Most home cooks have never attempted to make cheesecake. Many people perceive that it is difficult and intimidating to make. Be assured, cheesecake is actually easier and faster to make than regular cake!
Cheesecake does present some unique problems. These problems are easily solved. Unfortunately, you won’t find the solutions in any cookbooks. : The surface of cheesecake tends to crack leaving an unsightly finish that makes for a poor presentation. No one seems to know how to make a crust stick to the sides of the pan so they just instruct you to form the crust in the bottom of the pan. The last thing that they don’t tell you is that the butter in the crust tends to melt and leak out of the bottom of the special ring-form pan. This melting butter then causes your oven to smoke and most likely will cause your smoke alarm to go off.
Butter leaking out of the spring form pan is actually a good thing. This helps to reduce the calories in the cheesecake. It also helps to make the crust crisper. To solve the problem of the butter leaking into the hot oven and causing it to smoke is super easy to solve. You simply place a pan under the spring form pan on the bottom rack filled with water. This will catch the butter drips and there will be no smoking. This also helps to moderate hot spots in your oven which are all too common in the non-convection oven.
Speaking of crusts, all of the cookbooks tend to offer the same tired graham cracker crust. This is problematic for several reasons. A graham cracker crust tends to get soggy in the refrigerator. Because it is a bready product, it can also pick up smells from the refrigerator. From a nutritional standpoint, it is empty carb calories. Instead of graham cracker crumbs, substitute ground almonds on an equal basis. Almonds are highly nutritional with vitamins and antioxidants. In fact, according to the California Almond Board, almonds are the most nutritionally dense nut in existence. They also make a great snack instead of other things like chips. Because of the oils in the almonds, it prevents the crust from picking up smells from the refrigerator. Because it is a nut, the crust stays crunchy in refrigerator. Chefs are always looking for a good “mouth feel”. The crunchiness of the crust juxtaposed against the creaminess of the cheesecake gives that great mouth feel and texture.
Having a crust that runs up the side of the pan is a perfect framing of your cheesecake. Because you are working with warm melted butter in the crust, it prevents the crust from adhering to the pan. The cookbooks all tell you to just make a bottom crust instead of attempting to make the side crust as well. This problem is also very easy to solve. You simply place your ring form pan in the freezer at least 30 minutes prior to attempting to make the crust. You also put your crust mixture in the refrigerator for about 5 minutes before attempting to bond it to the pan. What happens is that the very cold temperature of the pan out of the freezer instantly cools the warm melted butter and causes it to congeal. This then makes forming the crust up the side of the pan virtually child’s play. When you have the crust up the sides, it makes for a much prettier cheesecake for presentation.
Finally, cracks in the cheesecake surface are very easy to solve. The cracks in the surface result from steam building up in the batter. It then explodes through the surface to crack the cheesecake as it is setting. This can happen in double crust pies as well. This is why you cut slits in the top crust of the pie so as to allow the steam to escape. Obviously you can’t cut slits in a cheesecake. There is a delightful trade secret to that eliminates the problem. Use chocolate syrup swirled through the batter before you place the cheesecake in the oven. You simply take ordinary chocolate syrup in a squeeze bottle like Hershey’s and use approximately 1/3 to the bottle. You do this by inverting the bottle and sticking the mouth of the bottle right into the batter and squeezing while moving the bottle around in the batter. You then can also take a butter knife and further swirl it by running the blade through the batter. This is fun and allows defying mother’s instruction not to play with your food. What this does is to give you a beautiful marbled effect in your cheesecake in addition to adding wonderful flavor. Because the chocolate syrup is a different viscosity than your cheesecake batter, it creates multiple escape paths for the steam to escape without disrupting the surface of the cheesecake. In effect, you are creating slits in the cheesecake to allow the steam to escape. Another way to prevent cracking in the surface is to cook at a lower temp of about 300 degrees. You then turn the oven off and let the cheesecake cool in the oven without removing it.
You can serve cheesecake for drop in guests by having a cheesecake in reserve in the freezer and simply popping it out when people drop in unannounced. You could have a basic cheesecake that you top at the last minute with canned cherry pie filling for a spectacular quick dessert. You only have to thaw the cheesecake for about an hour before service. Add this wonderful dessert to your repertoire and you will be admired by friends, family and guests