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never 2 old to start cooking
a shared journey and learning experience


Start big, and with
something scrumptious!​​

I'm not sure I'll ever know why my first efforts beyond the customary bounds of frozen or canned entrees for dinner and cake mix cakes for desserts was cheesecake, but that's where I first jumped into cooking, as opposed to just fixing something to eat. Seeing how much fun I was having making cakes from cake mix and icing them, my daughter saw an opportunity to challenge me (nudging me out of my comfort zone) and gave me  The Southern Cake Book  by Southern Living. My daughter's significant other is Syrian, and looking for somthing that I hoped would make a hit with his family I was intrigued by the Baklava Cheesecake.  That recipe has a batter that produces a very smooth and flavorful variation on an otherwise classic dessert; the recipe for the cake batter is basic enough that it became my 'go to' cheesecake recipe - one that, as you will see with the suggested variations that I'll post, is quite adaptable and fun to play with.    

Lamar's Basic Cheesecake Recipe
(the Southern Living recipe as I've adapted it)

INGREDIENTS (all ingredients should be at room temperature)

For the crust you'll need

1/4 cup sugar,
1-1/2 cups walnuts ( or you can use pecans, pistachios, or almonds), and
2 Tbsp of butter, melted.

For the cheesecake you'll need

3 - 8oz packages of cream cheese (I use American Neufchatel - it contains 30% less fat and I've suffered no consequences using it),
1 - 8oz package mascarpone,
3/4 cup sugar,
three large eggs (eggs from chickens that are pastured tend to have, at least in my experience, larger yolks and add some richness to the batter),
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract, and
1/4 tsp salt.

Prepare a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray, preferably one that contains flour (not necessary if you are using a silicone pan, except you'll want to butter the bottom of the pan).

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the 1/4 cup sugar and nuts in a food processor and pulse to the consistency of sand.  Then drizzle in the melted butter, processing to thoroughly incorporate the butter into the nut/sugar mixture.  Press the mixture firmly and evenly into the bottom of the pan.  Bake it for 15 minutes then remove it to a cooling rack.
Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees and put a roasting pan with about 1" of water in it on the bottom shelf of your oven.

Blend the cream cheese, mascarpone, and 3/4 cup sugar on low to medium speed until blended and smooth (too high a speed can cause the cheese to lump).  Add the eggs one at a time, beating until just blended after each addition.  Add the flavoring and salt and continue beating until blended and very smooth.

Pour the batter into the pan and shake slightly to ensure even distribution.  Bake at 300 degrees for 1 hr and 20 mins, or until the center is almost set.

Turn the oven off and prop the door open with a wooden spoon; allow the cheesecake to cool in the oven for 45 mins to an hour.

Remove from the oven. If you've used a metal pan, gently run a warm, sharp knife around the edge to loosen; this is not necessary with a silicone pan.  Allow the cake to cool for a couple more hours, then cover and chill for 8 hrs.  Remove the sides of the pan, put the cheesecake on your cake plate and return it to the refrigerator.

Remove the cheesecake from the refrigerator about an hour before you plan to serve it.
I've learned a lot about making cheesecakes by making cheesecakes, so let me share some of that with you, keeping in mind that I've only prepared cooked cheesecakes.  I'll tackle the uncooked version at some later date and report.
If you're preparing a cooked cheesecake you're better off using a springform pan that has a 'gutter' around the outside of the base.  It does what a gutter is supposed to do, and if any of the contents leak you'll not have a huge mess to clean up.

Unless you're using a water bath, put the springform pan in a larger pan (like a large jelly roll pan) lined with parchment paper just to keep things cleaner anyway.

If your pan does not have a gutter, be sure that the bottom is facing the right way when the pan is assembled.  Otherwise your crust will be sitting somewhat recessed and you'll have hell to pay to get the cake out nicely.

I have an affinity for the silicone 'springform' pans made by Lékué  (I now have three of them) as they produce a very clean-looking cake.  If you get one, take care not to subject the ceramic base to temperature extremes, as it will crack.  

Use of a water bath is the commonly suggested procedure to lessen the chance of a cake cracking as it cooks; however, I prefer to put a roasting pan of water on the bottom shelf of the oven after I've cooked the crust and before putting the cake in, giving it a few minutes to heat up. I've been pleased with results using this method.

If you have access to 12" precut parchment paper circles they are great to put in the bottom of a metal springform pan before you clamp it tight.  Not only will the excess catch any leaks, it also gives you something to grasp when it's time to slide the cheesecake off the base of the pan.

Cheesecakes cook for over an hour, giving you plenty of time while the cake is cooking to clean up and do something else.  Don't, however, allow yourself to become so engrossed that you miss hearing the timer and leave the cake in the oven too long.  A cheesecake that is the color of a fudge brownie when it's not supposed to not only does not look right, it neither smells nor tastes like the brownie it's pretending to be.