Having grown up in New York City, cheesecake has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. In my youth it was an integral part of dining out. Dinner at those famous steakhouses, depending upon the season, ended with either strawberries and cream or cheesecake. Trips to the theater were anticipated as much for the pleasure of the show as for the pleasure of stopping at Lindy’s for a slice of cheesecake beforehand. During my years in high school, Baby Watson cheesecakes were a staple in the refrigerator at home, the perfect panacea to high school’s myriad woes. I was always a purist. I liked my cheesecake straight. No goopy fruit sauces to mar the rich creamy perfection. Sour cream cheesecakes were my favorite, the soft tanginess against my tongue contrasting with the sweet grainy crust. To my mind, a simple piece of cheesecake is one of life’s perfect pleasures.
Let me clarify that statement. The cheesecake needs to fall into the category of a New York Cheesecake in order to qualify as a perfect food. I have no truck with light fluffy confections masquerading as cheesecake and as far as I'm concerned, ricotta cheesecakes don't even belong on the same playing field. They lack the texture and flavor that are the heart of any real cheesecake. As I’ve matured, my cheesecakes have become lighter and silkier but they are still based upon tradition, cream cheese and sour cream. I have to admit that I have had a few great cheesecakes accented with chocolate or nuts but unless the fruit is achingly fresh and only very lightly macerated, with minimal embellishments, I’ll still take my cheesecake straight, thank you very much.
As I began baking cheesecakes at home and in professional kitchens I realized that not only are there a million variations on my favorite simple dessert, but that the crust can be something of a problem. It always seemed to stick to the pan and get left behind as the slice was lifted on to the plate. It’s not pretty enough to scrape up and add to your presentation, so many cakes were served naked, sans crust to balance out the flavors. Fact is the crust is a necessity. It is an integral part of the cheesecake experience and not to be eliminated. I needed to find a way to make it more user friendly. The simple solution was put it on top of the cake. I began experimenting with a streusel cheesecake. The crumb topping might fall off but it can be scooped up and added to the plate. It has a wonderful crunchy, sandy texture to contrast the suave smoothness of the cake and depending upon my mood and my cake, I can season it with anything from sweet spices to nuts or chocolate and it would still pair beautifully with the cake beneath it.
1 1/2 cups AP Flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
4 ounces melted sweet butter
Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking soda in a bowl. Whisk to blend thoroughly. Add butter and stir to moisten and form coarse crumbs. Set aside for later.
24 ounces cream cheese (room temperature)
24 ounces sour cream (room temperature)
3 eggs (room temperature)
1/2 cup sugar
12 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350ºF, 300ºF convection
Wrap an 8” cake circle or spring for pan with foil and place on a parchment lined sheet tray.
Using a blender, whip together cream cheese, eggs, sugar and salt until well blended. Add sour cream and blend briefly to homogenize. Pour into prepared cake pan and rap the sheet tray sharply on the counter a few times to release air bubbles. Place in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Add streusel topping to cake and continue to bake an additional 15-25 minutes until cake is wobbly but not solid in the center (like jello). Cool at room temperature for 30 minutes and refrigerate for at least four hours before serving.