This post is about cheesecake. If you don’t like cheesecake, please go away and never come back. If you’re diabetic or lactose-intolerant you can stay, but if you simply don’t care for cheesecake or feel that it isn’t your cup of tea, then beat it. Also, if you use that phrase, “It isn’t my cup of tea,” you should also beat it. Enjoy your pumpkin pie or lemon meringue or whatever hideous excuse for a dessert you prefer.
Now for the rest of you, my dear friends, welcome. I’m going to teach you how to make the most delectable cheesecake in the world. I discovered it long ago in a book called The Best Recipes from New England Inns, under “Melissa’s Prize-Winning Cheesecake.” Melissa is Melissa Lippke, who, at the time the book was published (1984), had a “thriving catering business” in Huntington, New York. I tried to find Melissa because I thought it would be nice to get a quote from her and let her know that her recipe is still attracting attention and making people happy. However, unlike the instant success online searches always generate in television dramas, I found no one with that name who could be the woman I was seeking. I did locate other people named Lippke, and was surprised to see how many of them were in their late nineties; a few were well over a hundred. Clearly, the Lippkes have longevity. It could be genetics, but I’m hoping it’s the cheesecake.
This recipe is not difficult, but you need to do what I tell you. Don’t think you can substitute ingredients or skip a step. And be careful, for crying out loud. Don’t repeat my mistake from back in ’86, when I made a Swedish apple pie and unknowingly used two cups of salt instead of sugar. The results were less than satisfactory, as you can imagine. If you were there, you no doubt still remember that first and only bite, and the nightmares it caused for many weeks afterward. Mistakes in the kitchen sometimes produce happy results — potato chips and popsicles come to mind — but as a general rule, if you don’t do it right, nobody is going to eat it. I implore you: please pay attention.
Speaking of paying attention, here’s one more little incident from my culinary past that may prove instructive. I have a ceramic pie plate that I received as a gift many years ago. It has a cheesecake recipe printed on the plate itself. This seems as though it would be a convenient thing, because in order to lose the recipe, I’d have to lose the plate, which is hard to do. If you want to lose a pie plate, you have to take it somewhere and then leave it behind. And then you have to forget where you took it. This could never happen to me, because when I offer to bring people a pie, they almost always tell me not to. “Just bring yourself,” is what they say. In fact, they insist. And ever since the apple pie incident with the salt, many of them beg. And so I still have this ceramic plate. Here’s what happened. As I said, the recipe is actually part of the plate’s design. The second step in the instructions, after “Heat oven,” is to press a graham cracker crust into the pan, which I did. This created a problem, one that is probably clear to you already, but which took me almost a full minute to recognize. The rest of the recipe was now hidden under the crust, and because I hadn’t written it down, I had no choice but to scrape everything out and put it into a bowl. I never made that cheesecake again, but I still like the plate.
This brings us to an important point. You’ll need a nine-inch springform pan to make Melissa’s cheesecake. If you don’t have a springform pan or don’t know what it is, stop right here. You can make this cake in a regular pan, but you won’t be able to slice and serve it. You’ll find yourself resorting to prying the cake out in a crumbled mess and no one will be impressed. (Please reread the third paragraph above, if necessary.) Either get a springform pan or just forget the whole thing.
And be sure to start the day before; this cheesecake has to chill in the refrigerator overnight.
* * * * *
Here are the ingredients you’ll need:
1 cup of graham cracker crumbs
1 stick of butter
2 pounds of cream cheese (or 900 grams)
1¾ cups of sugar (Make sure it’s sugar.) (No, really.)
1 teaspoon of vanilla
3 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 cup of sour cream
3 tablespoons of sugar
Preparation: Take all of the ingredients out and put them onto the counter. Then as you use each one, put it away. If you do this, you won’t have to stand there scratching your head, wondering if you put the lemon juice in already. Also, get out the pan, some butter, a hand mixer, a large bowl, a spatula, a knife, and your measuring cups. You’ll also need a regular cake pan to fill with hot water. Leave the cream cheese out to soften. Depending on how warm it is in your house, this could be an hour or more.
1. Grease the bottom and insides of the pan. I use butter, but you can also use a non-stick spray.
2. Melt some butter and add it to the graham cracker crumbs. Mix the two until the crumbs are moistened enough to hold together as a crust. Add more melted butter, if needed. Then press the mixture onto the bottom and sides of the pan.
3. Now comes the tricky part. Put the cream cheese into the bowl and, using an electric mixer, churn it until it’s smooth. This is why I told you to leave it out to soften. We’ve reached the hardest step in the whole thing, and if you have a family, you may want to send them outside. This will be less frightening for them, and will free you up to utter whatever obscenities might relieve your spiraling stress. You see, even when soft, the cream cheese will keep clogging up the beaters and you’ll have to push it back out with the knife or the spatula. As soon as you start up the mixer, the beaters will clog up again, with half of the cream cheese stuck inside. You’ll want to kill someone at this point, so it’s just as well that you sent your loved ones away. After removing and mixing a couple of times, the cream cheese will begin to cooperate and will assume a smooth consistency.
4. Now heat the oven to 350 degrees. That’s 350 degrees Fahrenheit. If you heat your oven to 350 degrees Celsius, it will melt into the floor and burn down your house, and making a nice cheesecake will be the last thing on your mind.
5. Pour the 1¾ cups of sugar into the bowl a little at a time and mix completely, either by hand or with the electric mixer. Put in the vanilla and do the same.
6. Add one egg at a time and mix until the egg is blended in. After one or two eggs, everything will be much easier to deal with, and you may now invite your family back into the house if you wish. However, if any of them tries to taste the batter, kick them out again or threaten them with pumpkin pie.
7. Pour in the lemon juice and stir.
8. Make sure the springform pan is locked closed with the bottom of the pan in place. If the pan isn’t assembled correctly, it may leak in the oven. Don’t ask me how I know this or what kind of maniacal thoughts such a development would cause; just take my word for it.
9. Pour the mixture into the springform pan and place it on the rack in the center of the oven.
10. Immediately below the cheesecake, on the lower rack, place a larger pan filled with hot water. I have no idea what this is for, but if Melissa told me to put a cinderblock under that cheesecake, I’d do it.
11. Bake for 90 minutes. That’s one and a half hours. Do not open the oven door to see how things are going. Also, do not leave the area. You don’t have to stay in the kitchen the whole time, but don’t go upstairs to watch a movie or play games on the computer. Don’t start making phone calls or cleaning out your bedroom closet. Don’t go bowling. Remember the number one rule of baking: Nothing burns until you leave the room.
12. At minute 85, mix the three tablespoons of sugar into the sour cream and spread it over the top of the cake. (Keep in mind that the pan is very hot. Again, I’m speaking from experiences I don’t wish to go into right now.) Put the cake back into the oven for the remaining five minutes.
13. Let the cake cool on the counter, then cover with plastic wrap and put it into the refrigerator for 24 hours. (Hint: If the plastic wrap melts onto the pan, you didn’t wait long enough.)
14. When you’re ready to serve the cake, run a butter knife around the edge to make sure it separates from the pan. Then unlatch the sides and remove it. If you like, make some fresh whipped cream and drop a couple of spoonsful on top of each slice.
15. Invite your loved ones into the room and get ready to be thanked and praised.
16. I’m sorry. Did I say thanked and praised? Prepare to be worshipped.
For a great selection of reproducible cartoons, visit Ron Leishman’s website.