MAKES ONE 8-INCH CHEESECAKE
Whenever I make this cheesecake for a party, my winning dessert from The Great American Baking Show finale, it’s always the first thing to disappear. The buttery, brown sugary pecan crust is reminiscent of pecan candy, an ode to Louisiana, while the dreamily creamy, slightly tangy filling is a lemony-rich homage to New York’s signature dessert, the cheesecake. Sometimes, just to show off, I add even more layers of texture and tartness by topping it with freshly whipped cream and berries, see cheesecake photo on page 176, or drizzling warm, creamy caramel directly over the cheesecake to contrast the chilled interior.
The cheesecake gets its sublime texture because it’s baked in a water bath—kind of like a mini Jacuzzi. The water bath ensures the cheesecake is baked gently, while providing a steamy environment that makes for an extra creamy cheesecake. Plus, the water bath encourages the cheesecake’s top to remain perfectly flat, a geometric feat in a world of cracked top cheesecakes.
PECAN CANDY CRUST
1⁄3 cup pecans, roughly chopped
¾ cup (90g) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup (100g) packed light or dark brown sugar
6 tablespoons (85g) unsalted butter, melted
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1⁄3 cup (80ml) heavy cream, room temperature
1⁄3 cup (80ml) sour cream, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of ¼ lemon
Vanilla Whipped Cream, for serving (see below; optional)
Berries, caramel, or toasted pecans, for serving (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Cut two 14-inch strips of parchment paper, and place a rack in the center of the oven. Place one strip in an 8 by 8-inch baking pan so the ends hang over the edges (they’ll help you lift the cheesecake from the pan). Place the second strip perpendicular to the first, letting the ends hang over the edges.
2. Make the pecan candy crust: Add the pecans to a sheet pan and bake until toasted and fragrant, about 7 minutes. Remove the pecans from the oven and set aside. Keep the oven on.
3. Meanwhile, add the flour, baking powder, and salt to a large bowl and whisk to combine. Add the brown sugar and melted butter and stir until combined. Lastly, stir in the toasted pecan pieces. Use the bottom of a measuring cup (or your hands!) to press the mixture into the bottom of the pan in an even layer. (Don’t press the crust up the sides of the pan.)
4. Transfer to the oven and bake the crust until the edges dry out, the center of the crust feels firm to light pressure but still gives a little, and the bottom feels dry but buttery, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, and reduce the temperature to 325°F.
5. Make the cheesecake filling. Fill a medium pot or teakettle with water and bring it to a boil; reduce the heat to low and cover the pot to keep the water hot (this water bath is for baking the cheesecake).
6. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on medium-high speed until it’s smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium-low and sprinkle in the sugar in a steady stream. Increase the speed to medium and beat until combined, about 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 1 additional minute. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl as needed.
7. Reduce the speed to low and add the eggs, one at a time, making sure each is incorporated before adding the next and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed between additions. Add the heavy cream, sour cream, vanilla, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Mix on medium until the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes.
8. Pour the filling into the cooled crust.
9. Pull the middle oven rack halfway out and place an empty 9 by 13-inch baking pan or roasting pan in the oven. Place the cheesecake inside of the larger baking pan. Carefully pour the hot water into the large baking pan, taking care not to splash into the square pan with the cheesecake. Add enough water so that it rises halfway up the sides of the smaller pan.
10. Bake the cheesecake until it jiggles only slightly when the pan is shaken, and if you gently touch it, your finger doesn’t leave an impression, about 50 to 60 minutes.
11. Carefully remove the large pan from the oven, taking care not to spill the hot water. Allow the cheesecake to cool in the hot water bath for 30 minutes. Then, remove it from the water bath and allow it to cool at room temperature for 30 minutes.
12. Transfer the cheesecake to the refrigerator for at least 4 hours before serving. Once completely chilled, carefully remove it from the square pan by lifting the parchment paper out of the pan and placing it onto a platter. Refrigerate, covered, and finish with berries, caramel, or toasted pecans before serving, if using.
NOTES: It is important that all of the ingredients are at room temperature so that they will combine easily. Also, be sure to use full-fat cream cheese that is in a block (not the whipped stuff). “Whipped” cream cheese contains additives to make it fluffy—and those additives don’t like to be heated and will make your cheesecake grainy.
MAKE AHEAD: This cheesecake can be prepared in advance and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. The pecan candy crust can also be made up to 3 days in advance. This cheesecake freezes beautifully—just wrap tightly and allow to defrost in the refrigerator before serving.
VANILLA WHIPPED CREAM
MAKES 2 CUPS
Homemade whipped cream is infinitely better than the stuff in a can: the texture is creamier, and it’s more stable. Homemade whipped cream will hold up in the fridge, retaining its shape. It’s also endlessly customizable—the cream can be infused with just about anything, from cinnamon sticks to ground coffee. Just be sure that the cream is extra cold when you’re ready to use it—the colder it is, the easier it is to whip up.
If you’d prefer to have unsweetened whipped cream, simply omit the confectioners’ sugar.
1 cup (240ml) heavy cream
2 tablespoons (15g) confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extra
Place the cream, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a medium bowl, if using a hand mixer). Whisk or beat on medium speed until you have soft peaks. Then, lower the speed to low, as it’s easy to overwhip at this point. Continue beating just until you reach stiff peaks.
STORAGE: The whipped cream may be stored in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 3 days.
Peanut Butter Whipped Cream: Add ¼ cup creamy peanut butter to the cream as you whisk it.
Reprinted from Life Is What You Bake It. Copyright © 2021 by Vallery Lomas. Photographs copyright © 2021 by Linda Xiao. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House.
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