Saveur Days Recipe #10: The Ultimate Baby-Strapped-To-Chest Cheesecake

Baby strapped to chest. He was a good assistant

Cheese fucking cake. I had no idea this dessert would be such a challenge. There was Baby strapped to my chest during the making of it, sure. But cheesecake, it turns out, is a pain in the ass to bake with or without a baby on your chest: the hot water bath, wrapping the pan in foil, processing the graham crackers to make the crust from scratch, chilling the crust, adding the three eggs one at a time and having to scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl multiple times during the mixing process, the really long baking time, hours of chilling afterwards, making the topping, and having to zest another lemon and juice it besides, knowing what the right “jiggle” looks like. You’ll see what I mean. I got video.

It would be a challenging recipe without Baby strapped to your chest with him reaching for every ingredient and eager to help mommy make sure she does it right. Oh and I did it right the first time, following the recipe to the letter, but it turned out all wrong. The thing was so under baked it was like slurping batter. Once I removed the first slice, the rest of the cake collapsed into the empty wedge like a sinkhole.

Like the greenhouse effect came into my kitchen and turned my cheesecake into a dairy model of the icecaps melting in the North Pole
Like the greenhouse effect came into my kitchen and turned my cheesecake into a dairy model of the icecaps melting in the North Pole

Pissed me off. It pissed me right off after all the work that Baby and I put into making it. And–this will sound like hubris–I haven’t missed this wide on a baking recipe since I was thirteen and overbaked my first batch of chocolate chip cookies. That was still edible. This was a total disaster.

So I tried again. And this time–with a tip from BFF who said it should jiggle like jello (rather than ripple like pancake batter), nearly doubling the bake time, reserving the blueberry topping just before serving, the baby staying busy with Squeezable Companion–it turned out as perfect as Baby.

Best cheesecake I’ve ever tasted. And you don’t need to bake that baby beforehand in your oven to strap to you chest in order to bake the ultimate baby-strapped-to-your-chest cheesecake.

The Ultimate Baby-Strapped-To-Chest Cheesecake (Adapted from Tyler Florence’s “Ultimate Cheesecake” on Food Network.)

Serves 1 to 8

2 cups finely ground graham crackers (about 30 squares)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter, melted

1 pound cream cheese, 2 (8-ounce) blocks, softened
3 eggs, room temperature. (If they’re cold, don’t bother waiting for them to get to room temperature. Just place them in a warm water bath 15 min before using and they should be ready to go.)
1 cup sugar
1 pint sour cream
1 lemon, zested
1 dash vanilla extract

Warm Lemon Blueberry Topping:
1 pint blueberries
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons sugar

To make the crust:

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Making the graham cracker crust

Grind up the graham crackers. I used my lovely Blendtec to do this since I don’t have a food processor. Fifteen crackers at a time, so two batches. When I tried to grind up all 30 at once, the whole crackers would sit on top of the ground ones whiles the blade would spin uselessly. Too much too soon.

Melt the stick of butter in a microwave safe bowl; 30-40 second should do it. If there are lumps of butter still bobbing around, stir the solid butter pieces into the warm melted butter before nuking it further. You don’t want to over heat it.

In a mixing bowl, combine the ingredients with a fork until evenly moistened.

Wrap the pan with a large piece of foil. My foil wasn’t wide enough to wrap all the way up to the top edge of the pan so I double layered foil with the long ends lying perpendicular to each other. Don’t do this step AFTER you’ve poured in the filling. You might jostle the batter, spill some, his little hands might reach in to take a dip in the filling, who knows with a baby strapped to your chest.

Lightly coat the bottom and sides of an nine inch (or eight inch if that’s what you have) springform pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Pour the crumbs into the pan and press the crumbs down into the base and one inch up the sides using the the smooth bottom of a glass. Refrigerate for five minutes. (I forgot to do this both times.)

Line the pan with foil and place in a large roasting pan

To make the filling:

Start to boil some water. You won’t want to be waiting for water to boil AFTER you’ve made you batter. It’s just annoying waiting for water to boil especially when you’ve got a baby strapped to your chest.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese on low speed for one to two minutes until smooth and free of any lumps. Scrape down the sides. Add the eggs one at a time and continue to beat slowly until combined, scraping dow the sides before each addition. Gradually add sugar and beat until creamy for two minutes.

Adding the eggs one at a time

Meanwhile, zest the lemon. Try not to grate the baby’s fingers.

Zest one lemon

Add sour cream, lemon zest, and vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beaters and beat the mixture until well-mixed but not overbeaten.

After adding the eggs then the rest of the ingredients

While this is mixing, place foil lined pan in a large roasting pan. Pour the filling into the pan.

Place roasting pan with the cake in the oven and pour boiling water into the roasting pan until the water is about halfway up the sides of the cheesecake pan; the foil will keep the water from seeping into the cheesecake.

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Now, this is important: I baked the first one for 45 minutes as directed by Tyler. Don’t. Make that 80. The cheesecake should jiggle like firmish jello not ripple (see video below)–but be careful not to overcook.

Let cool in pan for 45 minutes. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, preferably over night, loosely covered with a paper towel (this will absorb the evaporated moisture from the cake rather than the water condensing on an nonabsorbent cover and dripping back down onto the cake surface.

To make the topping:

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While the cake is chilling, in a small saucepan add the blueberries, lemon zest and juice, and sugar and simmer over medium heat for five minutes or so until the fruit begins to break down slightly.

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Pour it into a bowl and place topping in the fridge to cool. Or if you decide to do this closer to serving time, just let it cool down until it’s warm or room temperature and top the cake just before serving.

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To serve:

Once thoroughly chilled, loosen the cheesecake from the sides of the pan by running a thin metal spatula around the inside rim. Unmold and transfer to a cake plate.

(Now, for cheesecake #1, I spread a layer of the topping over the surface before I cut the first slice out. But once the cake gets cut the syrup drips and stains the whole cake and, if you don’t serve the whole thing right away, it makes the crust soggy.

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So for cheesecake #2, I decided to top the cheesecake just before serving each slice.)

Slice the cheesecake with a thin, non-serrated knife that has been dipped in hot water. Wipe dry after each cut.

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Top the slice with the blueberry topping and prepare to swoon.

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For more photos, go to Flickr.

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