This is a very special recipe. Really- it is! This is the recipe my husband asks for every single year for his birthday cake. My husband’s name is Ron (Ronald), which means “Ruler”. And as he is the leader of our household and the head of our marriage I’d say that makes him the ruler of this family! Ok, I’ll admit that that was maybe a little cheesy. But it’s all true and I do believe this cheesecake would make royalty happy! This is an incredibly basic cheesecake recipe; no lemon or sour cream. Just a plain vanilla cheesecake. But it is SO good! Rich and creamy with the perfect thick texture- and the plainness of it is the perfect palette for toppings. Ron is a purist and insists that any cheesecake he’s going to eat have cherry pie filling on top and nothing else. Well… maybe strawberry or raspberry puree, but that’s starting to push it. I myself, on the other hand, have no such purist leanings. I’m not crazy about cherries in general so I usually scrape mine off and give them to Ron 🙂 I love lots of different flavors on and in my cheesecake: caramel, pumpkin, strawberry, blueberry, Snickers… anything but coconut and coffee, really! And this recipe is the perfect starting off point for all of them!
As I said; this is a very basic cheesecake, so you want to make sure you have the best ingredients you can get your hands on- especially the vanilla. Being the only actual flavoring agent, the vanilla is very important. If you use cheap vanilla for this your cheesecake will taste like cheap vanilla and the results will be lackluster.
This cheesecake is incredibly simple to prepare. The hardest part is making the graham cracker crumbs if, like me, you don’t have a food processor. And, currently, we are out of zip top bags, so I can’t even use the trick of crushing them with a rolling pin in a zip top bag. What I do in this situation is use a wooden rolling pin that is missing the handle on one side to pound the graham crackers into crumbs. Sometimes things get broken and become an entirely new tool! 🙂 You have to be careful when doing it that way because it’s easier to make a mess, but it works! You COULD just buy graham cracker crumbs, but they are insanely expensive- it’s not that much trouble to make them yourself and you save a lot of money!
Make sure you press the crust evenly into the bottom of the pan. If you just spread them in the bottom without pressing them down they will form a crumb layer on the bottom and quite a bit of the crust mixture will end up floating throughout the cheesecake. Tasty, but not how it’s supposed to be. Now this gets put in the oven for about 10-12 minutes until it starts to smell really good and gets a little brown… er. It starts out light brown and you want it to end up a little darker light brown. I know that sounds confusing, but just make the crust & you’ll find out what I mean 🙂
Once you have your crust blind baked all you have to do is mix the filling & pour it in the crust. You will definitely need a mixer for the filling; cream cheese is a pain to beat by hand. Literally. I’ve done it before and my wrist hurt for 2 days afterward. So make sure your cream cheese is nice and soft and start beating it. I use my stand mixer (with the paddle attachment) for this because it’s a lot stronger than the hand mixer I have. Give the cream cheese a good beating and make sure it’s completely smooth. Stop the mixer a couple of times and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure all of the cream cheese is beaten.
See? No lumps. Lumpy cheesecake=yucky cheesecake. Seriously. Biting into a lump of plain cream cheese ruins the moment. Don’t let it happen to you. Now that you have perfectly smooth cream cheese, add the sugar and beat the heck out of it again. Stop & scrape the sides at least twice to make sure get all of the sugar incorporated before you add the eggs. Don’t be afraid to over beat the filling at this point- you want to make sure it’s smooth & well mixed.
Now you can add the vanilla and the eggs one at a time, mixing very well and scraping the bowl down after each egg. I realize that is a little more work than most cheesecake recipes call for but this is they only way I have found to REALLY make sure you get all of the cream cheese properly incorporated. It only take a few seconds extra, so don’t skip this step. Here’s how smooth your batter should end up:
Very pretty indeed! Now there are two ways to bake this: with a water bath or without. I have an awful time with my cheesecake cracking either way. I’ve tried both ways several times and have always had my cheesecake get HUGE cracks (calling them “fissures” would not be a stretch) in the middle before it’s even done baking. If you want to do a water bath, put the cheesecake in a pan that will fit into another pan with room to spare. If you’re using a spring form pan, wrap the outside of it with foil so water can’t get in. Set the bigger pan on the rack of the preheated oven, set the cheesecake filled pan in the bigger pan, and carefully pour boiling water into the bigger pan until it comes about halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. Bake as per directions. Personally, I will be using the above pictured pan every time I make cheesecake from now on. It’s a stoneware 8 x 11 dish that my mom gave me as a gift. And the cheesecake didn’t crack while baking! I think it’s because the stoneware dish heats and holds heat more evenly.
I did not use a water bath this time- just the stoneware dish. I ended up with a 2 inch, shallow crack in the middle when it was done cooling. I can certainly live with that! The brown around the edges that you see is not normal. The actual edges of the cheesecake are supposed to be a bit brown, but you shouldn’t have cooked on batter on the pan like that. I actually forgot to add the vanilla before I put the batter in the pan. So I had to mix it in carefully after I already had it in the dish. I was talking to my mom while doing this and got distracted. Violated my own rule. Again. But there are worse things. Moving on…
These are actually the last two pieces. I almost didn’t get a shot of the cheesecake with toppings. With 5 people eating on it, it barely lasted 2 days. I know the lighting is bad; this was taken at 8:30 at night. Sorry. We enjoyed these last two pieces with particular relish, as I won’t be making another cheesecake until Ron- my Ruler’s- birthday. My guess is when you try this cheesecake you’ll want it for your birthday too!
The Recipe- The Crust:
1 C Graham Cracker Crumbs
3 T Sugar
5 T Butter, Melted
The Recipe- The Filling:
24 Oz Cream Cheese, Softened
3/4 C Sugar
1 t Vanilla
The Method: The Crust:
*Heat oven to 325 degrees.
*In a bowl, combine all ingredients well.
*Pour into chosen pan and, with your fingers or the bottom of a glass or measuring cup, gently but firmly press the crumbs into the bottom and up the side of the pan (only about 1/2 an inch, depending on the size of your pan).
*Bake the crust for 10-12 minutes, until it smells of buttery graham crackers and is slightly more golden.
*Take out of the oven and let cool at least 10 minutes.
The Method- The Filling and Construction:
*Heat oven to 425 degrees.
*In a mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Be sure to scrape the sides and bottom at least once.
*Add the sugar and beat again, scraping the sides and bottom at least twice, until the mixture is perfectly smooth.
*Add the vanilla and then the eggs one at a time. Mix each egg into the batter completely and then scrape the bowl down after each egg.
* Once as close to perfectly smooth as you can get it, pour the batter into the crust.
*If you want to use a water bath, follow the instructions above.
*Bake the cheesecake at 425 for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 250 and bake until the cheesecake is set in the middle and starting to brown around the edges. This could be anywhere from 35-45 minutes up to an hour plus. You’ll just have to keep an eye on it.
*Once done, open the oven door and let the cheesecake cool for one hour in the oven.
*Remove from the oven and finish cooling on the counter.
*Once completely cool, put the cheesecake in the refrigerator and chill thoroughly.
*Slice and serve with desired toppings. Or eat it plain- it’s just that good!