Once upon a time, before Internet (a.k.a. The Information Superhighway—remember that?), recipes were shared hand-to-hand—literally. If your friend served you some awesome cookies, you asked for the recipe, and she wrote it out for you. Usually on a scrap of paper. Or if she was into it, on a recipe card imprinted with "From the kitchen of NANCY". Or whatever name you wanted to fill in.
I still have (and use) scrapbooks filled with clipped, handwritten, and manually typed recipes. And while some of the recipes seem dated (Tuna Flying Saucers; Grapenut Pudding), there are others that are just as fresh and lively as the day they were born.
Witness this Easy Cheesecake.
This is the way we used to collect recipes: pre-Internet, pre-virtual recipe boxes. I began this book while still in college: 1973. I well remember going through The Boston Globe Wednesday food pages (Confidential Chat; you Boston natives may remember it), and stacks of women's magazines, clipping recipes, and sticking them in this book with Elmer's glue.
There's something old recipe books have that the Internet can never match: they automatically flop open to your favorite recipes. My book opens itself to June 17 every time I pick it up. And there I find recipes for Louisiana Lady Dip (never made); Elvey Littlefield's Mother's Pickles (which I haven't made in years, though Elvey was one of the best picklers I ever knew); and Strawberry Cheesecake, which I make a lot.
With all the cheesecake recipes out there, why this one? Because it's easy. Because it uses simple ingredients—and not many, either. And because it's my idea of the perfect cheesecake: dense, but not dry; creamy, but not gooey. Tasting of cream cheese, vanilla, graham crackers, and whatever you put on top. In my case, a simple, two-ingredient raspberry sauce.
Have I hooked you? Will you print out this recipe and stick it in your old scrapbook? Hope so. This Easy Cheesecake is a winner.
The very first step to successful cheesecake? Unwrap the cream cheese, and let it warm to room temperature. This will probably take a couple of hours, at normal/comfortable room temperature. Why is this important? Because cold cream cheese doesn't combine well with the remaining ingredients; it's lumpy, and your cheesecake will be lumpy. Room-temperature cream cheese mixes in very smoothly.
So, can't you just beat cold cream cheese with the rest of the ingredients till everything's nice and smooth? You can... but that beating incorporates air into the batter, and your cake will be lighter/airier, rather than nicely dense—as I prefer cheesecake to be.
Crush your cracker crumbs. I've used zwieback here; graham crackers are traditional.
Mix in sugar, melted butter, and a pinch of salt, and pour into a 9" pie plate.
Pat the crumbs into the bottom of the plate, and up the sides.
Like this. Set the crust aside while you make the filling.
This is the simplest filling: just cream cheese, eggs, sugar, and vanilla.
Look at this lovely vanilla—it's packed with seeds and shredded seed pods, which will fleck the cheesecake filling just enough to give you that feeling of "gourmet vanilla bean."
This is the vanilla I use: Vanilla Bean Crush, from Sonoma Syrup in California. It's wonderfully aromatic, aside from the seeds visual.
Beat the filling ingredients on LOW speed till thoroughly combined and smooth. My cream cheese wasn't quite at room temperature; see those lumps?
I had to beat a long time (at low speed) before the filling smoothed out. Better to plan ahead and have the cream cheese at room temperature. (Did I mention the cream cheese should be at room temperature?)
Pour the filling into the crust.
Bake for 20 minutes.
Add a crust shield: of your own devising, or this handy-dandy manufactured one, complete with fruit decorations around the rim. You'd be surprised how often I use this; it hangs on the pegboard by my oven, and has saved many a crust from burning before the filling was baked through.
Remove the cake from the oven; the center won't appear set. In fact, the whole thing will look quite jiggly towards the middle. If you have an instant-read thermometer, it should read just about 170°F when inserted into the cake 1" from the edge.
Notice the crust is SLIGHTLY burned; I wasn't paying attention, and didn't get the shield on it in time.
Cool the cake completely. Once it's cool, cover and chill thoroughly. Remove it from the fridge half an hour or so before serving, to warm it just slightly. Look at that texture—a perfect blend of dense/creamy. And how easy was it to get there? No odd ingredients, no water bath... This is one straightforward recipe.
Can you see those tiny vanilla-bean flecks?
Next, the topping. This goes together in a flash; no need to prepare it too far ahead. I've chosen raspberries, because this brand of frozen raspberries is value-priced and VERY good; unlike many other brands, the berries are whole, not crushed.
Pour the berries into a bowl, and let them thaw at room temperature for a bit. Actually, you could start the berries thawing while the cake is cooling.
Get out your trusty Pie Filling Enhancer. It's not just for pie filling; it's a great all-purpose thickener for fruit: pie, crisps/crumbles, or sauce.
Stir the enhancer into the berries.
Stir to combine.
Keep stirring till the berries fall apart of their own accord; this happens easily as you stir, and they warm up.
The Pie Filling Enhancer adds sugar, the lively bite of ascorbic acid, and thickening power—perfect!
If you don't have Pie Filling Enhancer, no prob. Stir in confectioners' sugar to taste. The sauce won't thicken as much; no big deal, it'll still taste wonderful.
Dollop filling over each slice of cake, and serve. Yes, it IS as good as it looks.
Looking for a really deluxe presentation? Array fresh raspberries atop the cooled cake.
Now you're going to "beautify" the berries. "Melt" raspberry or any red jelly in the microwave...
...and brush it over the berries.
Slice and serve. I prefer the raspberry sauce (I think it's tastier than plain raspberries), but if you're after a spectacular look (like, for a fancy dinner party), glazing the berries is the way to go.
Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Easy Cheesecake.
Buy vs. Bake
Buy: Stop & Shop supermarket in-store bakery, Strawberry Cheesecake, $6.28/lb.
Bake at home: Easy Cheesecake with raspberry topping, $2.87/lb.