Vanilla cheesecake is a blank canvas for incorporating luscious, even unorthodox details. Substitute ricotta for cream cheese, swap a rich almond crust for standard Graham crackers, infuse the filling with exotic spices, and your plain old cheesecake is suddenly avant-garde.
You can read volumes on perfecting cheesecake and follow complicated directions ranging from slow-baking at irrationally low oven temperatures to incorporating eggs by a precise method, but really a few simple rules will suffice:
- Place the springform pan on a baking sheet as fillings can leak while baking.
- Place a pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven while baking the cheesecake. Steam helps the cheesecake stay moist and helps keep the top from cracking.
- To avoid over-baking, always check cheesecakes 10 minutes before the end of cooking time.
- Remove cheesecakes from the oven while slightly “jiggly” in the center. This ensures they’ll be creamy.
- If the top cracks, pile on fruit and carry on.
- Use a thin-bladed knife to cut the cheesecake. Dip it in hot water before slicing.
—By Gretchen Roberts. Winter 2006 supplement