It is Easter morning. It is 29 degrees out. 29 degrees! There is a wind howling around the corners of our condo. The trees, finally fuzzy with a haze of the palest green leaves, are whipping and bending. It’s time to pad out of bed and make for the coffee and a generous wedge of dense and dreamy cheesecake, studded with candied lemon peel, an allusion to Pashka, the Easter cheese spread of the Russian Orthodox served with the equally traditional Kulich.
I cut the cake. It is a disaster. The crust is pure mush, my beautiful frangipane crust. I am crushed and cursing like a sailor (on Easter morning, no less). What went wrong? I can guess a million things: bain marie seepage into the springform pan; the crust wasn’t browned and crisped enough before adding the cheese filling; the filling itself was too runny; the oven temperature just a little too low…
I could analyze ad nauseum, but I don’t have the time. A slow panic is setting in. I will have to admit defeat and do something I am loathe to do: I will have to consult Christopher Kimball, the king of “If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway.” Kimball and his Cook's Illustrated have a certain dim view of every recipe ever written, however successful it may be. Granted, some recipes are perfectly awful, but with Kimball, even the good ones aren’t good enough. There is always SOMETHING wrong on the exacting quest for perfection, which MUST be achieved each and every time. This tone causes me no end of annoyance, despite the fact that I have gleaned countless great tips from the fanatical engineers of America’s Test Kitchen, everything from ensuring a pie dough has more than a dribble of ice water to the painstaking finer details of divine French fries. Admitting the contradiction, I peruse the Cook's Illustrated recipes for cheesecake. I am expecting no less than a miracle today on Easter Sunday. Here it is:
Basic All-Purpose Graham Cracker Crust (generic recipe)Serves 8. --
1 cup finely ground or crushed graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ cup melted butter (1/2 stick)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
In a medium bowl, mix crumbs with the granulated sugar. Slowly add melted butter, tossing and pressing the wetted crumbs with a fork until the mixture resembles wet sand. Empty the crumbs into an 8-9 inch springform pan, tamping down and spreading the crumbs evenly to cover the entire surface.
Position pan on middle rack of oven and bake for 15-18 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool on wire rack or cold stove burner.
While the crust is cooling:
Lemon Cheesecake – Loosely adapted from Cook's Illustrated
3 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, softened to room temperature (1 ½ pounds total)
1 cup white granulated sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup of candied lemon peel
Maintain oven at 325 degrees.
Wrap bottom and sides of the springform pan with two sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil, folding and crunching it up the sides of the pan to hold the foil in place.
In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until fluffy, light and without lumps. Gradually add sugar, beating well after each addition. Add eggs two at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla extract and heavy cream, beating until just blended. Stir in candied lemon peel. Pour into prepared springform pan over the cooled crust.
Place filled pan in a bain marie or other baking/roasting pan large enough to hold the pan. Carefully pour hot tap water into the pan around the sides of the springform pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Center the entire pan assembly on the middle rack in oven and bake for 50-60 minutes, until the center temperature of the cake (use a thermometer) reaches 150 degrees. The cake surface will be a little wobbly and undercooked. Turn off heat and allow the cake to slowly cool in the oven with the door propped open. The cake will continue to bake from the stored heat and get firmer as it stands. After an hour, remove springform pan from bain marie and run a thin knife carefully around the inside rim of the pan to loosen the cake from the sides. Allow the cake to cool another two hours to room temperature. Do not remove the cake from the pan.
Lemon Curd Topping - Adapted from The Cake Bible
1/3 cup strained fresh lemon juice
4 egg yolks
1 cup white granulated sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons lemon zest
20 minutes before the cheesecake is fully cooled, beat the egg yolks and sugar in a non-reactive medium saucepan. Add lemon juice and butter. Over low-medium heat cook the mixture, continuously stirring. It will slowly thicken and become more yellow and opaque as it cooks. It must not be allowed to boil. If the saucepan steams, remove from heat and continue to stir until temperature lowers. Curd is done when a wooden spoon swiped in the mixture is thickly colored yellow. Remove from heat and quickly pour contents through a large strainer into a non-reactive bowl, pressing the solids then discarding them. Stir in lemon zest. Allow to cool for 10 minutes.
Pour warm lemon curd over top of fully cooled cheesecake still in the springform pan, smoothing over to fill entire surface if necessary. Chill in refrigerator at least 5 hours before carefully opening the springform clamp to remove the side ring.
This post is being submitted to the Easter Cake Bake event being hosted by Julia of A Slice of Cherry Pie.