OK, finally, the recipe that yielded the best cheesecake I've ever made! And that is saying a lot, since I make an inordinately large number of cheesecakes. Jake's favorite desserts are cheesecake and pumpkin pie, so I make a lot of cheesecakes, pumpkin pies and the occasional pumpkin cheesecake.
My normal 'go to' recipe is a very old sour cream cheesecake from Bon Appetit. I have a photocopied version from my mom's print magazine, which is good because the recipe isn't online. It's from like a 1986 magazine, so I guess their recipe archives don't go that far back online. Problem with that recipe is that you have to bake it three times - once to crisp the crust (don't want to skip with this recipe, because you put nuts in the crust with the grahm crackers), one to bake the cake, and one to bake the sour cream topping. I was getting a late start as it was, and the timeline for that was just too long. I considered the Philly Cream Cheese recipe, but I only had 2 lbs of cream cheese and that recipe needs 2.5lbs. I was torn. I really wanted cheesecake but I was recipe-less. I checked out Alton Brown's recipe, he's one I trust to just go by recipe on, but his cooking was even longer than the Bon Appetit (really, Alton, 2 hours?!) and in my experience every cheesecake takes longer to bake than the recipe says anyway.
I have a huge collection of cookbooks, but no real motivation to flip through them all, so I pulled out my two favorites - How to Cook Everything and the Joy of Cooking. I struck out with Mark Bittman - his recipe needed 2.5lbs, too, but I found the gem in Joy of Cooking - it only needed 2 lbs of cream cheese and was from a trusted source, so off to the kitchen I went, making just a few modifications of my own.
Carly's Creamy Cheesecake
(The original is 'Creamy Water-Bath Cheesecake' on page 980 of the 1997 printing of Joy of Cooking)
2lbs cream cheese
1-1/3 c sugar
4 large eggs
1/4 c heavy cream
1/4 c sour cream
1/2 t. pure lemon extract (really, don't use the imitation!!)
2-4 t. vanilla (2 if you are using pure extract purchased, closer to 4 if using homemade vanilla - recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 325F, Fill a tea kettle with water and set to boil. (If you have time, set out eggs & cream cheese to come to room temperature, I didn't and it certainy didn't hurt the finished product!)
Make any cheesecake crust you like - shortbread or graham cracker (the Joy recipe makes this crustless). Press crust into the bottom of a 9" springform pan. I used a basic graham cracker crust with a little bit of sugar and nutmeg mixed in. I did not toast the crust.
In large bowl, beat 2lbs of cream cheese until smooth. I went about 90 seconds with the paddle set to 6 on my KitchenAid - obviously this will take longer with a hand mixer.
Add sugar and beat another 1-2 minutes until creamy and lightened.
Add eggs 1 at a time, mixing just until incorporated (I did this on speed 3 on the mixer) and scraping the bowl after each egg.
Add the balance of the ingredients and beat on low speed until fully mixed (again I did this on speed 3).
Spread the filling into the springform.
If you have a less-than tight springform, wrap the bottom and sides of the springform with aluminum foil. (My springform is nice and tight, so I skipped this.) Place the springform in a large roasting pan (or any pan at least as deep as the springform and sufficiently wide). Place roasting pan in the oven, then pour water from the kettle into the baking pan until it is 1/2 way up the side of the springform. BE CAREFUL when you push the oven rack back in so as not to splash water from the pan onto the top of the cheesecake!!
Bake until the edges of the cheesecake are set but center is still 'slightly' jiggly. I really hate that type of instruction, because how jiggly is 'slightly' jiggly?! In my case, I baked until only about a 2" ring in the center jiggled when shaken and the rest of the cake was set - about 1h20min. Turn off the oven, prop the oven door open (use a wooden spoon if your oven door doesn't have a partially open setting) and let the cake sit in the oven for another 30 minutes (the recipe says 1 hour, but I was tired and 30 minutes was the best I could do before needed to go to bed!) Remove from the waterbath and cool completely on a rack. When cool, cover tightly and refrigerate at least 6 hours before cutting and enjoying!
I promise you, this is the smoothest, creamiest cheesecake you'll ever have, while still having a nice density to it - I'm not a fan of the really fluffy cheesecakes, myself!
We made both a blueberry and a raspberry sauce to serve with the cheesecake, though the raspberry was the clear winner :)
Our easy sauce is in a 1.5qt saucepan, place a few tablespoons of sugar, 1c or so of frozen berries and ~1/4 c liquer (for the raspberry sauce we used Couintreau, for the blueberry we used black currant liqour). Bring to a boil and let cook at a rolling boil for ~10 minutes, let cool before refrigerating.
Sarah wanted to know about homemade vanilla extract, and it's pretty simple. We tried it once when we had two open bottles of vodka at the house. Simply use 1 vanilla bean per 200mL of vodka you are using (approximately 1/4 of a fifth of vodka). Split the bean(s), but don't scrape the insides and drop the beans into the bottle of vodka (I use FRIS). Store in a cool dark place until the vodka is brown - and there is your homemade vanilla! When I make it, it always ends up less concentrated than store bought (you can tell by the color) no matter how long I let it 'steep', so I just use a little more when I cook with it.
Sorry I don't have pretty step by step photos like over at the cooking blogs. . . I had no idea the recipe would be share-worthy (and even if I did, did I mention that I was very tired? never start a cheesecake at 9:30pm!) Let me know if you try it!!