Dorie Greenspan is a legend in the world of baking, and for good reason. Her recipes are foolproof AND easy. The inside of this cheesecake is a version of her classic Creamy Cream Cheese Cheesecake, which bakes up lighter than air, creamy and smooth, and perfect every time. I like a good graham cracker crust, so mine is a little more substantial and includes some warm spices that play nicely with the vanilla in the filling. If you want to up the wow factor, I’ve also included a recipe at the end of this one for my dead simple 10-minute strawberry sauce.
I always make this the day before I need it– starting it after work means it’s ready to put in the fridge right around bedtime. Otherwise, you need to start pretty early with it– although your hands-on time is minimal, between the baking (1.5 hours), oven-cooling (2 hours), and chilling (minimum 3 hours) required, you need at least 6.5 hours off hands-off time. If you’re making my 10-minute strawberry sauce, it also needs a couple of hours to cool in the fridge.
Let’s get to it!
For the crust:
2 sleeves graham crackers
1 t nutmeg
1 t cinnamon
3 T sugar
4 oz. salted butter (one stick)
For the cheesecake:
4 bricks of cream cheese (32oz total), at room temperature
1 ⅓ C sugar
2 t vanilla extract or 1 t vanilla bean paste
4 jumbo eggs
⅔ C sour cream
⅔ C heavy whipping cream
Special equipment: a roasting pan, a springform pan, a disposable aluminum pan that will fit around the springform pan
Turn your oven to 350F. Add an inch or so of water to a roasting pan and place it on the center rack of your oven while it preheats. Find your springform pan and make sure it’s tightly sealed.
Put the graham crackers in a large ziplock bag and mash the $h!t out of them with a rolling pin (or a wine bottle, or your fists if you really need to release some aggression). Flip the bag a couple of times to make sure all of the crackers are getting obliterated into small crumbs. Add the sugar and spices and combine them in the bag.
Dump the bag of crumbs into your springform pan. Melt the butter in the microwave (about 45 seconds) and add it to the crumbs. Mix the crumbs together in the pan until they’re about the texture of wet sand. Push the crumbs against the sides of the pan first, then flatten the rest against the bottom.
Put your crust in the oven and set a timer for 12 minutes. You want it to be just slightly browning when you take it out. Set it aside to cool, then lower the oven temp to 325F and start mixing up your cheesecake.
Add the cream cheese to the bowl of your stand mixer and mix it on high until it’s smooth and creamy. Add the vanilla and sugar and mix again on medium for a minute or so. You don’t want to whip a ton of air into your cheesecake innards because that will make it collapse later! One of the keys to a perfect cheesecake is s l o o o w mixing.
Beat the eggs together (I shake them up in a small container), then add them about a third at a time to the cheesecake mix, mixing to combine between additions (again, not on high– just enough to combine them). Add the vanilla, sour cream, and whipping cream, and mix until just combined. (This was where I accidentally dumped a whole bunch of vanilla bean paste into my cheesecake… making it The Most Expensive Cheesecake Ever. Do as I say, not as I do, and measure out your vanilla!)
Pour the filling into your springform pan to within a centimeter or so of the top of the pan. (Mine was full all the way to the top, so I removed about a cup of batter and used it to make a tiny baby cheesecake in a little bowl.) I like to use my spatula to do a swirl pattern on top of the cheesecake before I put it in the oven– this kind of evens it out without leaving weird swooshes or drops on the top.
Usually, this is the part where you wrap the pan in aluminum foil. I’m gonna let you in on a little secret, Ray: aluminum foil sucks! No matter how well you wrap it, water always leaks in and totally ruins the crust on the cheesecake. Using a disposable foil pan means ZERO LEAKS!! Put your cheesecake in the aluminum pan, then kind of scrunch it as close to the pan as you can get it. Put the pan into the roasting pan of water in your oven and set the timer for 90 minutes.
At 90 minutes, your cheesecake should be done. If it’s brownish on top and doesn’t wiggle overly much on the edges when you jiggle it, it’s good. Turn off the oven, put a wooden spoon or spatula in the door to crack it open, and LEAVE the cheesecake in there for a couple of hours. This slow cool-down will help to keep your cheesecake from cracking.
After two hours, take the cheesecake out of the oven, and run a knife around the edge of the springform to separate the crust from the pan. This is added insurance against cracking while your cheesecake chills in the fridge. Cover the pan with aluminum foil, being careful not to touch the foil to the top of the cheesecake. Chill the cheesecake in the fridge for at least 3 hours, or overnight.
Take the cheesecake out about an hour before you plan to serve it, and lightly dab up any condensation on top with a paper towel. Serve as is, or top with fruit, caramel, chocolate sauce, whipped cream– whatever your heart desires!
Ten-Minute Strawberry Sauce
This also needs a couple of hours to chill in the fridge, so plan accordingly!
16oz strawberries (frozen or fresh)
½ C sugar
1 T corn starch
2 T water
A pinch of salt
Remove stems from strawberries if necessary, and cut any very large strawberries into smaller chunks. Add strawberries and sugar to a small saucepan. Heat on medium while you measure out the other ingredients.
Add a tablespoon of cornstarch to a couple tablespoons of water and mix with your (clean) finger until it is dissolved. Add this immediately to the pan and stir.
Zest and juice your lemon half. Add the zest to the strawberries.
After about 5 minutes, start smashing some of the strawberries with a spatula or spoon as you stir. When you’ve smashed about half the berries, you can stop smashing and just stir a few times more, for a total of another 5 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and the lemon juice, and stir to combine. Remove from heat and scrape into a heat-proof bowl or container. After about 15 minutes, cover and put the container in the fridge for at least two hours.
Serve with the cheesecake, or use on top of ice cream, as strawberry shortcake topping, or stirred into yogurt!