If I had to pick my absolute favorite dessert, it would have to be cheesecake. Cheesecake that is not for the faint of heart, or those on a steadfast diet, or those who prefer completely light sweets. Rich and filling cheesecake. Turns out my mother-in-law is a steadfast cheesecake lover, too. I made the following dessert for Mother’s Day. It was incredible.
I’ve attempted to make cheesecakes a number of times before, but always ended up with cracked tops, or impatiently ate them without allowing the cake to set overnight. I decided to scour the internet for tips on baking cheesecakes. Turns out there are a vast number of tips and to set out to follow every single one is crazy-making. SO. I picked the ones that made the most sense to me: aim for even temperatures while baking (thus the water bath), make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature so they combine quicker with less air, be patient and let the cheesecake refrigerate overnight.
This cheesecake is simple; the flavor is vanilla-rich, using whole vanilla beans and vanilla extract. I loved how the whole vanilla beans left their little black speckles scattered in and through the white cheesecake landscape. It is very rich though, so be open to sharing with folks you love, even if you’re tempted to eat the whole 2+ pound, 9-inch cake yourself!
Vanilla Bean Cheesecake
Recipe lightly adapted from Laura at One Cake Two Cake blog
makes one 9” cheesecake
For the crust:
1½ cups graham cracker crumbs (about 10 crackers)
1 cup walnuts
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
3 tbsp. light brown sugar, packed
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
For the filling:
4- 8 oz. packages cream cheese, at room temperature
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 vanilla beans, scraped
the juice from one meyer lemon
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
For the topping:
2 cups sour cream
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, scraped
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan.
Prepare the crust: Combine the graham crackers, walnuts, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a large chopping blade. Pulse until all the crumbs and nuts are more or less even in size. Pulse the ingredients while drizzling in the melted butter. Evenly press the graham cracker mixture into the bottom of the pan and up the sides. I use my hands initially, then a glass cup to pack the crust even more firmly and evenly. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the crust is lightly browned. (When I removed the crust from the oven, it had puffed slightly. I took the same glass cup and firmly pressed the crust again before allowing it to cool completely.)
Prepare the filling: Make sure your cream cheese and eggs are at complete room temperature before preparing the filling for best results. In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend the cream cheese until smooth and creamy, at about medium-low speed. Once the cream cheese is smooth, turn off the mixer and add in the eggs, sugar, vanilla beans, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. Mix over medium-low speed until all the ingredients are just combined. Be careful not to over-mix, incorporating more air than necessary or desired in the filling mixture! Pour the filling into your cooled crust, evenly and smooth. Gently, but firmly, knock the pan on your countertop to get rid of any trapped air bubbles.
Wrap the outside bottom and sides of your springform pan in foil, to prevent leaking. Once wrapped, place the springform pan in a large baking dish. Fill the baking dish with water, halfway up the sides of the springform pan. (This allows the internal temperature of the cheesecake to stay even while baking, helping to prevent cracking.) Bake until the center of the cheesecake just slightly jiggles when the pan is lightly shaken (50-70 minutes). If the cheesecake looks too runny, continue baking for another few minutes. Don’t let it get overdone, though!
While the cheesecake is baking, prepare the topping by whisking together the sour cream, granulated sugar, and remaining vanilla bean, until completely combined.
Remove the cheesecake from the oven while the center is still slightly wiggly. Gently pour the sour cream topping over the cheesecake, spreading it evenly with a spatula. Return the cheesecake to the oven for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, crack the oven door open slightly, and allow the cheesecake to remain in the oven for another 20 minutes.
Remove the foil and place the cheesecake, still in the pan, on a wire rack to cool for at least two hours before covering with plastic wrap and refrigerating overnight (at least 10 hours).
Cut and serve. Top with fresh strawberries if you want. Or any fresh berries. Delicious!