I love New York. I love Cheesecake. It is so simple, what’s there not to love about New York Cheesecake? I had the best cheesecake in New York (of course), and it just strengthened my love for cheesecake and the city.
In all of my baking and cooking life, I have tried cheesecakes many times, both baked and non-baked.
Non-baked cheesecake can taste good and look good easily but it is not as rich and indulgent as a baked cheesecake. For non-baked, I have tried with gelatin as the gelling agent, as well as with whipped up heavy cream. I prefer the latter method, which stiffens up with the help of the whipped cream being folded into the cheese mixture. The whipped cream helps it hold it’s shape, but of course, not super firm, like a pie filling. Recipe can be found here.
For baked cheesecakes, it tasted good every time, but it hardly looked good. The texture and appearance was always off and I just resigned to the fact that perhaps my oven wasn’t professional grade. When baking it in round full cakes, it often failed in appearance, so most of the time I chose to make them individual in cupcake liners. But ultimately, I want a full whole New York Cheesecake so I never gave up!
I’ve had my fair share of burnt top cheesecake, cracked top cheesecake, loose texture cheesecake, sunken top cheesecake, curdled cheesecake, overcooked cheesecake… in all these cases the taste was still on point but that’s not good enough. I wanted a perfectly smooth, flat and evenly coloured surface cheesecake which was creamy inside.
After many years of failures, I finally realised what areas went wrong and this time, I got my ideal New York Cheesecake! In fact, it didn’t take more complicated steps to get that perfect formula. It just took a good understanding of what as going on. Baking is in fact, an intellectual activity.
Things to note:
- Cream cheese has to be creamy and of good quality to begin with. Whole cake texture and taste depends on this. I tried Cow Head’s cream cheese because it was cheaper, but in the first place the texture was loose and clumpy. Kraft Philadelphia is more expensive but is creamy and good. Use that.
- Never use spreadable cream cheese – those contains oil to make it spreadable. Pure cream cheese comes in blocks.
- Beat the cream cheese thoroughly to get creamy consistency, so it can be fully incorporated to the ingredients which are added later. After adding eggs and cream, so not beat too much because introducing air will cause bubbles and that’s not desirable.
- A bit of flour/ starch will not change the taste but will make the cake slightly firmer. If a mousse like cheesecake isn’t what you want, add some.
- When making the biscuit base, do not use low fat biscuit. It will be hard and dry. Use original McVities Digestives for best results, and press it down nicely, but not too compactly. You do not want a base that is too hard. A hard base will disconnect from your cheesecake when cutting it.
- For no cracks on surface, always use a water bath when baking, and wrap your springform pan with heavy duty aluminium foil at least TWICE. With only one layer, water might seep in and make your biscuit soggy.
- The oven temperature has to be low and baking time has to be long. Setting a high temperature will burn the cake. Bake on the lower rack of your oven so the top doesn’t get brown too quickly.
- Don’t bother with the skewer test to determined if cheesecake is done. At the end of baking, it should not be entirely cooked. The center should still be molten. Letting it stay in the oven (heat turned off) for an extra hour will allow it to slowly cook even more and after chilling, the whole cake will be finally set.
After wising up and experimenting with recipes, here’s my best version.
Hungry Bird’s New York Cheesecake
Makes one 7″ cake
- 500g cream cheese (2 blocks of Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese)
- 170g heavy cream + juice of half a lemon (or 170g sour cream)
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- A pinch of salt
- 150g sugar
- 1 tbsp plain flour
- 130g crushed digestive biscuits
- 35g melted salted butter
- 1 tbsp sugar
- A sprinkle of ground cinnamon (optional)
- Heat 35g butter in microwave oven until just melted. (2 or 3 reps of 10 seconds)
- Pour melted butter into a bowl of finely crushed digestive biscuits.
- Add sugar, salt and cinnamon. Mix well.
- Pour crumbs into a 7″ springform pan, and flatten it gently with the back of a spoon until quite compact. It should be around 1cm in height.
- Bake at 175 deg C for 10 minutes on the second lowest rack of the oven (I have 5 layers).
- Remove from oven and allow to cool fully. (I popped it in the freezer for a bit to speed things up.)
- Bring all cheese batter ingredients to room temperature as much as possible.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, add cream cheese, cut into smaller blocks. Using a paddle attachment (or whisk if that’s all you have), mix until cheese becomes creamy and soft, around 4 minutes. Add in sugar and mix for another 4 minutes or until fully mixed in.
- Add salt, vanilla extract and beat. Add eggs one by one and beat after each addition, not for too long – only till just nicely mixed. Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl to make sure no bits of cheese is missed.
- Allow heavy cream with lemon juice to stand for around 10 minutes. Cream will appear to have thicken up, and mix in until homogeneous. (You can also use sour cream instead).
- Use a spatula to gently press out excess air from the batter.
- Wrap the outsides of the springform pan tightly with heavy duty aluminium foil, all the way up. Wrap a second layer.
- Pour cheese batter into the wrapped pan. Pop any air bubbles you see on surface with a toothpick.
- Preheat the oven to 165 deg C.
- When oven temperature is reached, create a water bath – place the wrapped pan in a deep oven tray and place it on the second lowest level of oven. Gently pour hot water into the deep oven tray until at least halfway the height of the springform pan.
- Bake for 90 minutes. After 90 minutes, the cake should be still molten inside. Turn off oven and use an oven glove to keep the door ajar. Use the remaining heat to slowly cook the cheesecake for another 60 minutes.
- Remove cake from oven. Peel off the aluminium foil. Chill cheesecake in fridge for at least 4 hours or best overnight.
- If necessary, use an offset spatula to release the sides of the cheesecake. To serve, use a sharp knife dipped in hot water and slice when the cake is cold. Serve chilled.
I don’t know how many times I’ve attempted cheesecake – I estimate it to be around 15 – 20 times, and for the first time I achieved what I wanted in a cheesecake! And I really think it is better than most versions I’ve tried in Singapore – but in the first place, most of the cheesecakes sold in Singapore aren’t that fantastic to begin with. It is not difficult to figure why – the ingredients cost for cheesecake will be high if you want to make a really good one, and it can’t be compromised. Compromising on good ingredients leads to second grade products and I guess most retailers choose this option for more profit.
If you do not wish to eat second grade cheesecake, try making this at home! The ingredients cost for this is around $17, but it’s worth every cent and effort involved.