Cheesecake recipes are precious legacies. Many get handed down from generation to generation more sure-handedly than the family china. A good cheesecake is the crown jewel of the American dessert cart and, “Whose is best?,” is the mythology that keeps us talking. And asking. Which brings us to the reason that
“cheesecake” is the third most requested recipe on the Google hit parade. As far as I know, no one in my family ever made a cheesecake. We loved Sara Lee’s (truly) — the one from the freezer case in the supermarket (and I enjoyed eating it frozen!)– and we would venture as often as possible to Junior’s — a New York cheesecake institution. Over the years, the cheesecake wars included Miss Grimble, Turf, Eileen’s, and Lady Oliver’s (the company of Rachel Hirschfeld, who delivered her velvety cheesecakes to New York’s top restaurants in a white Bentley.) When I was the chef at Gracie Mansion for Mayor Koch (in 1978!), Turf was the cheesecake we used — I topped it with small strawberries and glazed them with melted currant jelly laced with a bit of Cassis. When President Jimmy Carter came to visit, I bought a peanut cheesecake enrobed in crackly caramel, from a wonderfully fun restaurant called Once Upon A Stove. I served it, with a glass of milk, alongside the Carter nightstand on the second floor bedroom. He enjoyed it tremendously.
Before writing Radically Simple, I, like the other women in my family, never made a cheesecake. And that’s why I am eternally grateful to Anne Kabo of Margate, New Jersey, who taught me how. Anne, through a complex family saga, is a relative of sorts and a cherished one at that. The radically delicious cheesecake recipe that follows belongs to her, as does the lovely photo she took.
A Radically Simple Cheesecake
Anne Kabo, one of the best home bakers I know, created one of the best cheesecakes I’ve had. The crust doesn’t need to be pre-baked and, compared to most recipes, it is radically simple. It also freezes beautifully. You can cover any cracks with shaved white chocolate or simply adorn the cake with ripe berries.
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 ounces honey graham crackers
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans
1-1/4 cups sugar
3 extra-large eggs, room temperature
16 ounces cream cheese, broken into pieces
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cornstarch
24 ounces sour cream
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a deep 10-inch springform pan with 2 tablespoons of the butter. Finely crush the graham crackers, nuts, and 1/4 cup sugar in a food processor. Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter; stir into the crumbs until moistened. Pat the crumbs onto the bottom and 1/2-inch up the side of the pan to form a crust. Using a standing mixer, beat the eggs for 3 minutes. Add the cream cheese and mix until smooth, 2 minutes. Add the remaining 1 cup sugar, vanilla, cornstarch, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Beat on high for 2 minutes. Add the sour cream and beat 1 minute longer. Pour into the crust. Bake 50 to 55 minutes until firm. Cool on a rack. Cover and refrigerate until very cold. Serves 16