Baking School In-Depth: New York-Style Cheesecake

There’s cheesecake and then there’s New York-style cheesecake. Irresistibly rich, dense, and creamy, with a crunchy, buttery graham cracker crumb crust that’s equal parts simple and delicious, cheesecake is a bake universally adored. While other cheesecakes typically rely on heavy whipping cream to thin the custard and create a lighter, silkier filling, New York cheesecake is all about the solid slice. Using a hefty helping of cream cheese and sour cream, made all the richer with an abundance of eggs, this cheesecake is a true example of letting simple ingredients shine. From baking the cheesecake in a water bath to troubleshooting uneven browning, our step-by-step module with Williams Sonoma will supply you with all the knowledge necessary to create a simply spectacular cheesecake. Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson, or keep scrolling to view our digital lesson.  

Ingredient Breakdown 

Great recipes require great ingredients. Here’s how each of our recipe’s simple ingredients contributes to making the ultimate cheesecake.

Finely ground graham cracker crumbs: For this graham cracker crust, you need your graham crackers as finely ground as you can get them in order to allow the butter to absorb completely. The resulting crust will be easier to press into your pan, will bake evenly, and will provide the perfect buttery base to this creamy cheesecake. We found that blitzing graham crackers in the food processor is the quickest and simplest way to get uniform, finely ground graham crackers crumbs. To remove larger crumbs, sift the graham cracker crumbs through a sieve , if desired.

Granulated sugar: First and foremost, granulated sugar adds a touch of sweetness to both the crust and the filling of this cheesecake. Its pure white color keeps the filling a smooth, creamy white, but it also aids in the browning of the crust and the filling as the sugar caramelizes. It also helps prevent the rich custard of the cheesecake from curdling during the baking process. So, be sure not to reduce the sugar in this recipe, as each granule helps keep your cheesecake from cracking.

Kosher salt: Where there’s sweetness, there should be salt to balance. We bake with kosher salt because, unlike most commercial salt, it doesn’t contain iodine, making it taste purer and more palatable. Also, the salt crystals are larger, so if you choose to use table salt, you should use half of what a recipe with kosher salt calls for.

Ground cinnamon: To bolster the flavor of the graham cracker crust, we add a pinch of cinnamon for that signature sweet heat. The flavor is subtle but adds a rich, spiced undertone that plays beautifully with the richness of the crust and custard.

Unsalted butter: Melted butter is the ingredient that holds the graham cracker crust together. With butter as its main binder, the crust comes out tender, crisp, and solid enough to support and surround the filling.  

All-purpose flour: In this recipe, flour acts like a starch. A little starch goes a long way in keeping the eggs in your custard filling from curdling and coagulating. Three tablespoons of all-purpose flour work much in the same way cornstarch works to create a thick, stable custard.

Cream cheese: The heart of all cheesecake is, of course, cream cheese. A staggering 24 ounces of cream cheese goes into this recipe. What makes this such a beloved baking staple is its high milk fat content of at least 33%, a richness that makes all it touches creamier and more tender. So, be sure to go for the good stuff in this recipe!

Vanilla bean: We like to use the seeds scraped from a flavorful and incredibly aromatic vanilla bean for a lovely, speckled appearance and concentrated flavor. If you don’t have a vanilla bean on hand, 1 tablespoon (13 grams) of vanilla extract or 1 tablespoon (18 grams) of vanilla bean paste can be substituted.

Lemon zest and juice: For extra tangy flavor, we add both lemon zest and juice to our cheesecake filling. Lemon keeps the custard bright and citrusy, balancing out the rich flavors and textures of the cheesecake.

Eggs: Eggs are an essential element of cheesecake and all other custard-based desserts. Adding richness and a smooth texture, the proteins in the eggs set up during the gentle baking process, solidifying the dense network of dairy and sugar into a sliceable whole. Too many eggs will create a cracked and sunken cheesecake with an overly firm texture. Too few eggs and the cheesecake won’t set well. So, use our exact number of eggs for perfect results.

Sour cream: Though cream cheese is the star of cheesecake, sour cream is the supporting ingredient that makes it shine. With cream cheese alone, the filling would split and have a mealy texture. Sour cream is added to the mix to create a silkier filling and add to the cheesecake’s signature tang.

 

New York-Style Cheesecake

It’s big and over the top, and that’s just the way we like it. With a crisp, lightly spiced graham cracker crumb crust and a decadently rich and creamy lemon- and vanilla-spiked custard, this cheesecake marries simple flavors with an extraordinary end result.

New York-Style Cheesecake
 
Makes 1 (9-inch) cake
Ingredients
  • 2½ cups (280 grams) finely ground graham cracker crumbs
  • 1½ cups (300 grams) plus 3 tablespoons (36 grams) granulated sugar, divided
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 tablespoons (24 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 3 (8-ounce) packages (680 grams) cream cheese, cubed and room temperature
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved
  • 1 teaspoon (2 grams) packed lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons (10 grams) fresh lemon juice
  • 4 large eggs (200 grams), room temperature
  • 1 cup (240 grams) sour cream, room temperature
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Spray a 9-inch springform pan with baking spray with flour.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together graham cracker crumbs, 3 tablespoons (36 grams) sugar, ¼ teaspoon salt, and cinnamon until combined. Add melted butter, and stir until well combined; using a small, straight-sided measuring cup, press crumb mixture into bottom and 1 inch up sides of prepared pan.
  3. Bake until set and fragrant, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Wrap bottom and sides of pan in heavy-duty foil; place in a large oven bag, tucking ends so bag is flush with top edge of pan. (If you do not use an oven bag, wrap pan in a double layer of foil.) Reduce oven temperature to 325°F (170°C).
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, remaining 1½ cups (300 grams) sugar, and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt.
  5. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese at medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute, stopping to scrape sides of bowl. Add flour mixture, reserved vanilla bean seeds, and lemon zest and juice; beat at medium-low speed until well combined, about 1 minute, stopping to scrape sides of bowl. With mixer on low speed, add eggs, one at a time, beating just until combined after each addition. Add sour cream; beat until well combined, about 30 seconds, stopping to scrape sides of bowl. Pour cream cheese mixture into prepared crust, smoothing top with a small offset spatula. Carefully place springform pan in a large roasting pan. Place roasting pan in oven, and add hot water to come 1 inch up sides of springform pan.
  6. Bake until edges are set, top is lightly golden, and center is still jiggly, 1 hour and 20 minutes to 1½ hours*. Carefully remove cheesecake from water bath, and let cool completely in pan on a wire rack, 1½ to 2 hours. (Once pan is cool enough to handle, carefully remove bag and foil from sides.) Refrigerate in pan on a wire rack overnight, loosely covering with foil only when completely cool to prevent condensation from forming on top of cheesecake.
  7. Carefully remove chilled cheesecake from pan, and transfer to a serving plate. Use a warm, dry knife to slice when ready to serve.
Notes
*If your oven is not browning the top evenly, you can carefully rotate the pan, but wait until after the 1-hour mark to try and rotate the cheesecake.

 

Creating the Perfect Graham Cracker Crust

How to make a gorgeously golden graham cracker crumb crust

1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Spray a 9-inch springform pan with baking spray with flour. 

          

2. In a large bowl, stir together graham cracker crumbs, 3 tablespoons (36 grams) sugar, ¼ teaspoon salt, and cinnamon until combined. Add melted butter, and stir until well combined; using a small, straight-sided measuring cup, press crumb mixture into bottom and 1 inch up sides of prepared pan. The crust should be tightly packed, with no loose crumbs at the bottom of the pan. Any loose crumbs risk getting mixed into the custard filling of your cheesecake once it’s poured in, disturbing the otherwise uniformly smooth filling.

 

Prepping Your Pan

The water bath plays an essential role in creating a creamy, un-cracked cheesecake. But if your pan isn’t properly prepped, water can seep in and spell disaster. We use a combination of foil and an oven bag to create an unbreakable barrier between our cheesecake and the water bath.

          

1. Bake until set and fragrant, 8 to 10 minutes. Baking your crust beforehand will help create a sealed barrier between crust and filling, sidestepping the soggy bottom issue. Let cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Wrap bottom and sides of pan in heavy-duty foil; place in a large oven bag, tucking ends so bag is flush with top edge of pan. (If you do not use an oven bag, wrap pan in a double layer of foil.) Reduce oven temperature to 325°F (170°C). Like any other custard-based dish, cheesecake requires a humid bake to keep the egg proteins in the filling from drying out or overcooking. This is where the water bath comes in, allowing the eggs to heat gently and evenly, ensuring a smooth, decadently textured cheesecake. 

 

Very Vanilla 

One of the main flavor components of this cheesecake, we use seeds scraped from a vanilla bean pod for the ultimate vanilla flavor and gorgeous speckled filling

        

1. Flatten vanilla bean with the backside of a paring knife; split vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Using the backside of the knife again, scrape the seeds from the inside of the bean. 

 

Temperature Time-Out

Before you start bringing together your sweet, custardy filling, make sure the following ingredients are at room temperature

Cream cheese: Cream cheese, like butter, is hard to whip when cold because its milk fat is still firm and solid. Chilled cream cheese, when mixed with other, more liquid ingredients, will take on a curdled appearance. So, for smooth incorporation, opt for mixing room temperature cream cheese with other room temperature ingredients.

Eggs: Four cold eggs can force your room temperature cream cheese to resolidify in spots, creating chunks that are hard to reincorporate and may cause you to overbeat the mixture. If you continue mixing to smooth out the cold chunks you’ve created, you end up whipping air into your eggs, toughening the overall cheesecake and increasing the chance of cracking on the surface of your cheesecake.

Sour cream: Despite sour cream being the last ingredient you’ll mix into your batter, if not brought to room temperature, it’ll take far longer than 30 seconds to fully incorporate, increasing your chances of overmixing your filling. So, make sure it’s registering the same room temperature as everything else before adding.  

 

Crafting a Creamy, Smooth Filling

Though it may seem simple, the filling is where a lot can go wrong with cheesecake. Avoid errors with these quick and simple steps.

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, remaining 1½ cups (300 grams) sugar, and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. 

       

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese at medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute, stopping to scrape sides of bowl. Add flour mixture, reserved vanilla bean seeds, and lemon zest and juice; beat at medium-low speed until well combined, about 1 minute, stopping to scrape sides of bowl. With mixer on low speed, add eggs, one at a time, beating just until combined after each addition. Add sour cream; beat until well combined, about 30 seconds, stopping to scrape sides of bowl. Scraping the sides of your bowl as you mix is an essential step in creating a smooth, evenly incorporated filling, so be sure to scrape the sides of your bowl after every ingredient added.

        

3. Pour cream cheese mixture into prepared crust, smoothing top with a small offset spatula. Carefully place springform pan in a large roasting pan. Place roasting pan in oven, and add hot water to come 1 inch up sides of springform pan.

4. Bake until edges are set, top is lightly golden, and center is still jiggly, 1 hour and 20 minutes to 1½ hours. If you notice your oven is not browning the top evenly, you can carefully rotate the pan, but wait until after the 1-hour mark to try and rotate the cheesecake. Any sudden movements while the cheesecake is still trying to bake and set could force your cheesecake to fall or crack. Carefully remove cheesecake from water bath, and let cool completely in pan on a wire rack, 1½ to 2 hours. (Once pan is cool enough to handle, carefully remove bag and foil from sides.) Refrigerate in pan on a wire rack overnight, loosely covering with foil only when completely cool to prevent condensation from forming on top of cheesecake.

5. Carefully remove chilled cheesecake from pan, and transfer to a serving plate. Use a warm, dry knife to slice when ready to serve.

 

 

 

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