Sweet, healthy, and with a hint of indulgence…the perfect dessert to launch a new year. 2013 is going to be big. I’ve got big plans, and am tapping into my gourmet side for this one. The first of the new year typically brings extreme dieting and lent-like restrictions. Nope. Not this year. Instead, I choose to celebrate with a nod to Cynthia Wong and Jenna with this light, fluffy cheesecake. I have a pet peeve: bad cheesecake. It can ruin your night. If you’re going to take the plunge on a cheesecake…it better be epic. Some cheesecakes I’ve had are too dense or sweet. Others lack flavor and prefer to stick to the roof of my mouth or fork in a sticky mass. This cheesecake is just not like that. With an irresistible tanginess, it’s the perfect finale to any meal.
Cheesecakes are a controversial bunch, but when it comes down to it, it’s really all about personal preference. Once you know cheesecake-making basics, they are actually fairly adaptable. (More lemon? Sour cream? Lemon extract? Go for it.) There is no fussy water bath involved in this recipe – although I do like using this method if I’m trying to impress someone. Like my boyfriend’s boss. Although, next time I gear up to impress with a extravagant cheesecake, I should probably make sure I’m not tempted to accidentally sweep it off the counter before catching it with my knee. I should also make sure not to claim the knee-sized dent magically appeared in the top of my perfect cheesecake while making the perilous journey from apartment, to car, to table. (It was, in my defense, still not cracked…) If you actually do want to experiment with a water bath there’s an excellent tutorial and explanation in Joy of Cooking, but there are online resources that are also insightful. In short, the bath insulates the cake pan and allows the cake to cook evenly and remain moist. It also is a sure-fire way to prevent cracking.
There are typically two types of cheesecake, cream cheese/ricotta or curd-style. Common mistakes are cracking, shrinking, and over-baking. When baking a cheesecake, be mindful not to over-mix or cool too quickly. Over-mixing causes too much air to be beaten into the batter, and it will balloon up in the oven (and eventually crack). Cooling too quickly also can cause cracking, but I’ve found that a good lemon curd does wonders for covering it up. You want to keep and even, low baking temperature. Make sure to start the cooling process when the center is still jiggly – it will not completely set until cooled. This is key: when preparing your springform pan – grease the sides. With normal cakes, you can add a decadently thick layer of icing to cover up missing chunks from incomplete greasing. Not cheesecakes. Do it…really. Please.
- 1 sleeve crushed graham crackers
- ½ cup butter, melted
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 ½ heaping cups of plain Greek yogurt
- 1 (8 oz) block of cream cheese
- 2/3 cup of sugar
- pinch of salt
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 tbs cream of tartar
- Candied Lemon Slices (Martha Stewart)
Make the crust first. Line the bottom of the pan with foil before clipping it. (This will allow you to more easily slide the cake off the pan when it’s ready for serving.) Crush the graham crackers until fine – a food processor works well – add the melted butter, sugar, and pinch of salt. Blend well. The mixture shouldn’t be dripping with butter – add more graham crackers if needed. Press the crumb mixture into the bottom of the pan, spreading evenly.
Grease the sides of the springfoam pan. In a food processor or mixer, combine the yogurt, cream cheese, eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Mix until smooth and creamy, then add cream of tartar and salt before mixing again. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake at 350 for about 35 minutes. I also put a pan of water in the over to keep the environment humid – this technique serves as my unsophisticated water bath. When the center is still jiggly, turn off the oven, crack the door with a wooden spoon (don’t be shy – you don’t want it to overcook). Allow it to cool in this fashion for about 30 min before placing on cooling racks/in the fridge.
While the cake is cooling, make the candied lemon slices. Chill the cake, top with lemon slices, and serve.
Happy New Year!