New York Style Cheesecake

Summer is a time of fun and if you're lucky, family time. That's one of my favorite parts of any holiday, getting to spend time with my fam. Time passes far too quickly for my liking, and so I soak up all the moments I can.

For the Fourth of July this year, my family had plans to knock out an airboat ride in the morning (gator observing is a must-do as a Floridian), then spend the afternoon grilling out. We had beautiful weather predicted for the beginning part of the day, so the plan was perfect. I just had to figure out what I was bringing (do I need to tell you that it had to be a dessert?).



I am one of those people who keeps baking ingredients on hand. No, it's not that I live so far from the grocery store that I am required to drive "to town" to buy sugar when I need it, but I grew up with basic baking components around and so I have a cabinet dedicated to my main ingredients. I can say with great certainty that if you come to my house and I don't have flour, something is wrong. Bring me more. This means that for a large number of possible baking choices, I have the majority of what I need.

When it comes an upcoming occasion and me trying to decide what to bake, I rely on the decision making process I do in most aspects of my life. Half is rational, taking into account preferences, allergies, and other factors (Are we doing a picnic? Better plan for something that can sit out.). The other half is relying on my gut to steer me in the right direction, like a little angel on my shoulder or maybe a rat tugging my hair under my chef hat. I keep an ongoing list of "to do" food items that I'll glance at if needed. I don't really recall where the cheesecake epiphany came from, but it happened and now here we are.

The first time I tried to make a Junior's style cheesecake, things went awry. I first had this cake up in New York about two years ago when I went for work. I had already chowed down on a hamburger (and man, was that a good hamburger), but couldn't turn down some legitimate NY style, freshly made cheesecake. And I am glad I didn't. Creamy! Smooth! Soft cake base! It was everything I knew a cheesecake could be. I needed it in my life again.

Shortly after, I tried a recipe, one that I am unsure the source or details of now. But the cake base rose so much in the oven that there was no place for any actual cheesecake. So I had to use a cake slicer to cut it in half and make 2 cakes. The filling was good, but I was left unimpressed. I needed round 2.

And so this is that second fight, Emily vs NY Cheesecake. I had my boxing gloves on and wasn't going down easy.

It started with the eggs. I placed them in a mixing bowl with some sugar and beat the mixture until it became a thick, light yellow colored mixture. In a separate bowl, I sifted together the dry ingredients: cake flour, baking powder, and salt. I mixed the vanilla into the egg yolk mixture, then gradually added the dry portion, mixing it in with a spoon until a uniform batter appeared. So far this was sounding like a standard cake recipe, but with egg whites.


The mixture was one I had never seen with a batter before; it was very thick and reminded me of a recipe from WAY back when - General Tso's Chicken. The batter for it is made of cornstarch and is so thick that the chicken sinks in like quicksand. I am amazed at the difference egg whites can make in a recipe (and obviously other factors, like a higher quantity of eggs). It's cool to see different cake styles.

Once I had the flour mixture combined with the egg yolks, I stirred in the melted butter and moved the mixture from the original mixing bowl into a smaller one. I needed my Kitchenaid again, so I had to steal my bowl back.


Returning to my freshly cleaned mixing bowl, I whipped the egg whites with some lemon juice until they had stiff peaks. A.k.a. once I pulled the beater out and a little ghost character formed where the beater came from, I knew we were good to go. The lemon juice replaced cream of tartar to stabilize the egg whites and keep them from sinking.


I stirred some of the egg whites into the yolk mixture, then folded in the rest.


I poured the batter into a buttered springform pan and cooked it for roughly 10 minutes, until the center bounced back when touched.


To make the cheesecake filling, I beat together a portion of the cream cheese, cornstarch, and some of the sugar until it was smooth. I used half Greek yogurt instead of  all cream cheese because it makes a great swap for a lot of recipes. In general, I'm a big fan of Greek yogurt, have added it into countless recipes. I also added the remaining sugar and eggs, then beat the batter until it was smooth. Finally, I added the vanilla bean paste and half and half. The recipe I used called for heavy cream, but I used half and half and cut back on the quantity. The Greek yogurt had plenty of moisture in it, so I knew I would be on that front.


After baking for an hour, the cake was a lovely golden brown.


Depending on the depth of the cake pan, there may be extra batter. In my case, I decided to make a second cheesecake with which I used a more traditional crust. Well, I say more traditional, but what I really mean is that I crushed a handful of vanilla wafers I had in the pantry and some quick cooking oats and made a crust in a pan by melting butter and pressing it all together. And that's how you make a crust on the fly. This one obviously came out more like the cheesecake I have traditionally known and loved with the graham cracker crust.


Being that the top of the cake cracked, I upgraded the whole bit and made some whipped cream. I'm sure you can already tell that there was plenty of sugar in the recipe, so I just whipped the cream and added a small amount of vanilla before spreading it on the top. And last but not least, being that this was an Independence Day cake, topped it all off with cherries and blueberries.


Pretty lil' thing.



I put forth a lot of effort in lining those berries up! *pats self on back* But just like with people, looks don't tell me what's on the inside. After sitting overnight in the fridge, the filling had firmed up and created a rich and smooth cake. Despite the changes of Greek yogurt and half and half, the thickness was impeccable. But the crust. THE CRUST. I can see why people say NY cheesecake is the best; because it is. The texture of the cake and filling go so well together, as the simple cake batter lets the cheesecake shine. This is a must try for any cheesecake fan. The oatmeal crust actually worked out quite good, too - I'll save that concept in the memory bank for later. The fam was pleased at my baked offering, so I'll call this one a success.



New York Style Cheesecake Recipe

Ingredients:

Cake base:
1/2 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, separated
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
3 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

Cheesecake topping:
2 packages cream cheese (8 ounces each)
2 cups Greek yogurt
1 2/3 cups sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
2 large eggs
1/3 cup half and half

Instructions:

For the cake base:
Heat the oven to 350 F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Sift cake flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl. In a large stand mixing bowl, add egg yolks and beat on high speed for about 3 minutes. Slowly add sugar, mixing as you add. Beat for 3-5 minutes longer until the mixture is thick and canary yellow colored, then mix in vanilla. Use a spoon to gradually mix the flour mixture in until combined, then stir in the butter. In a separate mixing bowl, beat the egg whites and lemon juice together on high until stiff peaks form. Stir about 1/3 of the egg whites into the batter, then gently fold in the remaining whites. Add the batter to the cake pan and bake for about 10 minutes, until it is no longer liquid in the center and gently pressing the bottom of a spoon in the center of the cake until the center bounces back. Set aside to cool.

For the cream cheese topping:
Add one package of the cream cheese, 1/3 cup of sugar, and the cornstarch into a mixing bowl and beat on high until the mixture is creamy. Add the remaining cream cheese and Greek yogurt and continue beating, then add the remaining sugar and vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Mix in the half and half. Gently spread the batter over the cake layer, leaving at least 1/2" of space above the top of the cream cheese for the cake to rise. Bake for 1 hour, until the edges are lightly browned and the center is no longer liquid. Allow cake to cool, then refrigerate until cold. Top with whipped cream if desired.

adapted from juniors famous cheesecake

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