Mastering a Recipe

I am one of “those people”. You know, the people who try out brand new recipes on their guests. Most of the time, this works out for all concerned because I follow the recipe almost exactly, and read the reviews. (Full disclosure here: I’m not sure I have EVER followed a recipe to the letter. However, I have also never changed the recipe in a half dozen ways and then left a poor review stating the recipe “doesn’t work”. I fully take responsibility for all my mistakes!)

When I was younger, I loved complicated ingredients. In fact, if the recipe only had a few simple ingredients, then I added something to it to make it better. Chocolate cake? Probably would taste good with cinnamon (it does!). Ground beef? Let’s add onion and garlic powder (but don’t tell Dad; he thinks he doesn’t like it). However, I’m growing more minimalistic as the years pass. Now, I try to keep an uncrowded, uncluttered pantry. I hate buying specialty ingredients that only work for one recipe. Nowadays, my favorite types of recipes are the “flexible” kinds. They require a few basic ingredients, but can be scaled to different servings or tweaked with different flavors. Here are some examples:

  • Roasted whole chicken – flavored with different seasonings and vegetables
  • Muffins – I can make these chocolate chip, double chocolate chip, blueberry, or cinnamon flavored very easily
  • Cheesecake – my all-time favorite. Our family prefers plain topped with chocolate ganache or strawberry glaze, or peanut butter chocolate chip.
  • No knead bread – I make a French loaf out of this and a great pizza crust
  • Cheese sauce – for macaroni and cheese, or potatoes au gratin

I love these recipes because I have made them each over 100 times. Do you know what happens when you make something that many times? You learn what NOT TO DO! These are my fool-proof recipes. I really should just serve these things to my guests, and save myself the worry of “what if this recipe doesn’t work out?” But I like to live dangerously….

Today, I’ll share my cheesecake recipe, which is really just a simplification of about a dozen of the “best” cheesecake recipes online.

Master Cheesecake Recipe

Filling:

For every 8 ounce package of cream cheese, you will need:

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup fat (sour cream, peanut butter and heavy whipping cream)

1 egg

½ tsp. extract (usually vanilla, sometimes almond or lemon)

Any additional flavoring ingredients (chocolate chips, etc.)

Crust:

1 package graham crackers, crushed

1/3 cup butter, melted

Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature. Mix butter and graham crackers together and press into bottom of greased springform pan. Beat cream cheese and sugar together until smooth. Blend in fat ingredients, and then egg(s) and extract flavoring of choice. Stir in any additional flavoring ingredients. Pour on top of crust. Put in a cold oven. Bake at 250 degrees Fahrenheit until the edges are set butt the center is still soft (it moves a little if you jiggle the pan). This takes almost an hour for a 3 package cream cheese cake, but maybe as long as 2 hours for a 4 package cream cheese cake). Turn off oven, but leave cheesecake in for 1 hour. Pull cheesecake out of the oven and run a knife around the edges to separate it from the sides of the pan and then cool on countertop for 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight.

IF your ingredients are at room temperature, and IF you bake this low and slow as listed above, and IF you remember to run a knife along the edge; then your odds of getting a crack in the top are greatly reduced – no water bath needed.

So how does this odd recipe work?

Let’s say you want a medium sized plain cheesecake (8-10 servings maybe?). Just use 3 packages of cream cheese, and multiply the other filling ingredients by 3. So, three eggs, ¾ cup sugar, ¾ cup sour cream, 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract (actually, I like to do vanilla and almond extract on a plain cheesecake – yum!)

Or, if you want a really large peanut butter chocolate cheesecake, use 4 packages of cream cheese, 4 eggs, 1 cup sugar, etc. For the fat, I use ¾ cup creamy peanut butter and ¼ cup heavy whipping cream to thin it out a bit. Don’t forget to stir in about a cup of semisweet chocolate chips at the end.

The sky’s the limit on your cheesecake flavorings. I’ve done plain with a lemon curd, plain with strawberry glaze, plain with chocolate ganache, and the peanut butter chocolate chip versions. It would also taste good with turtle toppings, or however your imagination strikes you. Oreo cookies? Blueberries? Bacon? (just kidding about that last one!)

One last tip – if you are into cheesecakes as much as I am (but you probably are not, and that’s okay), then you will love the Fat Daddio springform pan. (I have the 8 inch pan, but am considering getting a second 8 inch pan to make layered cakes, and a 6 inch pan to make smaller, cuter cheesecakes for our family of 4. Note: I am a minimalist who has made many cheesecakes in a pie plate; they turn out okay; but this pan is AWESOME! I wish I had discovered it years ago. I do not consider it excessive to have 2 or 3 of these babies.)

Maybe not everyone thinks in ratios when it comes to recipes, but I love cooking this way. Plus, this would make a great math lesson for any kiddos out there learning fractions. Just make sure you supervise them a little bit (one of my kids has a hard time remembering “which bottle is olive oil and which one is vinegar?”

And please, please, please, don’t do reduced fat anything! PLEASE! Otherwise, I cannot guarantee the results. Now, let your creativity run free!

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