Cheesecake is one of my great loves. Given the choice between it and a myriad of other desserts, I will choose cheesecake everyday and twice on Sunday. I’m sure you’re not too terribly surprised, seeing as how I bombard you with more than my fair share of cheesecake recipes. I just can’t help it; I’ve been head over heels in love with cheesecake for as long as I can remember. While I’ve given you recipes for things like brownie mosaic cheesecake, fig almond cheesecake, pumpkin cheesecake and peanut butter-fudge cheesecake (among many, many others), it dawned on me that I’ve never shared a recipe for a straight-up New York-style cheesecake. No fancy embellishments, just a humble graham cracker crust with a sky-high cheesecake filling. This is a cheesecake purist’s dream.
Before the dawn of The Cheesecake Factory and more cheesecake concoctions than days in a month, there was just… cheesecake. As a kid, when I began my love affair with cheesecake, there was only one option – regular ol’ cheesecake. Sure, sometimes it came with cherries or strawberries in a sauce drizzled over top, but the cheesecake itself was simple and stood on its own. As much as I love experimenting with all sorts of cockamamy cheesecake creations, having a go-to recipe for a classic New York-style cheesecake is essential.
This cheesecake is everything you would expect from a phenomenal New York-style cheesecake: it’s creamy, tangy and melt-in-your-mouth fantastic. There are two variations of New York-style cheesecake… The first relies on either heavy cream or sour cream in the batter to give it a richer flavor and a denser texture. The second variation is one in which a mixture of sour cream, sugar and vanilla is combined and spread on top of the almost-baked cheesecake, then returned to the oven to finish baking. The version I’m sharing with you here is the former; sour cream is mixed into the batter and creates a wonderfully decadent cheesecake.
Aside from being the perfect cheesecake recipe from a taste perspective, I love, love, love the fact that this cheesecake doesn’t require being baked in a water bath. Sometimes cheesecake recipes call for water baths to ensure that the cheesecakes are baked slowly and evenly, which is what ensures its creamy texture and reduces the chance of cracks. This recipe, however, skips the bath and instead uses an extremely hot oven at the onset of baking to “set” the cheesecake, then reduces the oven temperature to 200 degrees for the remainder of the baking time, a.k.a. “low and slow”. I love the result, and not having to worry about water seepage!
The strawberry topping is optional, but highly encouraged. Also, you can never go wrong with whipped cream.
Make the Cheesecake Crust: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 300 degrees F. By hand or using a food processor, crush the graham crackers into fine crumbs. In a medium bowl stir together the graham cracker crumbs and sugar. Pour the melted butter into the bowl and use a fork to toss the mixture until it is evenly moistened. Transfer the crumbs to a 9-inch springform pan and press evenly into the bottom of the pan. Bake the crust until it begins to smell toasted and starts to brown around the edges, about 13 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cook while the filling is prepared.
Make the Cheesecake Filling: Increase the oven temperature to 500 degrees F. Beat the cream cheese on medium-low speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl, add ¾ cup of the sugar and the salt and beat on medium-low speed for another 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the remaining ¾ cup of sugar and beat again on medium-low speed for 1 minute.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the sour cream, lemon juice and vanilla, and beat on low speed for 1 minute.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the egg yolks and beat on medium-low speed for 1 minute. Add the eggs, 2 at a time, beating for about 20 seconds between additions and scraping the bowl between additions.
Without touching the crust, brush the sides of the inside of the pan with melted butter. Pour the filling into the pan and bake for 10 minutes. Without opening the oven door, reduce the oven temperature to 200 degrees F and continue to bake until the center of the cheesecake registers 150 degrees F on an instant-read digital thermometer, about 1½ hours.
Place the pan on a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes, then run a paring knife around the cake to loosen it from the pan. Allow the cake to cool until it is barely warm, 2½ to 3 hours. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, at least 3 hours (the cheesecake can be refrigerated for up to 4 days).
Make the Fresh Strawberry Topping: In a large bowl, toss together the sliced strawberries and the sugar. Let sit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to combine.
Process the jam in a food processor until smooth, about 10 seconds (or, whisk vigorously until the jam is completely smooth). Place the jam in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer, stirring frequently, until the jam is dark and no longer frothy, about 3 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice, then pour over the strawberries and stir to combine. Allow to cool to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours or up to 12 hours (the strawberry topping is best served within 1 day of making it).
Serve the Cheesecake: To unmold the cheesecake, wrap a hot kitchen towel around the outside of the pan and hold in place for 1 minute. Remove the sides of the pan, then slide a thin metal spatula between the crust and pan bottom to loosen, then slide the cheesecake onto a serving platter. (If you prefer you can leave the metal bottom under the cheesecake and place it on a serving plate.) Let the cheesecake sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.