Legend has it that New York City's Turf Restaurant in the 1920s created what we now call New York cheesecake, a rich, creamy dessert. Unlike poured cheesecakes that are simply refrigerated, the New York style is baked slowly in an oven at low temperatures. But the right ingredients and proper baking techniques can make the difference between a luscious, dense dessert and a cracked, gummy disaster.
Start With the Right Ingredients
Traditional New York cheesecake is made with cream cheese, although other cheeses such as Neufchatel, cottage cheese, fromage blanc or mascarpone can also be used. Most recipes call for a large number of eggs, sour cream, granulated white sugar, a little lemon juice and vanilla and a cookie crumb crust. For best results, don't skimp on lower-fat or less expensive ingredients, and bring the ingredients to room temperature 30 minutes before baking -- an hour for the cream cheese -- to avoid lumps.
Assembling the Masterpiece
Unlike other types of cake, cheesecakes only need light beating. The cheese is creamed until fluffy, and then the other ingredients are added, with the eggs mixed in one at a time. The bowl can be scraped once, but only once, not even when pouring the batter. The usual pan for baking New York cheesecakes is a springform pan. If lined with greased parchment paper on the bottom and around the sides, the cake will be easy to remove. The pre-mixed, chilled cookie crust is molded in the bottom first and then the batter poured on top.
Don't Bake a Mistake
The eggs in a cheesecake can overcook, turn grainy and constrict during cooling, causing unsightly cracks in the cake. One way to avoid this is to wrap the bottom of the springform pan in aluminum foil, place the pan in a larger roasting pan, then fill the roasting pan with water until it reaches halfway up the springform cake pan. The other trick to a perfect, uncracked New York cheesecake is to bake the cake at 500 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes and then at 200 F for 90 minutes. For a moister, creamier cake, turn off the heat when the center is still loose and let the cake cool in the oven with the door open for 30 minutes.
The Finishing Touch
Cool the cheesecake completely in the springform pan on a rack. Don't cover the cake or it will develop a soggy top, and wait to add toppings no sooner than one to two hours before serving. The most traditional New York cheesecake toppings are strawberry, blueberry, chocolate and caramel, but for a different taste, try a pineapple or cherry glaze, caramelized apples or blood oranges mixed with orange liqueur. To cut the cheesecake, dip a knife in warm water, wiping it dry before slicing each piece.
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