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Boring Old Cheesecake
The building block of awesome
I know. It’s really poor form for a food blogger to post a recipe and call it boring. It’s equally bold to grab a free stock photo of cheesecake and plop it at the top of the post. I just want to warn you that I’m not a food blogger. Well, not the kind you’re used to, anyway. I am, however, an easily distracted writer who routinely thinks “I should have taken progress pictures of this recipe.”
It’s also worth noting that I don’t bake plain cheesecake very often. This recipe is more like the foundation for all the cheesecakes I do bake, and if you can nail this down, you can do a whole lot more. It’s a blank canvas with which to experiment to your heart’s content. This recipe opens a bunch of doors—if you’re brave enough to take some risks.
The key to this particularly lawless adventure is a solid foundation, and that foundation comes in the form of a thoroughly boring cheesecake filling that I pulled from the internet. I mean, I doctored it a little bit. The original recipe used sour cream at some point, which is a truly horrific idea that you should never subject yourself to.
I remember seeing the recipe and thinking, “Hey, this looks pretty easy.” Now, most people would probably lead with that—take the low hanging fruit and call it a win. I’m not a smart man. So, naturally, I grabbed some dark chocolate chips and a jar of raspberry preserves, and went full Leeeeroy Jenkins into the kitchen.
Don’t do that. I got lucky. No. Strike that. If I’m being perfectly honest, I think God pulled a few strings and saved my reckless butt because I was trying to impress the woman who eventually agreed to marry me.
Ugh. Look at me doing that food blogger thing I hate so much. You’re here for the recipe, not my life story.
16 oz cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup of sugar
I know what you’re thinking. “Mike, those look an awful lot like measurements…” You’re right, of course, but look at that list. Most of these are easy. Can you count? Good. Count the eggs. You need 2. Next up is the cream cheese. It comes in 8 oz blocks. Count to 2. We’ll cover the harder bits later.
Step One: Mix All the Things
Before you do anything else, let the cream cheese and the eggs warm up a bit. Don’t put the cheese in the microwave. That’s a terrible idea, and it will not work the way you expect it to. Trust me. Just leave it all on the counter for a little bit and let it soften up. Apparently that helps it mix better.
Just uh…don’t let it sit out too long or you’ll spend an unfortunate amount of time scraping cheese off of that foil wrapper they package it in. It’ll get all over your hands, and you’ll be totally grossed out by that. Or is that just me?
Anyway. Put everything into a reasonably sized mixing bowl. If the bowl is too big, it’s going to be hard to mix, but if it’s too small, you’re going to make a mess. Obviously neither of those things has ever happened to me.
I should clarify that I’m operating under the assumption that you knew to crack the eggs and that you didn’t just plop two entire uncracked eggs into a pile of room temperature cream cheese. If you did, fish them out, crack them, and then for the love of all that is pure and true, throw the shells in the garbage. Do not put them back in the carton.
This is the tricky part. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably have trouble finding a 1/2 cup measuring cup. My wife (the good baker in this house) has like 3 sets of measuring cups. They’re designed to stack. She knows this. However, for some anarchist reason I do not understand, she just sort of lobs the cups into a drawer in our kitchen, and we end up with this chaotic void of cups and spoons, and you can never find the one you’re looking for (It doesn’t even fit in the sugar jar anyway).
You need to improvise, ok? If you can get your hands on a half cup, then good for you. Life is easy. If it’s a quarter cup, then use that and put two scoops of sugar into the bowl with your cheese and eggs. If you get stuck with a 1/3 cup (as I so often do), then remember that 1/2 cup is somewhere between 1/3 and 2/3 cups, so use your best judgement. I think it’s exactly 1.5 1/3 cups, but if your cups are even remotely cone shaped, filling your second scoop half way will not be easy, so uh, proceed with caution.
Finally, we have the the vanilla. Grab a teaspoon, and hold it over the bowl. Squeeze a few drops of vanilla extract into the spoon, and then dump it in the bowl. You’ll probably overdo it a little bit, and it will probably get all over your hands. The cake will be fine. Probably. Don’t lick your fingers, though. In addition to being unsanitary, it tastes terrible. Consider yourself warned.
Time to start mixing. You can use a stand mixer if that’s your jam. I did for a long time, but recently, I gave it a go with my wife’s hand mixer, and let me tell you that thing has horse power. If you’ve ever been on Rockin’ Roller Coaster, then you know what I’m talking about.
The first time I turned this thing on, I splattered sugary cream cheese all over the side of my fridge, but once I tamed the wild beast, it proved to be a far superior option. Ultimately all you need to do is just keep mixing until everything comes together in one, uniform consistency. If you can still see lumps, keep going.
When you’re done, it’s going to be somewhere between cake batter and cookie dough. Probably closer to cake batter. I don’t bake either of those that often, so I’m going off of memory here, ok?
If you can run a spatula through it without pulling a muscle and pour it into a pie crust, then it’s probably ready. If it’s too thick, then you probably grabbed the flour instead of the sugar because you got distracted and switched to a pound cake recipe mid-prep.
That’s another one of those “just me” scenarios, isn’t it?
Step Two: Be a Quitter
That was harsh. I didn’t need to come on that strong. I apologize. The truth is, at this point, you have in your possession a very solid, albeit a very boring cheesecake filling. You could grab a premade crust from the grocery store, pour this crazy concoction into it and call it a day.
If that sounds like you, and you’ve accepted that you have no sense of adventure, then go ahead and post-heat your oven to 350 degrees.
Yes, I said “post-heat.” I am fully aware that this is not a thing, but I don’t think there’s a technical term for “turn your oven on now because you forgot to turn it on until you were ready to put something inside it.”
Once the oven is warmed up, bake your boring, run of the mill cheesecake for somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes. You’ll know it’s done if you grab the pan and give it a little shake. There should be just a little bit of jiggle to it. I would describe it as “slightly more solid than Jello,” which is a purely scientific term.
Avoid the Cracks
Cheesecakes crack in the oven. Apparently this is like a huge deal, and anyone who’s anyone in this business will ugly cry if they get cracks in their cheesecake.
If you’re one of those people, or if you just want to have a pretty picture for your Instagram or whatever the kids are doing these days, put your cheesecake in a water bath.
What is a water bath? The short answer is witchcraft. Basically, you get a bigger pan, and you put a little bit of hot water in it. Like 1 inch or so. Then you put the cheesecake in the water. There’s probably some science here about the steady transfer of heat or something like that. I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t care. The important thing is that it works, and your cake will look beautiful when it’s done.
Pro Tip: If you’re using a springform pan, please remember that it keeps your pie together, but it’s definitely not airtight. Wrap the bottom of the pan in foil—enough that the top of the foil is above the water line. If you don’t, you’re going to get all kinds of water into your crust, and you’ll end up with this nasty paste when it’s all done (again – definitely not speaking from experience here).
Step Three: Cool It
This is totally on brand, but, uh, when I first posted the recipe, I may have forgotten to tell you what to do after you pull the finished cake out of the oven. Whoops.
Pull the pan out of the oven, and let it cool on the stove for a while. I usually pull it out of the water bath right away—especially if I’m using a springform pan.
This is a tricky maneuver, though, because everything is hot. The cake is hot, the water is hot, and the pans are hot. Naturally, I am deathly afraid of burning myself, so I've developed a fool-proof solution to accomplish this next step (Or maybe it’s foolish. I dunno. It works. That's the important thing).
It involves some heavy-duty oven mits, a large pancake flipper, and a shocking amount of finesse that I don’t usually have. I'll spare you the details.
Anyway, let the pie sit (uncovered) until it reaches about room temperature. At that point, cover it, and put it in the freezer to set the rest of the way. Let it chill for at least 4 hours (I usually let it go overnight).
Step Four: Serve it Up
How you serve it is ultimately up to you. Personally, I like my cheesecake frozen, but some folks prefer a slightly less “break your teeth" consistency, so gauge the audience, and plan accordingly.
Pull it out of the freezer and let it sit on the counter to warm up. If you’re aiming for frozen slices, 5 minutes is probably enough time, but if you prefer it a little softer, then give it closer to 15 minutes.
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