I have a huge sweet tooth. It doesn’t mean I like all things sugary, in fact, I have an aversion to things that are sickeningly sweet. I’ve never been a fan of candies, I don’t put sugar in my coffee, I’ve never drank sodas nor other boxed or bottled sugary drinks. I do, however, have a weakness for gloriously baked cakes, buttery pastries, creamy ice cream, and homemade tarts, puddings, and pies. Much of this must be blamed on my mom who had the magical gift of working the oven and because she had to satisfy her own sweet tooth cravings, filled our world with sweet memories.
Paul, on the other hand, does not have a sweet tooth at all! Lucky for me, I never have to fight with him over the last slice of cake or the last few crumbs of a delicious pastry I’m savoring. He does, however, love cheesecake. So for his birthday I decided to deviate from my go to Sharon’s Cheesecake recipe and try Joanne Chang’s recipe from her Flour cookbook instead. I have a soft spot for Flour Bakery because I used to frequent it when I was a student in Boston. I loved their sandwiches and her banana bread recipe is my absolute favorite.
As you know, however, baking is still treacherous territory for me. I meant to follow the recipe to the tee but ended up making adjustments (some intentional, others purely accidental, ok, mostly accidental) and somehow still ended up with a delicious, creamy, luscious cheesecake. I’ve made notes below to let you know how I made this cheesecake my own (wink)!
I topped the cake with the beautiful Noble beeswax candles that I bought at the Etsy fair and a mix of macerated and fresh berries (covers up any imperfections perfectly!). It came out absolutely beautiful if I do say so myself! I say this with pride because compare it to the last cheesecake I made!
Adapted from Joanne Chang
168 grams graham crackers (12 full cracker sheets) or digestive cookies
86 grams or 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
680 grams or 1 1/2 pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
300 grams or 1 1/2 cups vanilla sugar (or regular castor sugar)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1 1/2 lemons)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 kosher salt
70 grams or 1/3 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
your choice of beries, I used blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries
a sprinkle of sugar
a squeeze of lemon juice
What to do:
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan and line the base with parchment paper.
Note: I don’t know how I missed the parchment paper requirement! I didn’t use parchment paper and I will next time to make the slices slide off easier and less messily.
I also didn’t have a 9-inch spring form pan so I used an 8-inch springform pan without adjusting the measurements.
2. In a food processor or a grinder, pulse the graham crackers until they are ground to crumbs. Use 2 to 3 tablespoons of the crumbs to dust the sides of the prepared pan. Add the butter and granulated sugar to the crumbs and process until the mixture comes together. Press the crumb mixture evenly onto the bottom of the prepared pan.
Note: I accidentally put in the 1 1/2 cup sugar measurement into the graham cracker mix instead of the 2 tablespoon measurement. I blame how the ingredient list was originally written out! Then again, I guess I should have read it more carefully.
As a result, I had to throw out the first crust and by then had run out of graham crackers. I used digestive cookies for my second attempt and it came out exactly like graham cracker crust.
I used a Chinese soup spoon for pressing the cracker crust into the pan. I’ve also seen people using the backs of measuring cups.
3. Bake the crust for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Set aside on a wire rack. Turn down oven to 325 degrees F.
4. While the crust is baking, clean the bowl of the food processor or fit a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Process the cream cheese or beat on medium speed for at least 1 minute, or until smooth. Add the vanilla sugar and process or beat for 10 to 15 seconds, or until combined. Stop and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the eggs and process or beat for 1 to 2 minutes, or until mixed well. Add the lemon juice, vanilla extract, salt, andcrème fraîche and process or beat for 1 to 2 minutes longer. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl once again, then process or beat on medium speed for 15 to 20 seconds, or until smooth and thoroughly mixed. Pour the mixture into the baked crust.
Note: I just used a Kitchen Aid handheld mixer with the ordinary mixer blades.
I also didn’t have crème fraîche so I used sour cream instead. I can’t compare the difference, but I can tell you the cake came out just as its name says, L-U-S-C-I-O-U-S.
5. Place springform pan in a deep roasting pan, and place the roasting pan on the oven rack Pour hot water into the roasting pan to reach about halfway up the sides of the cake (The water bath allows the cheesecake to bake slowly and gently, which leads to a smoother cake.)
Note: I don’t have a deep roasting pan so I used a shallow baking tray. The water hardly went up a quarter of the way. I would use a deeper roasting pan next time because this cake can never be too smooth.
6. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until the sides of the cheesecake are set and the center wobbles just a bit when the cake pan is jiggled. Turn off the oven and leave the cake in the closed oven for 1 hour longer. (This keeps the cheesecake from cracking when you remove it fro the oven.)
Note: In my impatience, I took it out of the oven immediately instead of leaving it in the closed oven for 1 hour longer. Not sure how it would have helped the cheesecake from cracking as the top had already cracked as soon as the timer went off. I don’t have a problem with cracking either as you can cover it up with berries.
7. Remove the cheesecake from the oven, and let it cool on a wire rack at room temperature for about 1 hour, then place the cheesecake in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours before serving. To serve, remove the pan sides, place the cheesecake, still on the pan bottom, on a serving plate. Slice and serve, sliding each wedge off the parchment onto a dessert plate.
Note: Refrigerating the cheesecake prior to serving is definitely critical. It firms up the cake giving it a thicker texture.
The cheesecake can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
To make the topping:
Take 3/4 of your berries and place in a bowl with a sprinkle of sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice. Lightly mash with a fork and leave to macerate, covered, in the fridge for at least an hour.
Spread over cake and top with remaining fresh berries.
If you have the time and foresight, unlike I did, I’m sure this will make your cheesecake even lovelier.
To make vanilla sugar, save your vanilla pods (like we all have these lying around! Ok, maybe you do but I sure don’t). If the pod was retrieved from a liquid, rinse and air dry it. Place it in an airtight container with about 4 cups (about 800 grams) sugar for 1 week, and the sugar will pick up the aroma of the vanilla.