This weekend, I needed New York cheesecake. I craved it’s tall, creamy filling and crisp graham-crackery crust. I wanted it chilled and topped with tart fruit. I wanted to eat it with my feet soaking in Lucy’s kiddie pool, my sunglasses on and a glass of iced tea by my side. Trouble is, I don’t live in New York. And the most tolerable version I’ve found comes from a grocer who was out of stock. So I braved my 80° kitchen and set out to make my own version.
I’m terribly picky when it comes to cheesecake. For starters, it can’t contain any nuts in the crust—I don’t want a toothy crunch, although I’m okay with a small amount of hazelnuts crushed on top. It can’t use marscapone or ricotta or any other cheese other than cream cheese (marscapone seems to make it saggy, ricotta creates a grainy filling). It can’t be flavored, except for optional toppings. If it contains any amount of almond extract I will throw it out the window of a moving vehicle. But I suppose that goes for any baked good in my life—almond extract is my kryptonite.
So after much research and many recipes read, I was prepped and ready to make this version from Smitten Kitchen. It looked perfect: cream cheese only, a straight-up graham cracker crust, and a no-nonsense baking method that didn’t require a water bath. The only thing that could mess it up was me. And I did a superior job of fouling up this cheesecake.
I preface my follies by saying that the filling was simply perfect. Creamy and not at all fluffy. Dense but smooth. Cold, rich, and lightly (lightly) enhanced with the scent of lemon. For the topping, I used some sour cherries that I had left over in the freezer from this incredible pie and simply upped the sugar by 1/4 cup.
My troubles came with the crust. Deb’s recipe calls for 8 ounces of graham crumbs, and I had a fresh, unopened bag of 14.5 ounces. I thought I could estimate by simply pouring in a little over half of the bag. I overdid it and ended up with a bad graham crumb to butter ratio. It made the crust a bit too dry, harder to pry from the sides of the pan, and more prone to overcooking.
My other trouble was the spring-form pan I was using. For the most part, I adore my dark, nonstick bakeware. It generally allows you to shorten the baking time on most recipes. But on a few rare occasions I have cursed it and attempted to run it over with my Toyota. This was one of those occasions. The crust cooked more quickly than the filling, so I ended up with a perfectly baked filling and a burned crust. I could also blame my wonky electric oven, but a cheesecake pan is simply much easier to crush under the wheels of your car.
Crust issues aside, this cheesecake was unimaginably good. I will be making it again, over and over, to get it right. I hesitantly served it at our outdoor movie night to our best pals, where it was well received (after I warned folk to avoid the burned bits of crust). Deb, thank you for your perfect recipe. Self, try not to eff it up next time.
You can find the recipe for Smitten Kitchen’s New York Cheesecake right here.
A few notes:
- Use real graham crackers and a food processor. Don’t try to estimate ounces from a store-bought bag of graham crumbs (*kicks self in shin*).
- If you use sour cherries for the topping, add an additional 1/4 cup sugar to the recipe. I cooked mine from frozen and they turned out just fine.
- I omitted the orange zest and used slightly less lemon zest than called for, and I could still definitely taste the lemon. If you don’t like the hint of citrus, omit the zest(s).