I love cheesecake. You cannot underestimate the use of the word ‘love’ here. I simply adore it in all its creamy, sweet, life-affirming glory. I’ve been known to eat cheesecake in place of a proper meal for supper.
I have wonderful memories of my younger brother and I, years ago, running to Tesco to buy their cheap mass-produced chocolate and vanilla ‘swirl’ cheesecake. We used to share it – half each – and devour it all before our parents got home.
Now happy memories these may be, but my cheesecake tastes have gradually become more refined. No cheesecakes with ingredients I can’t pronounce or spell, no fridge set desserts masquerading as a cheesecake – it has to be baked. And nothing beats a simple, New York baked cheesecake. My version was made even more special by using one of the organic vanilla pods I bought back from my recent travels to Bali – however I will concede these aren’t mandatory. A really good vanilla paste (with seeds) will also do the job delightfully.
A few notes on the recipe. I’ve tried a multitude of cheesecake recipes, with sour cream and without, with just cream cheese or some with ricotta or mascarpone. The more I meddle with ingredients, the more I come back to the simple but quite perfect combination of just Philadelphia, eggs and sugar. My grandmother clearly agreed as the version I now make was passed down from her, to my lovely Aunty Helen, to me.
There’s also the debate about pre-baking the base or leaving it to set in the fridge – which methods produces a crunchier base? Well I’ve tried both and personally I think fridge set is the way forward. However, if you disagree then feel free to do it your way and proceed on with the rest of the recipe.
85g unsalted butter, melted
200g digestive biscuits
450g full fat Philadelphia cream cheese
150g caster sugar
1 big fat vanilla pod, seeds scraped (or 1 teaspoon of vanilla paste)
A little icing sugar to dredge
Raspberries and double cream to serve, if you like
Preheat oven 110c and grease and line a high sided 8″ tin (ideally spring-form for easy removal) with greaseproof paper.
Bash up the biscuits into crumbs (I use a food processor but putting them in a plastic food bag and bashing with a rolling pin also works – great stress relief too!)
Mix the biscuit crumbs into the melted butter and press into the bottom of an 8″ loose bottomed tin, making the edges slightly higher. You may want to use a glass to get really flatten the crumbs down and ensure they’re packed tightly (which helps produce a crunchier base that doesn’t fall apart when you slice). Put in the fridge (or ideally freezer) for at least 10 minutes.
Beat cream cheese gently until smooth and then gradually beat in the sugar, eggs and vanilla. Be sure to beat enough so any cream cheese lumps are dispersed but do not over-beat as the mixture can split.
Pour the mixture into the tin and shake gently to level it out. You can run a clean finger gently over the top of the mix to get rid of any air bubbles.
Place the tin on a baking tray and then into the oven. Bake for 1 ½ hours, until set but slightly wobbly. The cheesecake should be pale with a slight golden tinge round the edge. Baking it for longer at a lower heat really intensifies the smoothness and stops it drying out.
When it’s ready run a thin knife cleanly around the edge to separate it from the tin, then pop it back in the oven, turn the oven off and allow the cheesecake to cool completely inside the oven before taking it out (leave overnight if it’s convenient). This stops the cheesecake from cracking.
When the oven and cheesecake are totally cool, remove from the tin and place on a serving plate and refrigerate for a good few hours until ready to serve.
It looks really beautiful with scattered raspberries on top (and tastes great too) but you could top with anything you like – strawberries, passion fruit, blackberries, fruit coulis, or a sauce such as chocolate or caramel. It also tastes sublime with a blob of softly whipped double cream.
Dredge over a little icing sugar before serving.
- Serves around 8 people
- Suitable for freezing