Monday, November 19, 2007

The Quest for the Perfect Cheesecake

It's that time again dear readers... time for me to begin scouring the Internet for the perfect cheesecake recipe.

Every holiday (well, the biggies) I am assigned the task of bringing cheesecake for dessert. Why? I have no stinking clue. All I know is that one Christmas back in my high school days, I decided to try my hand at cheesecake baking and I've been burdened with the chore ever since.

I only call it a burden because there is a very specific science to cheesecakes. And, damn it all to hell, it's HARD! I am a whiz at whipping together the ingredients (aside from my very first attempt where I whipped the batter for too long and the whole thing ended up tasting like scrambled eggs - yeah, I rock) and baking the perfect buttery-crisp crust, but when I stick it in the oven I have already resigned myself to failure. I'm serious!

Ok, yes, I am somewhat OCD and would only consider the world's most perfect cheesecake to be a job well done, but I really don't think that's too much to expect from myself. I'm capable. I'm relatively smart. And I have been told that I do a pretty bang-up job as a cook. But, the damn cheesecake baking has always eluded me.

For those of you who have never endeavored to make a cheesecake, it may seem hard to understand my frustration. Honestly, it looks simple enough: Throw a bunch of cream cheese, lemon zest, eggs and sugar in a mixer and pour it over a crust in a springform pan. Done. But, the trick is in the baking. What temp? What timing? What method? So far not a single one has worked for me.

My first attempts always involved a standard baking procedure: Put thing in oven for 1.5 hours at 350 degrees. Easy. The result? Dried-out cheesecake-like pancake with a humdinger of a crack across the top. NOT GOOD ENOUGH!

Then, I transitioned to a new method: Bake for longer at a lower temp. Ah-ha! This must be the great white hope I have been so fervently searching for!!


Same result. A little less dry, but still with the ugly-ass crack down the center. Argh! This never happens to the chaps at the Cheesecake Factory!! WHY AM I SO DEFICIENT!?!?

So, last year, I thought I'd finally cracked it. I read a very well received recipe on one of my heavily frequented recipe sites that instructed me to bake the cheesecake on a high temperature for 10 minutes and then to completely turn off the oven (leaving the door closed) and not open it for two hours! Not only different, but easy! :) I was ecstatic to try this one out.... The result?


And the worst part about it was that it looked so perfect from the outside, I mean it was "I was dancing with glee" perfect. And I was so thrilled to not see that familiar, jagged crack down the center that all other aspects of its integrity completely escaped my mind. So, in truly embarrassing fashion, I waltzed into my sister's house with this beautiful creation and allowed myself to be lavished with praise over its structural and aesthetic perfection only to discover at dinner's end, that I was the world's largest idiot. Of course, my family all did their best to pretend they liked it (because they are awesome), but the truth was they would have rather eaten one of my cracked and dry ones instead. No one likes to get runny cream cheese gunk in place of the heaven that is correctly prepared cheesecake. :(

Woe is me.

So, this year, as my baking day approaches, I have again been looking for different ways to bake the cake and have almost made my decision. The choices are:

1. Bake the cake in a water bath for a medium length of time.

2. Bake at a high temp for a short time and then a very low temp for an hour

I'm leaning towards the second one as my experience has proved that the short time at a high temp does seem to provide a crack-free surface... but the water bath is intriguing.

So, what does this post tell you about me? I'm lame. So lame, in fact that I wrote an entire post about a baked good.

I hope you all are having more interesting days than me (not that my plodding attempt at blogging about cream cheese creations helped...) ;)

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! May all your cakes and pies be good ones!


Elaine said...

Try one of Giada's recipes on She has some good ones.

No matter what you choose, you can't go wrong if you put the springform in a roasting pan and fill half way up with water.

Good luck!!

Anonymous said...

I no like cheesecake