The Trouble With Cheesecake

Recipe from Transcript

The Food Gallery

    Good evening and welcome again to the food gallery. Tonight we stroll my favorite exhibit, Heartbreak Hall. Here we house those recipes, which despite lavishings of time, attention and money tend to bite the hand of those that make them: Beef Wellington, the soufflé, bouillabaisse. My that doesn't look very good, does it? And of course, tonight's featured dish of doom, the cheesecake. Oh, I know, those luscious lovelies that so often populate the pages of the popular press are seductive. But all too often reality is not.
    Does it have to be this way? Indeed some say yes. Some argue that this is simply nature taking its course. I say, no. I say that with the right ingredients and some reliable science, cheesecake will not only be beautiful, it'll be ... [takes a bite of cheesecake that's handed to him, smiles knowingly and walks off].

The Kitchen Table

GUEST: The King (Elvis)

    I'd be willing to bet that 9 out of 10 cheesecake failures stem from the fact that cooks expect cheesecake to act like cake. Why wouldn't they? After all it is cheese-cake. But suppose that we could ask for an impartial analysis from someone who'd never even heard of cheesecake. Say, for instance an alien making his first trip to planet earth. [camera pans to Elvis] That does explain a few things, doesn't it?

AB: Um, King. What's that?
TK: That there is pie.

    Pie. See what I mean?

AB: What kind of pie would you say?
TK: Huunh. That would require further analysis.
AB: Well, please be my guest.
TK: [takes pie and we hear slurping, burping sounds as if pie is eaten in one bite] Seeing as how the structural matrix is composed of egg proteins I'd say that's a [sniff] custard pie.

AB: Custard pie. Thank you. Thank you very much.
TK: [vanishes]

    The King has left the planet.
    Think about it. Aside, of course, from the crust a basic cheesecake only contains some sugar, vanilla, eggs and dairy. It's a custard no matter how you cut it. In fact the only real difference between a cheese cake and a cream pie is that most of the dairy of acheesecake comes in the form of a soft, smooth, tangy, cow's milk cheese containing no less than 33 percent milk fat and no more than 55 percent moisture known far and wide as cream cheese.

Cream cheese was created in 1872 by a New York dairyman
attempting to recreate a soft, unripened cheese called Neufchâtel.

    Now I also like to use a little whipping cream and some sour cream to up the tanginess and to soften the batter. Softer batter, richer cake. And since the cheese is a little on the bricky- side right now, I'm going to keep all this on the counter for a few minutes to warm up. Meanwhile, we'll talk pans.

The original cream cheese was "Philadelphia"
because Philly was the hot food town of the time.

    A cheesecaker has two pans to choose from. You can use a solid one-piece pan with high walls, say, that's about 3 inches. Or you can go with a spring form pan which isn't really a pan at all. Just a metal collar that locks around a flat disk bottom. I really like these [spring form pans] for savory cheesecakes but when it comes to sweet cheesecakes, I go with the one piece. Why a different pan? Patience grasshopper. Of course, peak performance is predicated on proper pan preparation.
    You know, anybody that owns more than one cake pan knows what a pain they are to store. So why not go down to the hardware store, buy a few magnets and just hot-glue them to the inside of the cabinet. You can just pop the pan on and forget about it. Of course if it's an aluminum pan you'll need to add another magnet to sandwich on there. Science. It's fun.

    [voice over] No-stick piece of mind comes from the price of a single piece of parchment paper. A long one. How long? Well, long enough so that when it's unfurled it will completely cover the inside walls of the pan. Now cut out one corner making sure that it's wider in all directions than the pan is itself. Got it? Okay, now fold it over side to side, kind of like you're starting a paper airplane. And then fold it over end to end, kind of like a handkerchief. Then fold it corner to corner. No this isn't origami. Trust me. One more time so that you've kind of got a cone. Hold the point of this cone over the center of the pan, measure to the edge and then cut to fit.

    Right, now set that aside and get some melted butter and just brush the inside of the pan. Make sure you get the corners and the walls all the way to the top. Open up your cone and, ... well would you look at that. [places it down inside of the pan] Perfect fit every time. Now take your knife, kind of measure the wall and then kind of measure that out on the remaining parchment. You're going to cut a strip just as tall as the wall is. If it's a little bit taller, that's okay. If it's shorter, that's not so okay. Now just make sure that you can press it right up against the walls. You're covered.

"New York" cheesecakes are dense.
"French" cheesecakes are whipped and light.
"Italian" cheesecakes are usually made with ricotta, not cream cheese.

The Kitchen

    Unlike pastry crust who's, finicky temperament has been well documented through the ages, the pressed or crumb crusts under which cheesecakes are built are actually no-brainers. All you need is some old cake, some cookies or maybe some crackers. In this case the classic, graham crackers. I'd say about 33 of them to be exact.

33 Graham Squares

    Now the secret for prepping this crust is that you don't want to chop these up too fine. You want to crush them by hand. Sure you could do it in a food processor but it would be way too even. You want to end up with lots of big pieces integrated with a lot of little bitty crumbs. Perfect. Now this goes into one stick, that's half a cup, of unsalted butter. And add to that one tablespoon of sugar. Now stir thoroughly just to get everything moistened.

1 Stick Unsalted Butter, Melted

1 Tbs. Sugar

    Now this we're going to add straight to the pan but we're not going to add all of it. We're only going to add about two thirds of it. There we go. Now don't worry. We'll save the rest of that for later. Now if this loose amalgam of crumbs is going to come together to form a cohesive crust, we're going to have to add a little bit of pressure. I think that an empty glassdoes a really good job but I think that an empty glass with some weight [coins are added] does an even better job. So just start in the middle and tamp around. You really want to press this down into the corners all the way around. Just let the coins do the work for ya. There.

    Now this goes into a 300 degree oven for 10 minutes. Now that's called blind baking a crust and it's a standard procedure for a lot of different pies that have wet fillings. Again, pie not cake. All right. We've got just enough time for the filling.

10 mins at 300°

Blind Baking

    Batter building begins by putting your paddle attachment on your mixer. Now first thing that goes in is one and a quarter cup of sour cream. And we're going to mix that by itself for a few seconds on medium high speed. Now why in the world would you mix one ingredient by itself? Lubrication. By covering the inside of the bowl with sour cream and, of course, the paddle, we're going to make it so that the cream cheese that's coming is not going to be able to stick, it's not going to be able to get hold and that's going to make the batter come together a lot quicker. There we go.

1 1/4 Cup Sour Cream

    Now 20 ounces of cream cheese. That's about 2 and a half packages. I said it was good. I didn't say it was fat free. There we go. And we're going to go ahead and add a cup of sugar. Now not only is the sugar an important agent of flavoring, but it's also going to work as a kind of an abrasive and help this batter come together. You need to start at a very low speed, though, or the sugar's going to end up on the floor. Now as soon as the sugar is moist, you can go ahead and turn it up to medium.

20 oz Cream Cheese

1 Cup Sugar

    Now it's going to look like kind of cottage cheese for a long time. Just let it go. It's going to break down and kind of look like a cream cheese icing. It'll be smooth just like that. In the mean time combine one third of a cup of cream with a tablespoon of vanilla extract and 3 egg yolks and 2 whole eggs.

1/3 Cup Heavy Cream
1 Tbs. Vanilla Extract
3 Egg Yolks
2 Eggs

If you use medium size eggs, add one extra yolk.

    Okay, now stop. Do not add this [cream mixture] to this [mixing bowl] without scraping down the side of this bowl first because the batter can not come together if everything is stuck to the side of the bowl. And make sure you get all the way down in the bottom and a rubber spatula is really the only way to do this. There. And also wipe off the paddle. And you can see there's still some chunks of the cream cheese in there. So this has got a little more work to go.
    Okay, back on medium. It's okay to go ahead and start adding the liquid but do it very, very slowly. Once you've got half of the liquid in, stop and take a look at the batter. It should be coming together pretty nicely at this point but go ahead and stop and scrape one more time. Now this may seem like a really small thing but it is the big difference between just an iffy cheesecake and a cheesecake that's really light and fluffy. There.
    Now we're going to turn up the speed a little bit higher, off the side, and add the last of the liquid. It's batter time.

    Go ahead and turn your oven down to 250 and get that crust out of there. Now this has to cool down thoroughly before the batter is introduced, okay? Ten minutes on the counter or you're going to end up with a pool of fat down at the bottom. Not good eats. In the mean time bring two quarts of water to a boil.

Reduce Oven To 250°

2 quarts H2O

    Pour in your batter making sure to scrape out every last bit of goodness. There. But before you go to the oven, give it a little twist just to make sure you get all of the air bubbles out. And if any float up to the top but don't break on their own, give them a little bit of help. There.
    Now since this is a true custard, we will be cooking it in a hot water bath. And, of course that's going to mean another pan. Now you could just put it in a roasting pan but if you've got one it's always nice to go with the same shape, just bigger.

If you don't have a pan big enough to hold your
cake pan, use a disposable, foil roasting pan.

The Kitchen

    This pan goes right in the middle of the oven. And I like to put a towel right down in the bottom. It's going to add some extra insulation. It's also going to prevent water from splashing up when we pour it in. Now the cheesecake goes in the middle of that but push it over to one side just for now. There.
    Now the water. You only need to add enough to come about two thirds up the side of the cheesecake. You don't have to go any higher than that or you'll just steam the cake. Now you can start to appreciate the one-piece pan approach. I mean a spring form, well, they leak. That's just the way they are. And I don't know about you but I'm not interested in making soup here. There we go. It usually takes about 2 quarts for me.
    Now we move this [cheesecake] back right into the middle and push it right on in. So what exactly is with all this hot water business. [sniffs his arm pit] Eww. Excuse me.


    [whistling] Let's say for a minute that this sponge represents all the ingredients in our cheesecake except egg proteins which we'll say are represented by this net. Why a net? Because egg proteins when they cook or denature form a molecular mesh and that mesh is what makes a solid cheesecake possible. The problem is if they get too hot or if they heat too quickly, these proteins over-coagulate. That is they tighten up and they can literally wring all the moisture out of the cheesecake. [places sponge in net and begins to turn the net wringing water out] And that's definitely not good eats.
    So the key here is that we've got to: one, insulate the cheesecake from high heat and, two, we've got to control the rate at which that heat moves into the cheesecake. And that is where the water comes in.

Water has a very high "specific heat" so it can absorb
a lot of energy without changing temperature.

The Kitchen: One Hour Later

    [pulls cheesecake out of oven] Doesn't look done. Doesn't look done at all, does it? You know what? It isn't. But that's okay because just like scrambled eggs, if a cheesecake looks done in the pan it's going to be overdone on the plate. It's just like a roast. You have to take carry-over into account. The temperature is going to continue to go up. So what I like to do is just leave it in the oven, turn the oven off, open the door for one minute to let the hot air out and then just close the door and leave it for one more hour.

  • Bake at 250° for 1 hour

  • Turn oven off

  • Open door for 1 minute

  • Close door and leave cake in oven for 1 more hour

    An hour's gone by and that looks nice. Now obviously when we get this out you don't want to pick up this [big] pan or you'll slosh water into this [cheesecake] pan which would be a bad idea. So this [cheesecake pan] goes straight into the refrigerator for 6 hours. Hey, I said it was easy. I didn't say it was fast.

The Kitchen: 6 Hours Later

    Our cheesecake is thoroughly chilled and you'll notice no cracks. Of course now comes the second event that tries the cheesecaker's soul. It's the removal from the pan. I mean, yes, we've got the parchment there but there is a chance that some of the butter that we put in the bottom has solidified because of the refrigerator and might be tempted to hold on. So we're just going to dip this down into some very hot tap water—keeping my hands on it at all times—just to liquidize that butter that might be down there. I usually leave this down and count for about 10. [counts to himself] That should do it. And right up into a towel.
    And then take a very thin blade and dip it in the hot water and then just barely trace around the parchment paper just to make sure nothing is clinging. Odds are it isn't. There. Now just pull out the parchment. That came out in two pieces. No problem with that. Good.
    Now, as far as turning this out we've got to, of course, turn it upside down first. That means I'm going to put a little bit of wax paper here [on top of the cheesecake] because I don't want it to stick. I'm just going to turn it out on to this spring form pan bottom. There we go. Now, of course, we've got to get the parchment off the bottom but that's no problem because everything melted.

    Now the cake is, of course, upside down and hopefully you've chosen a final resting place. It could be anything flat, really: a platter, a ceremonial mask, it could be an old record album, a Frisbee, a clock, you name it. But what happens if you don't have anything flat? Or you do have something flat but you don't want risk leaving it over at your in-law's house. Do what the pros do. Get yourself some cardboard cake rounds. Now I bought these at my local grocery store just from the folks at the bakery  counter. It's got a wax surface so that it won't get soggy. But you can just cut them out of regular cardboard and cover them with a little bit of foil. Now we've got a platter that will keep you from having to leave well, say, disk 1 of Kiss Alive! over at your in-law's house. Place that on the cake and ... [flips it over]. Nothing left now but the slicing.

Wrapped first in plastic film then foil,
cheesecakes freeze well for up to a month.

The Kitchen

    Of course the problem with cheesecake is it tends to stick to the side of any knife that tries to penetrate it. So unless you've got a tungsten cutting wire hanging around the house, you're going to want to use the knife with the least amount of side on it. Now this is a salmon slicer but you can use anything long and thin. Regardless of the knife you're always going to want to dip it into hot water for a few seconds before making the cut. That will help immensely.

Heat Blade Before Each Cut

    Now since cheesecake is pretty rich, I like to slice it pretty thin. So just make the first cut from 12 to 6 o'clock. You want to go straight down and then straight out making sure you go through the crust. Dip it again and wipe it. You don't want any water on the blade. Second cut from 9 to 3 straight down and out. Say 1 to 7, straight out. Two o'clock to eight o'clock. Straight down and out. Straight down and straight out. And the final cut. This way you can have two pieces without giving yourself a heart attack.
    Ah, so technically we're ready to serve. [fending off hands with forks] But remember we had a little bit of crumbs left over. So just pop those in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. Then you can do this. [packs crumbs along side of cheesecake] There. Now it's really finished.

AB: Okay. Come and get it kids. [onslaught of forks] Hey, jeepers. Hey, hey, hey. Patience. Hey!

    [with an empty serving plate and crumbs everywhere] Who knew that my crew had even worse manners than Elvis.

    Now let's talk a moment about insurance. I mean maybe you're not too confident with your baking skills. Or maybe your oven is kind of a little bit skitzy. Take out some insurance by simply adding a tablespoon of cornstarch to the batter when you add the sugar. You see, the starch molecules will actually get in between the egg proteins preventing them from over-coagulating. No over-coagulating, no cracks. Of course if you DO end up with a cake that's cracked on top, what do you think whipped cream is for?

1 Tbs. Corn Starch

For savory cheesecake recipes, drop by

The Food Gallery

    Ladies and gentlemen. In light of the events in the past half hour, it seems clear that the inclusion of cheesecake in Heartbreak Hall is all a terrible misunderstanding. After all, cheesecake is nothing but a few basic, wholesome ingredients combined by a simple equation to delicious results.
    What horror will come to occupy this new vacancy? Perhaps we'll find out the next time we visit the Food Gallery.

The Kitchen (Outtake)

    And, of course, you want to crush them ... [begins to crush bag of graham crackers which is upside down, it opens up and spills crackers all over the counter]

    AB: HA! Ha, ha, ha, ha.
CREW: [laughter]

Proof reading help from Sue Libretti

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010