Monday, January 10, 2011

Cheesecake and Chili

Cheesecake is a lot like chili. We all have our favorite ways of making these classics. Our way, the right way, the only way. The cheesecake has to be baked in a hot water bath, or it has to have a sour cream topping. Or the chili has to have beans, or three kinds of beans.

A lot of us like to play with our food though. My husband fondly (I think it’s fondly) accuses me of never making chili exactly the same way twice. He’s right. I use what I have. No green pepper? Use red. No kidney beans. Cannellini are great. Just variations on a theme. (I’ve yet to make a white chili, though. That’s next.)

Same with cheesecakes. Sometimes I’ve used cookie crumbs for a crust instead of graham crackers. Some mascarpone with the cream cheese. Or ricotta.  Add chocolate. Or peanut butter. Or maple syrup.

I made a pumpkin cheesecake over the holidays. Seemed appropriate, being the holidays and all. I wasn’t exactly sent over the moon with it, but it was okay. Good, not great. And even though my husband ate two pieces, he whispered to me, “Stick with your regular one.”

The “regular” one is a very good one and has been my tried and true for many a year. The only variation I regularly entertain to that version is adding a little kirsch to the blueberry topping I sometimes make.

But last weekend, at my brother-in-law’s fifty-something birthday bash, my sister made what has to be hands down, bar none, no exceptions -- catching my drift here? -- T-H-E world’s best cheesecake. The texture was creamy, but still firm. Sweet but not drippingly so. The crust, perfectly crunchy and buttery.

Like me, my sister has stuck with the same recipe for years. While I landed on mine (from a now-defunct restaurant called Peter’s Pub in New Hampshire) by chance, her pick had the blessing of thousands, tens of thousands, of Bon Appétit readers. In the first ever  Bon Appetit reader survey in 1998, readers said they liked the magazine’s desserts best and the dish most got excited about was cheesecake. So the editors developed a brand-new recipe for this classic. And it’s been my sister’s "go to" recipe ever since.

I went back to my stained recipe to compare and found mine had no flour, no sour cream topping, no lemon juice, one less egg, same amount of cream cheese, and my crust recipe called for melted butter and cinnamon and my filling also had 1/2 pound butter. Interesting how sometimes, especially with baking, a few changes make all the difference.

I haven’t made this version yet, but believe me, I will. Right after white chili.

What’s your favorite cheesecake?

Strawberry-topped Cheesecake

From Bon Appétit 1998 Reader Survey Issue

Begin preparing this a day before serving.  Makes 12 servings.

20 whole graham crackers (10 ounces total), broken
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) chilled unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup packed golden brown sugar

4 8 ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
A pinch of salt
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 large eggs

2 cups sour cream
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

2 16 ounce baskets fresh strawberries, hulled
1 18 ounce jar raspberry jelly

For Crust: Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Wrap foil around outside of 10-inch diameter springform pan with 3-inch high sides. Combine graham crackers, butter and sugar in processor. Using off/on switch, blend until crumbs begin to stick together. Press crumbs onto bottom and 2 ¾ inches up sides of springform pan. Bake crust 10 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool while preparing filling. Maintain oven temperature.

For Filling: Beat cream cheese, sugar, lemon juice, vanilla and salt in large bowl until very smooth. Beat in flour. Add eggs and beat just until blended, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl. Pour batter into crust.

Bake cheesecake until outer 2-inch edge of cake is puffed and slightly cracked, center is just set and top in brown in spots, about 55 minutes. Transfer cake to rack. Cool ten minutes. Maintain oven temperature.

For Topping: Whisk sour cream, sugar and vanilla in medium bowl to blend. Spoon topping over cake, spreading to edge of pan. Bake until topping is just set, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven. Run knife between crust and pan.

Cool hot cake in pan on rack. Chill overnight.

Release pan sides from cheesecake. Arrange whole berries, point side up, atop cheesecake; cover completely. Stir jelly in small saucepan over medium-low heat until melted. Cool to barely lukewarm, about 5 minutes. Brush enough jelly over berries to glaze generously, allowing some to drip between berries. Reserve remaining glaze in saucepan. (Cake and glaze can be prepared 6 hours ahead. Cover cake and refrigerate.)

Rewarm remaining glaze until pourable. Cut cake into wedges. Pass remaining glaze separately.


  1. Wow! Those berries are calling to me! Can't wait to try it, I know I'll get to at some point ;) Can't wait to see how the white chili turns out. I've never tried that either.

  2. Oh my goodness this looks wonderful!We just got a new spring form pan and what a great way to break it in. Thanks for the recipe!

  3. You mean you're supposed to make chili the same every time? Really? I do my cheesecakes like that - try a different recipe each time. In the summer, I like it berry-laced (and am fond of sour cream topping)and then sometimes I like chocolate and other time amaretto and now the only one I will crave (until I make it) is yours!

  4. Hi Rosemary, Thanks for your lovely comments on my blog. You made me smile too. I recognise the comment your husband made after scoffing two slices of your pumpkin cheesecake - I have one of those husbands too - I think what they mean is "Honey, this is fantastic, but the one you usually make is even more fantastic."

    I have never made a baked cheesecake but your tale of two cheesecakes has inspired me to give your recipe a go! I'll let you know how I get on.

  5. Fun take on cheesecakes. I have to admit - I have never made a cheesecake. I am not a dessert-maker and certainly not a huge cheesecake fan but even I can appreciate THE best cheesecake in the world!

  6. Krista, Alicia, Claudia, Hester, Dimah and Andra -- Thanks for stopping by and commenting . . . would you believe I'm making a cheesecake right now?!?! A friend is having a birthday (cheesecake screams "celebration" to me) and she likes chocolate and peanut butter desserts. So, a chocolate and peanut butter cheesecake it is! My first. I sure hope she likes it!

  7. You are so right! People swear by their cheesecake recipes. Unfortunately, I've yet to settle on one...the cakes I've made have always left a bit to be desired. Maybe this recipe will be the one for me! Thanks for sharing, sweet girl. Eat well tomorrow!

  8. I love cheesecake have stuck to the same one for over 30 years now, I guess its what you get use to Monet... This one sure looks amazing! Love the photo its gorgeous!

  9. That sounds like a wonderful cheesecake! I hate to admit my recipe came off of the Philly cream cheese box....and lately I rarely make the same one anymore, blame it on blogging I guess....I do love ricotta and marsacapone too! As for chili, I don't eat beef so turkey or chicken chili for me

  10. Rosemary-What a gorgeous strawberry topped cheesecake. I happen to have the same exact recipe for the cheesecake, except it also calls for 1/3 cup of heavy cream in the batter.
    Your stacked up strawberry topping sure beats my carefully lined up pieces the way I top my cake.
    If you gonna use the prettiest strawberries, as on your cheesecake, then mind as well "flaunt" those beautiful berries!
    Great job!...Superb!

  11. Ok I am dying, this cheesecake is drop dead gorgeous!!! My mom has a great cheesecake recipe, but hers never looks that beautiful (and while we all know good looks arent everything, well, they count for something!). You have convinced me to try this recipe!


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