If I had to pick my favorite dessert of all time, hands down it’s Cheesecake. You see, Cheesecake is truly the royal cake of all desserts. It takes time, effort, patience, a lot of love, and some more patience to get that melt-in-your-mouth velvety, creamy outcome. It is a prized dessert reserved only for the most special of occasions and is likely to illicit numerous wows from the entire party, if executed to perfection.
But what exactly is Cheesecake?
Basically it’s sugar, eggs, and a lot of cream cheese baked on a base of crushed biscuits. And yet, somehow, this exact combination of three ingredients (give or take a few more) tastes divine. And is super intimidating for anyone who hasn’t attempted homemade cheesecake. Because, you know, it’s cheesecake!
I’m no stranger to screwing up a simple 5 ingredient dessert.
I baked my first cheesecake at the age of 14 in a disposable aluminum baking pan (shock, horror!) that was too wide to hold the cake, and as soon as that cheesecake came out of the oven the baking pan collapsed from the sheer weight of all that cheese, and sent half of it to the floor. Not good.
Did I mention that it was cracked in the center too? Seriously, not good.
After a moment of silence to mourn the forever irretrievable half of my cheesecake that was not meant to be, I obliviously dug into the other half (and even served it to my hungry girlfriends), not waiting for it to cool off (you know, those 12 hours in the fridge as per the recipe). It was that good! And just like that, I fell in love with homemade cheesecake.
Over the years I became known as the “Cheesecake girl” among family and friends. I was on a mission to make a sure-fire, awesome cheesecake that would be great for a fancy family dinner, or a pity party of one. A recipe that would not intimidate even the beginner chef (such as myself at the age of 14) because seriously good cheesecake should be available to all, irrespective of age and experience in the kitchen.
I tried too many recipes to recount here. There were cappuccino cheesecakes, chocolate cheesecakes, banana and espresso cheesecakes, mango cheesecakes, strawberry cheesecakes to name but a few. And they were all great, don’t get me wrong, but what I craved most was a really feel good, no fuss, no water bath, plain ol’ cheesecake. No extra bells and whistles.
The basic cheesecake that tasted great in its simplest form, but also one that could be transformed into something more fancy on a whim.
And then, after much searching, I finally found it.
3 packages of cream cheese, 4 eggs, 1 cup sugar, vanilla extract, 1 pound sour cream, and a crumb crust is all you need to make what might become your go-to cheesecake recipe of all time.
Always start by making the crust. You can use any biscuits you like, from chocolate wafers and ginger snaps to graham crackers. I believe less is more, so for a really simple version of this cheesecake I like to go with graham crackers. Of course in Greece and in Australia (I’ve been told), graham crackers don’t exist. The best alternative I have found so far for the crust bears the name “Marie” biscuits (ironically available both in Greece and Australia). Throw the biscuits, melted butter, sugar, and a pinch of salt in a blender. Then spread out evenly onto the bottom of a 24cm/9” springform pan.
And speaking of springform pans. One awesome trick for cheesecake is to invert the bottom before clipping on the sides. And always use baking paper to line the bottom of the springform pan. Cut a square roughly the size of your pan and clip it into the sides. It really helps when trying to remove the cheesecake once it’s baked and cooled and catches any drips from the unbaked cheesecake when you pour in the batter!
To make the cheese part of the cheesecake, always beat your cream cheese (Philadelphia always works best) until light and fluffy using a mixer on medium speed. Then add eggs, one at a time, followed by sugar and vanilla. Make sure to scrape down all sides until everything is well incorporated and the batter looks like a big bowl of soup.
Did I mention that this recipe doesn’t call for a water bath? Yes, no water bath is needed! And you’ll never need to deal with a cracked cheesecake. Seriously.
Pour the batter over the prepared crumb crust and stick it in the oven.
Wait for 45 minutes or until the cheesecake is set about 9cm/3” from the edges. I usually gauge the distance using my thumb and pointing finger. If you move the cheesecake slightly it will wobble in the middle but stay firm on the sides. It’s a lot easier than it sounds. If you’re not sure, just leave it in for 45 minutes and don’t measure or wobble anything. It’s ready for the next step.
Let the cheesecake cool for about 5 minutes on a wire rack while you mix 1 pound of sour cream with a tablespoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Put dollops of the mixture all over the cheesecake and spread it evenly. This topping gives the cheesecake a really refined, velvety, creamy finish. Could you replace the sour cream with yogurt? Go ahead and try it. It produces a slightly more cheesy finish but it works. And if you want to bypass this step, that’s fine too. Just bake your cheesecake an additional 5 minutes, or until the center is set and you’ll never need to worry about adding sour cream to the recipe.
If, however, you do end up adding the sour cream topping (and I can’t live without my sour cream topping), bake an additional 10 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and as soon as you do, run a knife around the edges. This will stop it from cracking in the middle because the sides tend to pull at the cheesecake making it crack. Cool the cake completely on a wire rack as it will continue to set as it cools. Cover loosely and refrigerate in the pan for at least 6 hours, but overnight works best. I usually make this cheesecake the night before and just pop it out of the fridge when company arrives. Always bring the cheesecake to room temperature before serving for optimal results!
Basic Baked Cheesecake Recipe
Special equipment: 24cm/9” baking pan
710gr packaged cream cheese (about 24oz)
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup plus 1 tbs sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
453gr sour cream/plain yogurt if desired (about 1 pound)
135gr biscuits of your choice (graham crackers/Marie biscuits, gingersnaps/chocolate wafers)
5 tbs melted butter
75gr sugar (about ⅓ cup)
Pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 180C/350F.
Combine all crumb crust ingredients in a blender until all biscuits are finely ground and mixed evenly with the rest of the ingredients. Invert the bottom of the springform pan, line with baking paper, and snap the sides into place. Spray pan with butter or non-stick oil. Press the crumb crust evenly into the pan, making sure you press along the sides as well to catch the cheesecake batter.
Using an electric mixer, beat 710gr Philadelphia cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, followed by 1 cup sugar and 1tsp vanilla extract. Pour mixture into the prepared crumb crust in the pan. Bake about 45 minutes, or until cheesecake is set about 9cm/3” from the edges but the center is still wobbly.
Place cheesecake on wire rack to cool slightly for 5 minutes, and in the meantime mix 453gr sour cream with 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Spread dollops of this mixture all over the cheesecake, then spread evenly and place back in the oven. Bake 10 more minutes.
Remove cheesecake from the oven, run a knife around the edges, and cool completely on a wire rack. Cover loosely and cool in the fridge for a minimum of 6 hours.
Remove from pan and let cheesecake reach room temperature before serving.
The cheesecake keeps in the fridge for up to 3 days.