Classic Lemon-Vanilla Cheesecake

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This is probably my new go-to recipe for cheesecake, perfect texture and a nice flavor with a touch of lemon. I made this for a birthday party and failed to read the instructions about letting it chill for at least 6 hours in the fridge, so instead of making it the day before, I was pulling it out of the oven an hour and a half before the party. This was a mistake. The cheesecake had a terrible texture – severely lacking in that dense, creamy texture that is so vital to a good cheesecake. However, we had a few slices left over and I put them in the fridge and ate them the next day, and let me tell you, what had once been a weird, cottage-cheesey cheesecake turned into something smooth and delicious. So, learn from my mistake and give yourself plenty of time to thoroughly chill the cheesecake.

Classic Lemon-Vanilla Cheesecake from The All-American Dessert Book by Nancy Baggett

Crust:
About 7 whole graham crackers, coarsely broken
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1-3 teaspoons water, if needed

Filling:
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 pounds cream cheese (four 8-ounce packages), at room temperature
7 large eggs
Very finely grated zest and juice of 1 medium lemon
2 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Sour Cream Topping:
1 ½ cups sour cream
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and another in the lower third, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease a 9- to 9 ½-inch spring-form pan (at least 2 ¾ inches deep) or generously coat with nonstick spray.

To Make the Crust:
In a food processor, grind the graham crackers to very fine crumbs; you should have a generous 1 cup. Add the butter and vanilla and process, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice, for 1 minute, or until the mixture begins to hold together. If it seems very dry, gradually add the water, a teaspoon at a time, processing a little longer. Press the crumbs evenly and firmly into the bottom (not the sides) of the pan. Wipe any stray crumbs from the pan sides. Bake for 8 to 13 minutes, or until fragrant and nicely browned. Transfer to a wire rack.

To Make the Filling:
Reset the oven to 325 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine the sugar and cream cheese. Using a mixer, beat on medium-low speed for 4 to 6 minutes, or until very smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then the lemon zest and juice and the vanilla. Continue beating on medium-low speed until well blended, 2 to 3 minutes longer, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Turn out the filling into the crust, spreading it evenly to the edges. Rap the pan on the counter several times to release any air bubbles. Set the cheesecake on a rimmed baking sheet. Place a roasting pan (or broiler pan) on the lower oven rack, directly under the cheesecake, and add ¾ inch hot water. Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F and continue baking for 55 to 75 minutes longer, or until the filling barely jiggles in the center when the pan is shaken.

Meanwhile, to Make the Topping:
In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream, sugar, and vanilla until well blended. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and spread the topping evenly over the surface. Bake for about 5 minutes longer, just until the topping looks melted and smooth.

Transfer the cheesecake to a wire rack. Let stand for 10 minutes. Carefully run a paring knife around the cheesecake to loosen it from the pan sides; this helps prevent it from cracking. Let cool completely, at least 1 ½ hours. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or until thoroughly chilled.

At serving time, remove the pan sides. Serve the cheesecake directly from the pan bottom. It slices best with a large sharp knife dipped in hot water and wiped clean between cuts.

The cheesecake will keep, covered airtight, in the refrigerator for 5 or 6 days, although the crust will gradually lose its crispness after a day or so.

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