One of my favorite cheesecakes was one served at a long gone kosher dairy restaurant in NYC. It was so soft and light I was sure that the recipe involved whipped egg whites. All other cheesecakes seemed unbearably leaden in comparison.
I never made anything close until I made Nick Malgieri’s Sour Cream Cheecake. The lightness does not come from whipped egg whites, but from a large amount of sour cream, which gives the cheesecake a super soft texture and a delightful tang.
Instead of using his pate sable crust recipe, I make a crumb crust using tea biscuits (petite beurre cookies) or graham crackers. I skip the springform and bake the cheesecake in a foil pan. For the full recipe, I have used a 10″ foil casserole which is about 3″ high (actually the pan is 8″ diameter at the bottom and 10″ at the top, which averages out to 9″ diameter, which is the size that you really need). I also make two-thirds of the recipe in a regular 9″ round pan.
If anything, I prefer making two-thirds of the recipe in a shallower pan. It makes a more manageable amount of cheesecake, and you get a better ratio of crust and topping to cheesecake (should you decide to add topping).
I have successfully skipped the water bath, but you can use it for added insurance against cracking. I think the best prevention of cracking is thoroughly greasing the sides of the pan, sprinkling crust on the sides as well as bottom, and making sure to pull the cheesecake out when it is still a bit liquid in the center. If the cheesecake seems stuck to the sides, run a knife around to release it so that it won’t be stuck to the sides as it cools. The being stuck to the sides when the cheesecake want to shrink in cooling is what causes a lot of cracking–that and being over baked.
Sour Cream Cheesecake
Adapted from Nick Malgieri
Larger Crust, for 9″ round springform or 3″ deep pan
Combine in a bowl:
2 cups of tea biscuit or graham cracker crumbs (180 g. /6.3 ounces)
2-4 Tbl. sugar
1/2 cup of melted butter (4 ounces)
1/3 cup chopped pecans (optional)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon (optional)
Smaller Crust, for 9″ round pan with 1 1/2″ sides
Combine in a bowl:
1 1/3 cups of tea biscuit or graham cracker crumbs (a 4.25 ounce/ 109 g. package of tea biscuits or an equivalent amount of graham crackers),
1-2 Tbl sugar
5-6 Tbl. melted butter
3-4 Tbl. chopped pecans (optional)
1/4 tsp. cinnamon (optional)
Press the crust crumb mixture into either a well-buttered 9″ round cake pan, or a 9″ round springform pan (substitutes for the springforma are a a 9″ round pan with 3″ high sides or an extra-deep foil casserole pan that is 8″ at the base and 10″ diameter at the top). There will be enough crumb mixture to press the crumbs into the sides of the pan. If you don’t care if there is enough crumbs to press all the way up the sides of the pan and just want enough crumbs for the bottom of the pan and maybe a little for the sides of the pan, use the smaller crust recipe for the springform pan as well.
You can chill the crust while you make the filling.
Filling amount for a 9″ round springform or 3″ deep pan:
1 lb. cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1 lb. sour cream
2 tsp. vanilla
Filling amount for a 9″ pan that is normal height (about 2″):
10-11 ounces cream cheese (10.66 ounces)
2/3 cup sugar
10-11 ounces sour cream (10.66 ounces)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP IS LETTING THE CREAM CHEESE COME TO ROOM TEMPERATURE. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. If you are impatient, buy whipped cream cheese, which seems to soften faster.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. (I know Nick’s recipe says 350 degrees, but I go with 325 degrees.)
Combine the cream cheese and sugar UNTIL THE MIXTURE IS COMPLETELY SMOOTH. DO NOT SKIMP HERE EITHER. This is your one chance to get a smooth, lump free mixture of sugar and cream cheese. Once you add the other ingredients, it will be very hard to get out any remaining lumps, so take your time and make sure the mixture is completely smooth.
Add vanilla and sour cream and mix gently until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing only until combined.
Pour the batter into your crust and pop it into the oven for about 55 minutes, or until the mixture is set on the edges and slightly jiggly in the very center. It will continue to cook as it cools. YOU MUST NOT TRY TO CUT INTO THE CHEESECAKE UNTIL IT HAS HAD A CHANCE TO CHILL OVERNIGHT.
If you want to do the water bath thing to help shield your cheesecake from over baking, you can put the pan in a larger pan with a 1/2″ of water (you will need to wrap the bottom of your springform pan in foil to prevent seepage, if you are using both the springform pan and the water bath). I personally don’t bother with the water bath and my cheesecakes come out just fine.
If you are using a springform pan, you don’t need any advice about unmolding the cake. If you use a one piece pan (which is what I do), here is how you unmold: First, run a knife or spatula around the pan to make sure that the cake is not sticking to the sides. Next, gently place a piece of plastic wrap over the top of the chilled cheesecake and flip the cheesecake onto a flat plate or cake cardboard. Lift off the pan. Place a foiled covered cake board on the crust (which is now facing up) and flip the cheesecake around again so that the crust is again on the bottom. Remove the cake plate or board that is on top of the cheesecake. Gently peel off the plastic wrap. Ta-da! You have a plated cheesecake.
Extra (Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake): for a denser, less tangy cheesecake, use 8 ounces of heavy cream and 24 ounces of cream cheese instead of the 16 ounces of sour cream and 16 ounces of cream cheese. Add a Tbl. each of lemon juice, vanilla, and the liqueur of your choice. (for the smaller cheesecake, you would need 2/3 cup (5.33 ounces) cream and 16 ounces cream cheese)
Follow the link to see how I turned this into a three flavor (toffee, chocolate, vanilla) cheesecake.