In 1968 Beverly Gillia won best cheesecake at the Great Abraham & Strauss Cheesecake Contest, collecting a $1,000 gift certificate to the store as her prize. (For those of you not familiar with A&S, it was a department store located in Brooklyn which was later bought by Macy's.) I was not there to witness the contest, but I know that she won because I have the recipe. It was given to me by my mother-in-law who clipped it in the late 1960's, when it was printed in one of the first ever issues New York Magazine. I know it seems like I should be skeptical of a cheesecake recipe that is over 30 years old, after all there are so many excellent, newer recipes for cheesecake that are available on the internet and in nearly every cookbook I own. However, despite these truths, there is a reason why this recipe was kept around by my husband's family for all that time. This cheesecake is delicious, a true classic, and, as we all know, classic recipes are the ones that truly stand the test of time.
I Naptime Chef-ed this cheesecake on Monday for my husband's birthday. Every year that we have known each other I have made him a homemade birthday cake, a tradition that works well since he enjoys eating sweets as much as I enjoy making them. His only modest request when baking his treats is that I keep them simple and familiar, sticking with traditional flavors like chocolate, vanilla or coconut. This is not a problem for me, over the years I have made some really amazing cakes including a decadent malteser cake by Nigella, since malt balls are his most favorite candy, Amanda Hesser's chocolate "Dump-It" cake, and black-bottom cupcakes from an old Food & Wine recipe. This year, in keeping with the theme of classic flavors, I decided to stray from the traditional flour based cake and make this cheesecake. Cheesecake may not be regular chocolate or vanilla, but it is a classic flavor nonetheless, and my husband agreed that it was a good idea.
Like all cheesecakes, making this one requires concentration from start to finish. To prepare for the cake preparation I took all of my ingredients out of the refrigerator in the morning to make sure they were at room temperature by naptime. I then assembled the batter, taking great care to make sure it was completely smooth so as to avoid lumpy cake, and poured it into the pan. I then, very carefully, wrapped the outside tightly in aluminum foil to prevent any of the hot water bath from seeping in and ruining the batter. Finally, I popped it in the oven and watched it carefully, stopping the baking once the cake was set and the top was golden brown. Cooling the cake also required careful monitoring. First I cooled the cake in the oven with the door ajar, then on a rack in the kitchen and, finally, in the refrigerator. It may seem like overkill to go to such trouble cooling the cake, but this method helps the cheesecake set, so it gets firm without being too dry.
I have to say, Beverly really knew what she was doing when she developed this recipe. This was absolutely the best classic cheesecake I have ever tasted, and one of the easiest I have ever made. My husband and I were both thrilled with the results. The cake had a light and silky texture, the taste was wonderfully smooth and bright, with a subtle hint of lemon. We both agreed that the graham cracker crust was an excellent addition, lending the cake a sweet crunch. In celebration of my husband's birthday we allowed my daughter a small slice, which she inhaled in two bites, begging us for more. At the end of the day I happily slipped the recipe back into my file with notes on how to add the crust. The birthday celebration had gone off without a hitch and the dessert was all that we had hoped for, once again proving that the classics are always winners.
Naptime Prizewinner Cheesecake - adapted from Beverly Gillia
4 8oz. containers of whipped cream cheese (I used Philadelphia, but use organic if you can find it)
16 oz. sour cream
1 stick salted butter
2 T. cornstarch
1 1/4 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. fresh lemon juice
For the crust:
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
2 c. graham cracker crumbs (make your own or buy pre-made)
2 T. sugar
To make the crust:
1. Preheat the oven to 400.
2. Butter a 9-inch springform pan.
3. Put the melted butter, graham crackers and sugar in a bowl and combine the ingredients. 4. Press the graham crackers into the bottom of the pan until it is tightly packed and level.
5. Bake for 10 minutes, or until graham crust is golden brown.
6. Set aside to cool while you prepare the batter.
To make the cheesecake:
1. Place cream cheese, sour cream, sugar and butter on the counter to get to room temperature before baking - this usually takes at least one hour.
2. Preheat oven to 375.
3. Put cream cheese, butter and sour cream into the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix to combine until smooth.
4. Add the cornstarch, sugar, vanilla and lemon juice, mix well until the batter is completely smooth. Be sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure everything is well incorporated.
5. Beat in 1 egg at a time until the mixture is smooth and glossy.
6. Pour mixture on top of the cooled crust.
7. Wrap springform pan tightly in aluminum foil, this is to prevent water from seeping into the pan and ruining the batter.
8. Place the pan in a water bath, taking care to make sure the water comes at least halfway up the side of the cake pan.
9. Bake for 60 - 70 minutes, or until the batter is no long jiggly and the top is golden brown. 10. Turn off the oven and let the cake cool in the oven, with the door slightly ajar, for 1 hour. 11. After an hour remove the pan from the oven and let it cool for 2 hours on wire rack.
12. Cover the cake and refrigerate for at least 6 hours before serving.
Naptime Recipe Props: This cake is delicious, simply the best I have tasted. My husband even said it is better than Junior's, but I think we'd have to have a taste-off to confirm that!
Naptime Stopwatch: This cake will take the entire naptime to make, mostly because the baking and cooling require careful monitoring. But as long as you watch carefully you shouldn't have any problems.
Naptime Reviews: This cake was a hit all around. My mother-in-law has been making it for years, and I suspect that I will be, too.