Not sure what triggered it, but last night I was thinking about an exchange with my dear friend Chef Geraldo — from back when he used to work at Dino and Harry’s. It’s a place where I go when I want to eat like a queen and indulge, and it always seemed that each dish had been made specially for me by Chef G — even when he wasn’t expecting me to stop in.
Things like foie gras with onion marmalade — or duck confit with dark black cherry sauce served over the best risotto this side of Italy — coming out on pristine, warm white plates. Around dessert time, the waiter announced “Chef G wants you in the kitchen!”, causing me to wonder if I was in some kind of trouble.
As I entered the kitchen, he filled a tall glass with a rich egg-colored custard the color of lemon cheesecake. Then the image of Johnny Depp flashed into my mind. Chef G’s wonderful, yet strange running joke of turning various movie stars into desserts came to mind. I agreed that would be the pinnacle of both our careers to serve up something sweet to Monsieur Depp, and for me I think it would have to be cheesecake. Baking a smooth, crack-free cheesecake with thick, cakey or creamy texture isn’t as hard as you might think. Here are easy, fun tips the next time you want to indulge someone you admire.
Kick the Crack
A lot of cookbooks advise you to bake the cheesecake in a water bath to avoid the crack that can sometimes develop towards the end of baking, but I’ve found that baking at low heat avoids cracking and bubbling. Start the cheesecake at very high heat (400°F) for 10 minutes to form a “seal” at the top, then decrease heat to 250°F and continue to bake 45 to 50 minutes. If you have an oven with a convection switch or feature, turn it off so your cheesecake will keep its smooth top.
Cream cheese is essential for a great American cheesecake, but to adjust the filling from fluffy heaven (that clings to the tinges of your fork) to dense and cake-like, try these tips:
- For thick and cakey, try adding 3 tablespoons of flour when you beat the cream cheese.
- For dreamy and dense, add sweetened condensed milk in place of your milk and cut the sugar back to 1/4 cup or cut the sugar completely.
- For silky smooth add a half cup of sour cream, mix into the recipe as the last ingredient with an electric mixer on low speed.
Light and Lovely
I love rich restaurant cheesecake as much as anyone, but if I want to have a lighter version that I can serve at home, it’s really easy to lighten up your traditional recipe all the way down the ingredient list. Here are the easy substitutions for the full fat versions:
- Reduced fat cream cheese
- Reduced fat graham crackers for the crust
- Reduced fat sweetened condensed milk, cut the sugar
- Egg whites for whole eggs, 2 egg whites for each whole egg
What’s Your Favorite Cake-Baking Secret?
What’s your thoughts on my tips? Do you agree, or do you have other tricks that work well? Post your answer in the comments below.