I decided that this is my week to try baking a cheesecake. It's one of those things that I never ate as a kid and learned to love in the Tri-State Area. (Junior's in Brooklyn serves a truly amazing cheesecake.) But there's always a first time for everything, including baking cheesecake.
The name "cheesecake" pretty well describes what's in it: a whole bunch of cheese, some egg to bind it together, and a surprisingly small amount of sugar. All too many cheesecakes use gelatin as a filler. If you see even a hint of gelatin in your cheesecake, flee from it as quickly as you can. The difference in taste and texture between a real cheesecake and a faux cheesecake is unmistakable.
I started with Giada De Laurentis's cheesecake recipe on the Food Network site, but ended up making some changes. Her recipe called for 4 1/2" springform pans, but I could only find an 8 1/2" springform. Sizing up a baking recipe is always tricky. Doing it for a type of dish that you've never made before is very problematic (i.e., dumb). But I tried it anyway. Her recipe also called for basil in the cheesecake and I chickened out on that one.
Here's how I ended up doing it. I combined four 8 oz boxes of cream cheese, 16 oz of ricotta cheese, two 5 oz containers of goat's milk cheese, three or four tablespoons of sugar, two eggs, and four additional egg whites. I combined all of them in the food processor; I suspect the Kitchenaid mixer would have also worked well, but a smaller mixer might not have had enough power. The mixture started out very stiff and I was very skeptical about how well it would combine. But the eggs managed to soften the mixture quite a bit and the result was soft and easy to spread. I put the mixture into a buttered 8 1/2" springform pan (I should have put parchment in the bottom---my cake-making technique deserted me briefly) and used a knife to even out the top. I put the springform pan into a larger pan with water half way up the springform and put into a 350 degree oven. After 50 minutes it didn't look anywhere close to being done, so I gave it another 20 minutes. The result of the 70 minutes total is in the photo; the larger pan is the water bath. Perhaps a slighly shorter cooking time would have been ideal, but I don't think the cake suffered too much. I turned off the oven and let the cake and water bath cool with the oven for an hour. I then wrapped it in plastic wrap, pan and all, and put it in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, I took the springform edge off and wrapped the entire cake in plastic.
I learned the hard way that you don't try a cheesecake warm, unlike an apple pie. I put a small amount of batter in a small bowl and tested it while it was still warm. The result was a little strong and harsh. I was afraid that I would only be able to use the cake as a doorstop. But I tried the rest the next morning and it was pretty good. So I have high hopes for the cake's debut on Saturday.