Saturday, September 11, 2010

New York Cheesecake

Junior's is a Brooklyn landmark, home of the quintessential NY style cheesecake.  I recently heard that Junior's is having a recipe contest in honor of its 60h anniversary. Reading about it jogged my memory of a mini-competition I had with my then across-the-street neighbor years ago.  She was Italian.  Very Italian.  Everything she cooked was Italian.  I think she didn't even know what a french fry was, she was so Italian (the importance of this fact will become apparent later).

Anyway, one day I was chatting on the sidewalk with said neighbor when the conversation somehow turned to cheesecake. I don't recall the exact words exchanged, but it went something like this:

"I make a really good cheesecake!"

"Really?  MY cheesecake is the best!"

"Yeah?  How many bricks of cream cheese do you use?

"Bricks?  Cream cheese? What are you talking about?  Ricotta is the only cheese in a good cheesecake."

"Ricotta????  What kind of cheesecake has ricotta in it?"

"What?  An Italian cheesecake, of course."  (see, I told you it was important).

"Really ... never heard of a ricotta cheesecake.  Only cream cheese ones ..."

So with that, we returned to our respective homes to make our respective versions of the best cheesecake in the whole wide world.

Next day, with slices of cheesecake on plates and forks in hand, we met in the street.  Literally.  In the middle of the street.  If there were a double line, we would have been standing on it.  And proceeded to sample each other's wares.

So it was then decided .... on that day ... that very day ... that we each only liked our own cheesecake.  It seems that if you are used to NY style, Italian style is strange.  And if you are used to Italian style, NY style is strange.  No harm, no foul.

Below is my version of a Junior's New York style cheesecake.  No fruit or sour cream topping.  No chocolate or other added flavoring.  No fancy-schmancy jazzing up.  Just basic and plain, yet incredibly delicious cheesecake.  In my humble opinion.

Except instead of the sponge crust, I use a standard old run-of-the-mill graham cracker crust.  To me, only graham cracker crust can adorn a cheesecake.  Sorry Junior's.  This is where we part company.  Other than this slight heresy change, it is the very same Junior's recipe found on many sites, including WABC.

Disclaimer 1:  this cheesecake has never won any of the bake-offs held at the various places at which I have ever been employed.  I. Don't. Care.  Much.

Disclaimer 2:  it will lay at the bottom of your stomach for at least a day before migrating permanently to your hip area.  But nonetheless, you will smile as you slice off another sliver for yourself.

If, despite all your precautions the top splits anyway and you were planning to serve it in your Sukkah (or at a Hadassah meeting), then you have my permission to dump spoon canned cherries or blueberries on top to hide it.

Junior's Cheesecake
adapted from several morning show sites
makes one 9 inch cheesecake, 12-16 servings

Cooking spray
1 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs (see yesterday's post on how to convert graham crackers to crumbs)
4 Tbl. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 Tbl. sugar

4 bricks (8 ozs. each) cream cheese (regular-style only), room temperature
1 2/3 cups sugar, divided
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 Tbl. vanilla extract
2 extra-large eggs
3/4 cup heavy cream

Lightly spray the bottom and sides a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray.  In a small bowl, mix together graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and sugar.  Pour crumbs into spring-form pan, pressing evenly into bottom and slightly up sides (using the back of a spoon or mini-ladle helps).  Place in refrigerator while continuing recipe.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Place one 8-ounce package of the cream cheese, 1/3 cup of the sugar, and the cornstarch in a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on low until creamy, about 3 minutes, then beat in the remaining 3 packages of cream cheese on low.

Increase the mixer speed to high and beat in the remaining 1 1/3 cups of sugar, then beat in the vanilla.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating the batter well after adding each one. Mix in the heavy cream just until completely blended.  Avoid overmixing.

Gently spoon the cheese filling on top of the graham cracker crust. Place the spring-form pan in a large shallow pan containing hot water that comes about 1 inch up the sides of the pan (if your spring-form pan isn't watertight, wrap bottom and sides of spring-form pan with foil). Bake the cheesecake at 350F until the center barely jiggles when you shake the pan, about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Shut off oven, prop open door 6 inches and leave cheesecake in oven another 2 hours (this helps prevent the large crack that can form if the cheesecake cools too quickly).  Then remove from oven, remove foil if used, then cover the cake still in spring-form pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate until completely cold, at least 4 hours or overnight.

Remove the sides of the spring-form pan. Use table knife to gently loosen cheesecake from removable bottom of pan.  Slide cheesecake onto a serving plate. Or simply leave it on pan bottom and place it on a serving plate (which is what I do if/when the crust refuses to separate from bottom).

Cover leftover cheesecake with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.

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