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Fear Conquered: Plain Old Vanilla
I crave chocolate - but I love vanilla.
It’s a lot like life. There’s a time to spice things up and boldly go. And then there’s the wonderfully comforting vanilla of same-old, same-old. Like snuggling in for an episode of Star Trek, going for a burger at Five Guys, meeting the other half for lunch three times a week. Sure it’s routine vanilla, but it’s so good.
With my love for vanilla, it’s kind of strange that the very first cheesecake ever posted to this blog was a chocolate cheesecake. On the other hand, that chocolate cheesecake is amazing. And it was the first recipe I challenged myself to develop just weeks after having left my full-time job in Cleveland. I figured if I could master something like chocolate cheesecake, what could stand in the way of mastering anything?
In a way, that turned out to be true. Except, the real challenge for me turned out to be chocolate cake, not cheesecake. Chocolate cake was so tough to figure out, I still can’t believe I finally arrived at a happy place. So many mistakes, so many flops, so much frustration. But the point that’s getting lost here: if mastering chocolate cheesecake is possible, anything is possible.
Like plain old vanilla cheesecake. This is pure child’s play. Literally, a child could beat this cheesecake filling together. A child could pour it into the graham cracker crust and set the timer for baking. There’s nothing tricky, no bain marie water bath, no special equipment. (There is a springform pan, I suppose, and that’s kind of special - it still fascinates me every time I pop one together.) Just mix, pour and bake.
I based this vanilla cheesecake on my chocolate cheesecake recipe. And the technique and baking methods are the same. But as it turns out, taking the chocolate out of cheesecake leaves plain-old vanilla a bit dry. So I added a cup of sour cream to fix that. And while mascarpone compliments chocolate, it doesn’t taste so good on it’s own. So I cut out the mascarpone and added more traditional cream cheese. And if you’re a devoted reader of this blog, you might remember my fondness for pairing vanilla with cognac and cardamom. I do it with granola and ice cream and love the results. I tried to work the same magic here, but it turns out that adding cognac to cheesecake is a terrible idea. The whole baking process seems to amp up the cognac flavor and overpower the vanilla and cream cheese. Same thing with my old buddy cardamom. The cardamom intensifies and makes for a confused cheesecake.
That’s the kind of stuff you don’t need to know in order to make this cheesecake. Just follow the recipe and you’ll be good. But if you’re a cheesecake fan - and really, everyone should be - here’s something you might want to know: cheesecake is easy.
Yes, you have to plan ahead by a day (cheesecake must be thoroughly cooled and chilled). And yes, you have hang around for a couple hours while the cheesecake bakes. But that’s not hard. That’s just planning. So buy some cream cheese, sour cream and eggs and bake yourself a cheesecake. Or at least think about it.
FEAR CONQUERED | PRINTABLE RECIPE | HUNGRY FOR TIPS?
|For the crust, start with 8 ounces of organic graham crackers (I like bunny grahams).|
|Crush the graham crackers into crumbs. I use my food processor fitted with the steel blade.|
|If you don't have a food processor, you can instead use a sealed plastic bag.|
|Next you will need 15 Biscoff lotus cookies.|
|Crush the cookies into crumbs. Again, I use my food processor.|
|Combine the Biscoff cookie crumbs with the graham cracker crumbs and mix to combine.|
|Melt 1/2 cup of unsalted butter (I use the microwave).|
|Add the melted butter to the cookie crumbs and mix to evenly coat with the butter.|
|Fit together a 9-inch non-stick springform pan.|
|Pour the buttered cookie crumbs into the pan.|
|Evenly press out the crumbs over the the bottom and sides of the pan.|
|Bake the crust for 8 minutes at 375F. Remove the crust from the oven and let cool while you prepare the cheesecake filling. Reduce the oven temperature to 350F.|
|For the cheesecake filling, start with 3x 8 ounce bricks of room-temperature cream cheese.|
|Add 3/4 cup of granulated sugar to the cream cheese.|
|Beat the cream cheese and sugar together on medium speed for 5 minutes until smooth and creamy.|
|Add 1 cup of sour cream and beat for 1 minute.|
|Add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly between adding each egg.|
|Add 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1 1/2 Tablespoons vanilla extract; beat until well mixed. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl and beat for another 1 minute to ensure there are no lumps.|
|The cheesecake filling should be smooth and uniform, without lumps.|
|Pour the cheesecake filling into the cooled crust and bake at 350F for 30 minutes. Then, shut off the oven (do NOT open the door) and let the cheesecake continue to bake in the closed oven for exactly 40 minutes.|
|Then, open the oven door to the first opening only and let the cheesecake cool in the oven for 1 hour.|
|Remove the cheesecake from the oven and let cool to room temperature until the bottom of the pan is completely cool.|
|Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.|
|Serve chilled; optionally drizzle with strawberry or raspberry sauce or serve with fresh berries.|
FEAR CONQUERED | PHOTO TUTORIAL | HUNGRY FOR TIPS?
Foolproof Creamy Cheesecake
Prep Time: 1 hr
Cook Time: 1 hr 40 min
Ingredients (serves 8)
- 1 cup Biscoff cookie crumbs (15 Lotus cookies)
- 1 3/4 cups (225 grams) organic graham cracker crumbs
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 24 ounces brick cream cheese, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 8 ounces sour cream, at room temperature
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 375℉
- Combine the Biscoff cookie and graham cracker crumbs in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse to combine; add the melted butter and process with the crumbs until the butter is evenly distributed
- Pour the buttered crumbs into a 9-inch springform pan and evenly press out the crust over bottom and sides of the pan; bake the crust for at 375℉ for 8 minutes, then remove from the oven and let cool while preparing the cheesecake filling
- Reduce the oven temperature to 350℉
- Add the cream cheese and granulated sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat together on medium speed for 5 minutes until smooth and creamy; add the sour cream and beat for another minute
- Add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly between each egg; add the salt and vanilla and beat on medium speed until well combined; scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and beat again for 1 minute to ensure there are no lumps
- Pour the cheesecake filling into the prepared, cooled crust; bake the cheesecake at 350℉ for 30 minutes, then shut off the oven (do not open the oven door) and let the cheesecake continue to bake in the closed oven for 40 minutes
- Open the oven door to the first opening and let cheesecake cool in the oven for 1 hour; remove the cheesecake from the oven and cool to room temperature, then cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight; serve chilled
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FEAR CONQUERED | PHOTO TUTORIAL | PRINTABLE RECIPE
Hungry for Tips?
- Cookie Crust: I've tried making this crust using just graham crackers - it was too bland. Then I tried this crust using just Biscoff cookies - it was too sweet and the spices overpowered the cheesecake. So now I use a combination of Biscoff cookies and graham crackers. If you have a food processor, it's easy to grind the cookies and crackers into crumbs. If you don't have a food processor, you can crush the cookies in a sealed plastic bag.
- Vanilla: I use real vanilla extract for this recipe (no imitations). It's a simple cheesecake with simple, classic flavors, and I think imitation vanilla is too harsh and tastes too…well, like an imitation. So I encourage you to stick with the real thing for this recipe.
- Low Fat: I have not tested this recipe with reduced fat cream cheese or sour cream. Many people have had good success with reduced fat baking products, so feel free to give it a try. I recommended swapping out no more than 1/2 of the full-fat cream cheese for low fat the first time you try a substitution. If it works, great! Try swapping out more fat the next time. Personally, I want my cheesecake to be rich - that’s the point of cheesecake.
- Water Bath: There is no water bath! Trust me - you don't need the water bath if you follow the baking instructions precisely. The cheesecake doesn't crack, it doesn't crater, it doesn't collapse. But you MUST follow the baking instructions - don't rush things, don't cheat. The key to preventing cracks is a gentle and gradual baking and cooling of the cheesecake - thus the multiple stages of differing heat.
- Strawberry Drizzle: During the two years I tested this recipe, I almost never made the strawberry drizzle shown in the photos. This cheesecake is delicious without the drizzle. So if you're not in a fussy mood, skip the drizzle entirely and save yourself the extra work. If you're concerned about presentation, I use my Homemade Strawberry Sauce in squeeze bottle.
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