She’s on stage with her husband, Chef Michael Olson, doing a cooking demo at Deerhurst Resort in Ontario. This is part of the Muskoka resort’s inaugural Twas the Month Before event—a weekend of workshops on holiday cooking, crafting and design, with a whole lot of eating thrown in—training for the impending December pig-out, if you will.
I’m in the audience taking detailed notes. Confession: I’ve only ever made one kind of cheesecake: the no-bake one my mum used to make. The recipe was from the back of the cream cheese box. Time to take things up a notch with Anna’s tall-sided, vanilla-scented New York cheesecake with its sour cream and red fruit topping.
Before we get to the recipe, some crucial tips:
♥ When you’re making the crust, turn the bottom of the springform pan lip-side down. This creates a nice flat surface to run your spatula across, making it easier to remove the cheesecake base once it’s baked.
♥ Don’t try and create a crust with high sides; the goal is to make a solid and elegant flat base along the bottom of the tin.
♥ “The Graham cracker base is made of whole wheat and honey, so if you want to call it nutritious go right ahead,” says Anna. To create a gluten-free version, switch the Graham crackers for quinoa flour and double the sugar.
♥ When you’re buying the cream cheese, always go for the brick. Softened cream cheese from a tub will not give you a cheesecake that holds.
♥ When you’re whipping the filling, use a paddle attachment, not a whisk, because you want it to come out smooth not aerated. If you whisk, this adds too much air, and the filling will expand in the oven, then retract as it cools, creating cracks.
♥ Add the sugar just a little at a time. Add lemon zest to compliment the natural tanginess of the cheesecake, but don’t overdo it. “It should not smack of lemon, you’re just building clean, simple flavour,” says Michael. Introduce cornstarch to keep the mix homogenous.
♥ Try Nielsen Massey vanilla. “It has a beautiful aroma,” Anna says, “and it’s concentrated, so you can use less.” Anna uses the all-purpose bourbon Madagascar vanilla for our demo, but also likes Tahitian for its delicate flavour, or vanilla bean paste, because the seeds create beautiful flecks.
♥ Cheesecake filling is essentially custard, and as such needs gentle treatment. Slow down your mixer when adding eggs, as they like to hold volume. This prevents cracking.
♥ The last ingredient you add is sour cream. It’s important to buy the full-fat kind. “You can’t use low fat, as the gelatines and starches turn to water when heated,” explains Anna. What can that create? Cracks!
♥ To be precise in your baking, invest in an oven thermometer. Oven can have variations, and may be fluctuating between 375 and 325 degrees Fahrenheit, then calling it 350.
♥ If a cheesecake filling contains a lot of eggs, sometimes it’s done in a water bath. This one is not, so it’s important the oven is preheated to 400 F to cook right to the centre from the start. The heat should be reduced after ten minutes. For the last half hour, the oven door is opened a crack (the good kind), and during this time, the cheesecake will be setting from the outside in.
♥ A little browning on the top is OK, because after it’s baked, Anna’s cheesecake gets a sour cream topping. And if in spite of your best efforts, you ended up with a little crack (Maybe you were cooking in a drunken stupor?), you can simply hide it under that sour cream topping too.
♥ Once the cheesecake comes out of the oven, you have to let it cool slowly. Don’t put it in the fridge, or it will crack. “This is not a project to start at 11 at night,” warns Anna.
♥ As a last insurance, run a spatula ever-so-carefully around edge of cheesecake, to loosen it while its still warm.
♥ And before you bring the cheesecake to the table, you can also top it with a little fresh fruit or non-drippy compote. Exquisite!
If you try this baby, please let us know how you get on. Did you manage to keep it crack-free this holiday season?
- 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for greasing the pan
- 4 packages 250 gram packages of cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1¼ cup + 2 Tbsp sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
- 3 large whole eggs
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 ½ cups sour cream (not low-fat), divided
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- For the crust, stir the graham crumbs, sugar and melted butter until evenly combined and press this into the bottom of an ungreased 9-inch springform pan. Bake this for 10 minutes, then cool. Brush the sides of the pan with a little melted butter.
- For the cheesecake, increase the oven temperature to 400 F. Beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add the 1 ¼ cups of sugar a little at a time, and scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl often. Beat in the cornstarch, vanilla and lemon zest. Beat in the eggs one at a time, on a lower speed, and scraping after each addition, then beat in the yolk. Still on low speed, beat in ¾ cup of sour cream. Scrape this over the cooled crust.
- Bake the cheesecake for 10 minutes at 400 F and then reduce the oven temperature to 225 F and bake for 25 more minutes. Turn off the oven, and leave the cheesecake in for an hour, cracking the oven door after 30 minutes. While the cheesecake is baking, prepare the sour cream layer.
- Stir the remaining ¾ cup of sour cream with the remaining 2 Tbsp of sugar and the lemon juice. Spread this over the top of the cheesecake as soon as it has come out of the oven. Allow the cheesecake to cool completely to room temperature, then carefully run a spatula around the outside of the cheesecake to loosen it from the pan, then chill the cheesecake for at least 6 hours before slicing and serving.
- The cheesecake will keep, refrigerated, for up to 4 days.