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(Almost) Classic New York Cheesecake

I can't write this post without first paying tribute to the fascinating history behind this iconic dessert.

Cheesecake has been around pretty much since humans discovered the wonderful world of dairy. There is even evidence that Greece produced a type of cheesecake made with cheese, wheat and honey, way back in 2,000 B.C. Cheesecake, in some form, is a global part of culinary history.

If everyone has been making cheesecake forever, what makes New York cheesecake so special?

In the year 1872, William A. Lawrence, a New York dairy farmer, tried to recreate his own version of the classic French cheese known as Neufchatel. He may not have figured out Neufchatel that day, but his little experiment led to one of the most rock star culinary inventions in U.S. history: Philadelphia Cream Cheese. (Ironically not actually from Philadelphia).

There’s probably an important moral somewhere in there about kitchen fails leading to great discoveries.

For a few decades, people hadn’t successfully put two and two together and they completely overlooked the potential love connection between the newly invented Philadelphia Cream Cheese, and their dry, curd-style cheesecake. That is, until Arnold Reuben came to town. Reuben was a German restaurateur living in New York. (Not to mention the inventor of the Reuben Sandwich). He was said to be served his first “cheese pie” at a dinner party in New York. Allegedly, he was so intrigued by it that he went to the drawing board and invented the New York Cheesecake we all know and love today.

Traditional New York Cheesecake is creamy, smooth, and doesn’t have any fruit toppings to distract from its original flavor, which is rich and has just a slight citrus tang and, in all honesty, doesn't need anything else.

Graham crackers were invented long before cream cheese was, so the original New York Cheesecake almost certainly had a graham cracker crust. Graham crackers are hard to find here in Mexico, and I’ve discovered that a classic Pâte Sucrée (Sweet Tart Dough) works so beautifully in this recipe, that I actually prefer it.

Pâte Sucrée (Sweet Tart Dough) Ingredients:

1 ½ c. (188 gr) flour

½ c. (56 gr) powdered sugar

½ tsp. salt

1 stick + 1 Tbsp (130 gr) butter (cold, chopped into cubes)

2 egg yolks

Cheesecake filling Ingredients:

800 gr. Philadelphia Cream Cheese, softened

1 ½ cups (300 gr) granulated sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Zest of 1 lemon

1 ½ tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

4 large eggs + 1 yolk

1 ½ teaspoon vanilla (preferably clear)

200 ml sour cream

Directions, Crust:

Preheat oven to 350°F / 176°C. Blend the dry ingredients together. With a pastry cutter; fork; or two butter knives, cut the butter into the dry ingredients till crumbly. (This can also be done in a Cuisinart, pulsing twice).

Stir the egg yolk into the mixture and knead the dough, by hand, just until incorporated. Be careful not to overmix your dough to keep it tender and flaky.

Press half the dough into the bottom of a 9”/22 cm springform pan (I prefer to work with a still unassembled pan at this point). Bake 6-8 minutes, or till golden brown around the edges.

Let the base cool to room temperature. Assemble the sides of your springform pan and press the remaining dough into the edge / sides of the pan. Freeze while preparing the cheesecake filling.

Directions, Filling:

Increase heat to 425°F / 218°C.

Beat the cream cheese, sugar, flour and lemon zest with the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, until smooth. Switch to the whisk attachment. Add the eggs, yolks, lemon juice, vanilla and sour cream. Blend for 5 seconds on low. Scrape the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Repeat once to ensure thorough mixing, making sure to scrape the bottom very well.

Wrap the bottom of your springform pan in foil, to catch any butter drips.

Pour the filling into the frozen crust. Bake at 425°F / 218°C for 10 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 230°F / 110°C and bake for an additional 40-50 minutes. Fully baked cheesecake will still have a slight wobble when you shake the pan, and the center will have puffed slightly. Turn off the oven, and let the cheesecake cool, in the oven, with the door slightly open, for two hours. Cover the cooled cheesecake in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for a bare minimum of 8 hours, but preferably overnight. (Cheesecake cures over time and goes from good to great the next day).

Baked cheesecake keeps, covered and refrigerated, for up to 1 week.

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