Ah cheesecake. Rich, smooth, tasty, decadent. I literally had to search through 5 cookbooks for a decent cheesecake recipe before I realized that what I needed was something old school. A cookbook published before someone thought of ruining a cheesecake with oreos, candy bars, or jellybeans. Before cheesecake wasn’t good enough unless it contained a hard-to-pronounce Peruvian herb or a berry found in only 5% of the berry-growing free world. A cheesecake-flavored cheesecake.
I found the perfect recipe in Helen Corbitt Cooks for Company. This cookbook originally found its way to my cupboard most likely through my mother. She gave me a stack of old cookbooks when I moved out on my own, and I have kept all of them in my various kitchen cabinets since, though they have rarely been used. The book features Mrs. Corbitt herself, dressed in a drapery-esque dress that clashes wonderfully with the too-busy wallpaper in the background. The table in front of her is laden with down-home food in silverplated chafing dishes and glass bowls, ready for the 30+ people she is planning to entertain that night.
Published in 1974, it is 5 years older than I, making it 32 years old this year. If you are ever searching for something along the lines of “Danish buffet supper” or “Orange rice”, look no further – both of these and a few hundred more simplistic (for our time) recipes are contained within. Helen even inputs her own quips about ingredients, the way she hates calling certain dishes “Creamed *”, and how to use the bottom of a cup in 50 different ways. Unfortunately, this book is no longer in print. If you’re interested, however, a simple search on Froogle might lead you to a cheap copy on ABE Books or elsewhere. Now, onto the cheesecake:
(Halfway eaten, of course – couldn’t get a photo quickly enough)
For the crust, crumb 1lb. graham crackers (get the good kind – nothing sucks like a bad cheesecake crust). Mix the graham cracker crumbs with 1/4lb. melted butter, 1tsp. cinnamon, and 1/2C sugar. I did this all in the Cuisinart, and didn’t take any photos. Once it’s all crumbly, dump the whole lot into a pan with removable sides – I used a 9″ springform pan – and press into the bottom and up the sides as high as you can get it to go without collapsing.
The filling calls for 1.5 lbs of cream cheese (usually 3 packages). Put all of the cream cheese into a mixer (G-d help you if you don’t have one), and mix it all together until it’s soft and pliable. It’s probably best to have the cream cheese warm up to room temp before doing this. Did I? Nope. And that just means you have to scrape the sides and bottom down more when you’re mixing anything with it.
While your cheese is being beaten, wisk together 4 eggs, 1C of sugar, and 1tsp vanilla (if you’re using fake vanilla, up it to 2tsp).
Add the egg/sugar/vanilla mixture to the cheese and beat it up. I used my mixer on high speed for this. Make sure to stop every once in a while to scrape down the sides, bottom, and beater.
When everything has been completely integrated, it should look like this. If it has little bitty pieces of cheese still floating about, that’s fine – they’ll get cooked just the same.
Pur the cheese mixture into the prepared pan and carefully even the top with a spreader or whatever you have lying about. I drop the pan a couple of times on the counter to get the cheese to settle and to let any air bubbles escape. If some of the crumb mixture falls on the top of the cake, don’t worry – we’ll be covering it up anyhow.
Bake in a 375-degree oven for about 25 minutes, or until the cake is mostly firm. Every cheesecake I’ve ever made has looked under-cooked in the middle. So, if it jiggles a bit, don’t worry about it. However, if it’s sloshy everywhere, it may be that your oven isn’t turned on.
Take the cake out and allow to cool for 10 minutes (keep that collar on the cake pan). Mix together 2tbs sugar, 1C sour cream and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, spread it on top of the cake and return to the oven for 5 minutes. Take it back out of the oven, allow to cool completely, cover, and refrigerate overnight-24 hours. When you’re ready to serve it, spread with some more sour cream (or not), release the cake from the cake pan collar, and garnish with some fresh berries, mint, and sugared flowers (or not). I tossed some blueberries still in the carton on the table when I was serving it. Make sure to have a sharp knife and a glass of warm water nearby in which to clean the blade per slice – this is a clingy cheesecake.
Eat it up and don’t be surprised if a friend (or many friends) comes over to your house to eat the rest of it the next day.