I have been making the cakes for H’s birthday pretty much since the beginning of our marriage. Early on she requested novelty cakes in the shape of caterpillars, dragonflies and cuttlefish, but for the last few years, she’s made requests for my famous New York style cheesecake. The recipe is an old one my Mom used to make and she was generous enough to share it with me some years ago, but it is largely the same cheesecake form that any New York style sour cream based cheesecake would take. It has been modified somewhat in the preparation through the addition of optional vanilla or chocolate and the cooking process has been modified through the use of a water bath I learned about thanks to Alton Brown‘s Food Network show Good Eats.

The recipe itself comes in two parts, a crust and the filling comprised of wet and dry ingredients and is relatively straightforward to make if you treat a cheesecake as a custard of sorts. For ease of release, I suggest using a 9 inch springform pan lined with parchment paper and brushed with butter.

10 ounces or 36 graham cracker squares, crushed/crumbled (You can also use 10 oz of Oreo Cookies minus the filling if you want a cloyingly sweet crust and don’t mind trans-fats).
4 ounces or 1 stick of melted, unsalted butter.
1 tablespoon sugar.

Dry ingredients:
20 ounces or 2.5 bricks of 8 ounce cream cheese (I prefer Philadelphia brand brick cream cheese)
1.25 cups sour cream
1 cup sugar

Wet ingredients:
2 whole eggs
3 egg yolks
.33 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Optional: 2 vanilla beans
Optional: 2 ounces high quality unsweetened baking chocolate (I prefer Sharffen Berger)

Precut your parchment to fit the springform pan with a circle at the bottom and a strip running around the side. Brush some of the melted butter around a 9 by 3-inch springform pan and adhere parchment to the bottom and the sides. Coat the other side of the parchment with butter to ensure an easy release after cooking. Alternatively, and perhaps more conveniently, use a non-stick cooking spray like Pam which works rather well.

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F and in a mixing bowl, combine the crumbled graham crackers, the melted butter, and the tablespoon of sugar. Mix well then with the bottom of a glass or just the palm of your hand, pack .66 of the mixture into the bottom of the parchment-lined springform pan. Place the other third of the crumbs that you will use to decorate the sides of your cheesecake on a sheet pan and place both the crust in the springform pan and the crumbs on the sheet pan in the oven for 10 minutes to bake. When done, turn your oven down to 250 F.

Using a hand mixer, prepare the dry portion of your filling by smoothing out the sour cream with a brief mix, then add in the bricks of cream cheese and sugar and mix on low to start incorporating the ingredients and then turn up to medium to smooth out all the chunks.

In a separate mixing bowl prepare the wet component of the filling by combining the vanilla, eggs, egg yolks, and heavy cream. You can opt for a basic sour cream cheesecake here or add in the optional vanilla bean or chocolate to the wet component before mixing the wet and dry components of your filling together. If you want a vanilla cheesecake, cut open two vanilla beans with a sharp knife, then scrape out the seeds with the back of a knife and add into the wet component of your filling. If rather than vanilla, it is chocolate that turns you on, prepare a double boiler by simply placing a metal mixing bowl on top of a pot of boiling water and melt down 2 ounces of high quality unsweetened baking chocolate then add into the wet component of your filling. Also note that other options are possible including fruit or even pureed pumpkin for a fall themed cheesecake. I should also note that through a scientific sampling (i.e. keeping track over the years) there is almost a 50/50 preference for the chocolate vs. vanilla cheesecake with a slightly, but statistically significant edge for the vanilla.

Whatever your choice (standard, vanilla or chocolate), with your mixer on medium, slowly combine the liquid component into the dry component of your filling. Once you have completely combined the wet and dry components of your filling into a homogeneous mixture, pour it into the cooled crust.

A couple of notes about the waterbath: 1) Even the best quality springform pans can leak water when placed into a water bath. To ensure that the crust does not get waterlogged, wrap aluminum foil around the base of the springform pan to ensure a watertight cheesecake. 2) Make sure that you do not overfill the water bath so that it will overflow when you place the cheesecake in. I also typically place a bar towel into the water bath to prevent it from sliding around when moving the cake into or out of the oven and *be careful*. When ready, place the cheesecake into a preheated water bath in your 250 F oven and cook for 1.5-2 hours. Cooking time will vary with ovens, and if you have a convection oven, you may be able to decrease your cooking time significantly. At the end of the cooking phase, turn the oven off, but leave the cheesecake in the water bath for another hour. When all cooking time is complete, remove the cheesecake from the water bath and place in the refrigerator overnight to completely cool before serving.

When ready to serve, press the remaining crumbled graham crackers into the sides of the cake and slice by placing your knife blade into a hot water bath and wipe dry prior to each cut you make through the cake.

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