properly. But I was extra-determined this year to not only make a cheesecake, but to make a perfect cheesecake. A flawless cheesecake. A thicc cheesecake if you will.
The way I choose recipes is a lot like the way I choose songs for my Broadway musicals playlist on Spotify. Instead of plopping in an entire cast recording album, I pick and choose (if there is more than one recording) from a variety of casts, selecting what I feel to be the perfect version of each song. This is why I have songs from 5 different LesMis recordings on the one playlist. Similarly, I knew what kind of cheesecake I wanted (A basic filling with just a hint of flavoring, a fruity topping, and a spiced-ish crumb base) so I picked and chose from various recipes to assemble the ultimate cheesecake. For the filling, I chose the original cheesecake recipe from my Junior’s desserts cookbook that had been sitting on my shelf for at least 4 years. I figured a restaurant famous for their cheesecakes would churn out a pretty good recipe.
Junior’s cheesecake recipe worked well for my filling because it was basic and not too complicated, especially now that I have my stand mixer. However, Junior’s uses a sponge cake base, and I wanted a crumb base. After deciding to make my cake lemon flavor, I turned to Pinterest and found this recipe by Life, Love, & Sugar (truly a glowing example of a white mom blog) https://www.lifeloveandsugar.com/lemon-cheesecake/
I decided to take the lemon curd from this recipe for my topping, as well as the ratios for the crumb base, but since that recipe uses vanilla wafers and I wanted a spiced base to compliment the lemon cheesecake I used gingersnaps and brown sugar instead of the wafers and white sugar. In the end my crust recipe was as follows:
2/14 cups gingersnap crumbs
1/2 cup (1 stick) melter butter
3 tbsp brown sugar
Other than those changes I baked the crust exactly as the recipe instructed and set it aside while I made my cheesecake filling. Luckily for my amateur ass, Junior’s gave extremely precise instructions for each step of making the filling, which is why I set a 50 second timer 3 different times to make sure each block of cream cheese was fully incorporated. I scraped down the sides of the bowl after each addition. All of my ingredients were the same temperature to ensure a smooth, homogenous mixture, and I whispered a “hell yeah” to myself when my batter resembled, as the recipe said it should “billowy clouds”. My one moment of panic was when I realized I hadn’t boiled enough water for my water bath and spent a few minutes standing over the sink waiting for the water to heat up and saying “Fuck fuck fuck, fuck me, fuck this, fuckin’ fuck” while my cheesecake sat in the pan with the oven door still open. Nevertheless, the water bath was completed, the cheesecake went in the oven, and I moved on to my lemon curd. This part was easy-peazy since I’ve made lemon curd before, so most of the ONE HOUR bake time was spent with me squatting anxiously in front of the oven like a contestant on Great British Bake-Off who is one soggy bottom away from being sent home.
My one goal in this whole endeavor was to make an uncracked cheesecake. If I could manage to make a cheesecake that didn’t crack, on my FIRST TRY then surely it meant that I am a True Baker, destined for greatness, for fame, for a spot guest judging on Nailed It!. Now the Junior’s recipe indicated that the cheesecake should be baked for 1 hour and 15 minutes, then immediately taken out of the oven, but I wasn’t messing around with this shit. I had done my homework and knew that if you don’t gently and slowly cool your cheesecake it is bound to crack and then I would have to go live in the woods in shame. So I combined the Junior’s method with the method used by Life, Love, & Sugar, and after one hour I turned the oven off and left the cheesecake inside for 15 stressful minutes (“Is my top too brown? Oh god I overcooked it. Or maybe I undercooked it and the top is now going to burn oh God why, fuck”) and then cracked the oven door open and let the heat release for another 20 minutes before finally taking the cheesecake out of the oven to let it cool. I wrote an extremely passive aggressive post it-note warning my family not to touch or move the cheesecake (which could make it crack) and then spent the next hour ignoring my post-it note as I poked at my cheesecake, worrying about whether it had the right amount of jiggle. But y’all. This bitch DID NOT CRACK. There was a very suspicious line on the top of the cake that I kept glaring at, but the line stayed on the top and didn’t crack the interior of the cake itself, meaning that I HAD DONE IT! First cheesecake, no cracks! My pride and joy went into the fridge to set up overnight so that it would be ready to finish up for my birthday dinner the next day.
You would think “make the whipped cream for the topping” would be the most straightforward aspect of this whole ordeal, but of course I overthink everything and had spent a good hour reading about how to make stabilized whipped cream that won’t melt immediately. (This blog had a good run-down, I ended up using cornstarch and it worked perfectly (https://sugargeekshow.com/recipe/stabilized-whipped-cream/)
When it came time to cut the cake I was still slightly nervous, due to my previous (and recent) experience with thinking something I baked was done and slicing it open to reveal a raw interior (fuck you Brioche). But my cheesecake was cooked perfectly (not to brag) and had a smooth, creamy interior that was cut by the tartness of the lemon and the spiciness of the ginger crust. (Don’t I sound like I know what I’m talking about? Just say yes.) It was extremely rich, as cheesecakes are, so I only had a little bit because we had to leave to go see Hamilton and, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t want to hold in my dairy-induced farts for 3 hours. But here’s she is, in all her perfectly sliced glory, sitting on a windowsill, which of course is how I always eat my food.
So what did I learn from baking my first cheesecake? Well, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be, but it was time consuming. I started around 2pm and wasn’t done until 5pm. So I’m not just going to “whip up” a cheesecake when I forgot to get my friend a birthday present and need to bake something for their party in 1 hour. But despite the time and labor needed, baking it was actually really fun and used a of different techniques that I enjoyed practicing. Now we have most of an entire cheesecake, and it turns out I’m the only one who really loves cheesecake in the house, so looks like I’m eating cheesecake for the next month. But is that really a bad thing?