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For creamy cheesecake – bake it low and slow

Becky Krystal

THE WASHINGTON POST – What makes a good cheesecake? Is it tall and fluffy, or dense and creamy? What’s the right balance of sweet and tangy? Can you make it without a water bath? Is it fast or foolproof? Does it really have to be made in a springform pan?

I had to ask myself all these questions and more when I started researching and testing (and testing and testing) what ultimately became this Overnight New York-Style Cheesecake recipe. Developing recipes requires more introspection than you might think, but also often a hefty amount of exchange with others.

If folks like me are going to be real, the attribution on a recipe would read more like movie credits and less like a single line, thanks to everyone who answers my questions, edits and tests my recipes, styles the food and takes the photographs, just to name a few parts of the process.

Way back in 1996, cookbook author Andrew Schloss published in The Washington Post several recipes using a low-and-slow baking method, in which the cheesecakes bake in a 200-degree oven for six to eight hours.

This eliminates the need for a water bath, which is designed to keep the batter below the temperature at which water boils (212 degrees), to prevent a cracked, grainy cheesecake. At 200 degrees, that risk is moot. Many recipes instruct you to pull out a cheesecake once it registers 150 degrees, but in testing the low-and-slow method, I never found that the cake got higher than around 180 degrees (the temperature at which custards set). And I got nothing but a still gently wobbly cheesecake that set to perfection after cooling and chilling. To me, the trade-off in time – almost all of it hands off – was well worth the end result.

I tweaked almost all the ingredients in Schloss’s original cheesecake to achieve dessert that is rich and creamy with a lightened texture just this side of fluffy. Instead of relying only on cream cheese, I swapped in some heavy cream and sour cream for an ethereal filling which a fork glides through like a hot knife through butter.

Overnight New York-Style Cheesecake. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

OVERNIGHT NEW YORK-STYLE CHEESECAKE

Active time: 30 minutes | Total time: six hours 30 minutes, plus cooling time

16 to 20 servings (makes one nine-inch cake)

Make Ahead: The cheesecake needs six to eight hours to bake, plus an overnight chill, so it’s best made one day in advance.

Storage Notes: The cheesecake can be covered and refrigerated for up to five days.

INGREDIENTS
For the crust
– Two tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more, softened, for greasing the pan
– Three-and-a-half (100 grammes) chocolate wafers or graham crackers (from about 15 wafers or seven graham crackers)
– One tablespoon granulated sugar

For the filling
– One-and-a-half pounds (three packages/680 grammes) full-fat cream cheese, preferably Philadelphia brand, at soft room temperature
– One cup (200 grammes) granulated sugar
– One cup (240 milliliters) heavy cream, at room temperature
– Half cup (113 grammes) sour cream, at room temperature
– Four large eggs, at room temperature
– One tablespoon vanilla extract
– One tablespoon fresh lemon juice

DIRECTIONS
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 200 degrees. Generously grease the bottom and sides of a nine-inch round springform cake pan, with softened butter.

Cut out a circle of parchment and use it to line the bottom of the pan, if desired (this is especially helpful if you want to be able to easily remove the cake from a pan with a recessed base, as opposed to a pedestal-style). Set the pan on a large, rimmed baking sheet to catch any leaks and to help move the pan in and out of the oven.

Make the crust: In the bowl of a food processor with a capacity of at least seven cups (1.7 liters), process the chocolate wafers or graham crackers and granulated sugar until combined, about 30 seconds. Add the melted butter and process until the crumbs are damp, about 30 seconds more, stopping to scrape down the sides and check for dry crumbs.

Transfer the crumbs to the prepared pan and, using your fingers or the bottom of a dry measuring cup, press firmly into the bottom of the pan and about 1/4 inch up the sides.

Make the filling: Wipe out, rinse and dry the food processor bowl. In the bowl, combine the cream cheese, sugar, heavy cream, sour cream, eggs, vanilla and lemon juice.

Process until the mixture is smooth, one to two minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and to check for lumps of cream cheese.

Remove the bowl from the processor base and scrape down the sides one more time.

Pour the cream cheese mixture into the prepared pan. If you see a lot of bubbles on top, gently pop them with a fork or knife tip.

Transfer the pan with the baking sheet under it to the oven and bake for six to eight hours. The cake will still jiggle slightly when shaken, the top will range from fairly pale to light golden, and the surface should be free of cracks, though you may have a few small air bubbles.

An instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the cake should reach at least 150 degrees and no more than 200 degrees (it will probably be somewhere around 180 degrees).

Transfer the cake pan to a wire rack and cool until barely warm, 90 minutes to two hours.

During this time, the cake should pull away from the sides of the pan. If not, address any stuck areas by running a small butter knife around the edges. Transfer to the refrigerator to cool at least overnight, covering after the first few hours.

When ready to serve, remove the sides of the pan from the cake. If desired, slide the chilled cake directly onto a serving platter using a large cake or offset spatula (this is simpler if you’ve used a pan with a pedestal-style base).

If you’ve lined the pan with parchment, slide a long knife between the cake and the parchment paper.

Pull out the parchment and place the cake on a serving plate. You can also serve the cake from the base of any style of springform pan. Cut with a long, sharp knife dipped in warm water to prevent sticking.

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