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This is a superb, versatile, 3-in-1 cheesecake recipe that the Cook's Illustrated people developed which produces three different textures depending on how it is prepared: Rich and Creamy, Light and Airy, and Dense and Firm. One is like a custard, another like a soufflé, and the last like a New York cheesecake. The water bath technique requires a bit of practice and finesse to pull off, but the results are well worth the extra effort. As with any recipe, use the best and freshest ingredients you can find for best results. Recommended: Philadelphia cream cheese, a high quality Madagascar Bourbon vanilla extract such as Nielsen-Massey, fresh eggs, dairy, and lemons. The cheesecake doesn't need a topping. This recipe appeared in "Cheesecake: One Recipe, Three Textures," in the September 1995 issue of Cook's Illustrated; I've made a couple minor changes to it. Cooking time does not include 6+ hours of cooling. You are going to love this.
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
- 3 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs
- 4 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temp
- 1 1⁄4 cups granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs, at room temp
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest or 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1⁄4 cup heavy cream
- 1⁄4 cup sour cream
- 1 pinch salt (optional)
- Rich and Creamy.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
- Set a large tea kettle of water to boil.
- Use a 9-inch springform pan. Tear off a rectangular piece of 18-inch aluminum foil, and wrap it underneath the springform bottom and fold up along sides of pan, creating a water-tight barrier. It's a good idea to use a second piece of foil to ensure water tightness.
- Inside the pan, brush bottom and sides with melted butter. Drop in crumbs, and tilt the pan around to coat bottom and sides with crumbs evenly.
- Grate teaspoon of zest off lemon. Place zest and 1/4 cup sugar in food processor and pulse until sugar turns slightly yellow, mixing its oils with sugar. If zest isn't available, just put 2 teaspoons of lemon juice in batter.
- Beat cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar and zest-sugar to cheese and beat about 3 minutes on low speed.
- Add eggs one at a time and beat until incorporated. Add vanilla extract, mix. Add heavy cream, mix. Add sour cream, mix. I usually add an optional pinch of salt. After ensuring all ingredients are mixed evenly and thoroughly, pour mixture into the prepared pan.
- Place springform pan into a roasting pan. (A disposable aluminum one works just fine.).
- Place roasting pan on middle rack in oven, securely, and pour enough boiling water to go half way up side of springform.
- Bake for 55-60 minutes. Doing the jiggle test: gently shaking the springform pan, the outside of cake will appear firm but the center will jiggle like Jell-O, and the top will not look browned, thus giving the appearance that it is underdone. But this is what you want because the hot cheesecake will continue to cook.
- Turn off oven. Use a wooden spoon to open keep the oven door ajar a couple inches in order to cool. Leave cheesecake in oven for an hour.
- Remove springform pan from roasting pan, place on rack on counter to cool to room temperature for 2-4 hours.
- Using dental floss, cut even serving slices in the cheesecake before refrigeration. The floss ensures crisp edges and doesn't stick like a knife.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight. (It always tastes better the next day.).
- The cheesecake can be refrigerated for up to 4 days, but it won't last that long--trust me.
- Light and Airy.
- Follow the above recipe, but separate the eggs. Add only yolks when instructed to add eggs. After adding creams, beat egg whites until stiff, fold into batter, and follow the rest of the instructions. Bake 45-50 minutes.
- Firm and Dense.
- Follow the above recipe, but don't use a water bath. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Bake cheesecake at 500 F for 10 minutes, then reduce temperature to 200 degrees F, and prop oven door open about 12 inches with a wooden spoon for about a minute, until temperature reduces in oven. Close oven door and bake approximately 60 minutes, until the cake jiggles in the center as above. Follow the same cooling instructions.