Enjoy An Indulgence This Christmas – Bake Your Own Cheesecake
By Jarett C. Bies, Avera Public Relations
When you truly want to wow your family, tell them you’re bringing a cheesecake.
Yes, cookies and cakes and brownies all are more popular and common – but slice for delicious slice, it’s really hard to top the dream-like creaminess of a real-deal, from-scratch cheesecake. It can be an intimidating dessert to make, but it’s not necessarily much harder than a traditional cake and needs less fuss than a pie crust or elaborate tart.
These tips and recipes can get you going on your own creation for Christmas, and while a cream cheese-filled delicacy like this is certainly more of a splurging specialty, ‘tis the season for sharing – and you can always cut your slice nice and small so as not to overdo it during a celebration of Christ’s birth.
Tips For Homemade Cheesecake:
Pan Precision: Yes, you’ll need a springform pan to make authentic cheesecake, and if you’re getting your first, aim for a 9- or 10-inch one as they seem to be most versatile and compatible with the most recipes. Invest in parchment paper as well, as it’ll save time and headaches when you’re removing the cake from the pan. Bonus: You can use the same pan for other dishes – including lasagna. Like most things in the kitchen: invest in a nicer one that’ll last versus an easy-bending cheap one that will eventually give you heartache.
Hot and Humid: You’ll need two pans to make a good cheesecake: the springform for the cake itself and another baking sheet with raised edges below it filled with water. Cheesecakes do best in a humid oven. Some recipes call for wrapping the springform in tinfoil and putting the cake into the water; putting the water-filled pan on a rack below the cake works good, too. It also helps catch butter than can drip out as the crust bakes.
You Can Do It! Create a Crust: If you have a food processor, some cookies or graham crackers and some butter, you can make your own crust, which is among the most important parts of a honest-to-goodness from-scratch cake. So don’t buy the processed ready-made crusts – just give yourself some extra time and do it from scratch. Pro tip: If your crust’s a little dry, add tiny (one tablespoon) portions of water to make it moist. Squeeze a small handful and if it remains together – it’s ready.
Whip it Good: Take your cream cheese out of the fridge the morning before you bake – give it time to get to room temperature – and put it in a stand-mixer with paddle attachment and whip it by itself for several minutes, pausing to scrape down the sides. You want that key ingredient to be as smooth and air-whipped as possible, so don’t rush the cheese. Extra time when you add the sugar and other ingredients is good, too. Remember: add the eggs last and then the flavoring, such as melted chocolate.
Extras Not to Forget: Cheese and sugar are the basic two components of a cheesecake, but many recipes also call for about a teaspoon of salt (to create flavor contrast) as well as a bit of gluten from 2-3 tablespoons of white flour. Sour cream is also a key – about 1/3 cup will add a certain something that really helps the cake taste “right” – but of course follow your recipe’s guidelines.
Endurance is Important: Bake your cake at about 350 degrees F for 20 minutes to set the top, then reduce the oven temperature to about 320 (open the door!) and let it continue baking for about 35-45 minutes more. If you see faint cracks on the top, you’ll know it’s time to shut off the oven and leave the cake in there.
Patience pays off – as you’ll need to, in many cases, leave the cake in the oven for up to an hour after the oven is shut off. If you rush the process and remove the cake before its internal baking finishes, the center could collapse and make for a still-yummy but not-as-pretty finished project. Go about an hour baking, about 30-45 minutes with the oven off, perhaps another 30 minutes with the oven door ajar and then take the cake to a cooling rack.
After about a half-hour on the rack, put it in the refrigerator overnight. A great cheesecake should be served nice and cold – it’ll taste better and be much easier to cut with a warm, wet knife.
Time consuming project? Oh yes, but it’s worth it when you see those smiling faces around the Christmas treat table digging into your treasure.
Marble Pumpkin Cheesecake
Makes one 10-inch cheesecake
- 1 sleeve (four to a package) graham crackers
- ¾ box (14 ounce) ginger snap cookies (reserve remaining cookies for topping, if desired)
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 ½ sticks of unsalted butter
- 4 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
- ¾ cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup sour cream
- 1 can (16 ounce) pumpkin (do not use pumpkin pie filling – just pumpkin)
- 4 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, or a combination of ¼ teaspoons of ground ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice.
- Using a food processor, combine cookies and crackers, along with sugar and cinnamon and process until fine crumbs appear. Pour dry crumbs into large bowl.
- Melt butter and pour it into crumbs and combine until cohesive crust dough forms. You can add tiny (one teaspoon at a time) amounts of water if the dough is too dry.
- Coat sides and bottom of a springform pan with non-stick cooking spray; line the bottom of a springform pan with parchment paper, making sure to spray both sides of the paper.
- Build the crust in the pan, starting with the bottom crust and then building the sides onto the bottom crust. You should have enough crust to make a 1- to 1½-inch side crust around the pan. Put crust in refrigerator and begin making filling.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and place a baking sheet with raised edges on lower rack. Cheesecake will go on center rack above this baking sheet. Fill baking sheet with water.
- Place four packages of room-temp cream cheese into bowl of stand mixer with paddle attachment. Mix well, stopping frequently to scrape the sides and bottom of bowl with rubber scraper.
- Add sugar and continue mixing with stops to scrape. Then add flour and sour cream and mix until consistent. Be patient and thorough in mixing.
- Add eggs, one at a time, mixing carefully and scraping sides of bowl. Once all are added, mix in vanilla.
- Remove about ¾ cup of filling from the bowl and set aside. It’ll be used for the marble pattern on the cake.
- Add can of pumpkin to filling and mix thoroughly, and then pour into crust.
- Pour lines of “white” cheesecake filling across the top of the cake. Using a sharp knife, create a design by pulling the knife across the orange and white lines.
- Bake the cake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees F, then open oven door and reduce temperature to 320 degrees F. Bake about 35-50 minutes more or until tiny cracks appear in the cake’s top edges.
- Shut off oven and let cake remain in oven for about 30 minutes. You can prop the door open slightly with a wooden spoon after about 20 minutes. It’s a patience test, but important to let the cake finish baking throughout its volume.
- Remove cake from oven and cool on wire rack for about 1 hour, then transfer to refrigerator. Let cool in fridge overnight or for at least four hours.
- Carefully remove sides from cake pan and transfer to serving platter or plate. You can carefully remove the bottom of pan as well, since you used parchment paper.
- Makes about 16 slices; use a wet knife to cut the cake and if you’re looking to make the slices as precise as problem, re-wet the knife each time. You can also freeze the cake briefly before cutting or for up to a week if you’re not going to enjoy it right away.