Who doesn’t love a traditional, New York style cheesecake. A good cheesecake is rich, smooth and dense. Those quick, no-bake versions that get passed off a “real” cheesecake give this decadent dessert a bad name. Growing up my mom made amazing cheesecakes. While her pumpkin and chocolate with chocolate crumb crust were good, a plain cheesecake, perhaps served with a bit of fresh fruit were by far my favorite.
A good cream cheese is a necessary base for any cheesecake. Here in Albania it is extremely difficult to find real, American style cheesecake. Philadelphia brand is available in some supermarkets but the European version is whipped and doesn’t yield a cake of the right consistency. Block cream cheeses are also available but the ones I have found tend to be too sour, resulting in an unpleasant taste. So what is a cheesecake lover to do? Whenever we travel to the Navy Commissary in Naples, Italy, I stock up on my traditional Philadelphia cream cheese. Frozen, the cream cheese will keep for quite some time. I simply allow it to defrost in the refrigerator before using it. Freezing changes the texture of the cheese so you probably wouldn’t want to spread it on a bagel but when baked in a cheesecake, you will never know whether the cheese was fresh or frozen.
This freezing trick is especially handy since I’ve discovered that Europeans love real New York style cream cheese. I’ve doubled this recipe and made it as a single, large cake in a spring-form pan for dinner parties. For a recent lunch, when a heavy piece of cake is too much for the middle of the day, I’ve made the cheesecake in miniature form and served it with fresh sliced fruit. Regardless of its shape or size, this cake is always a hit and leaves people scrambling for leftovers.
MINIATURE NEW YORK STYLE CHEESECAKE
For the crust:
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 ounces almond biscotti, crushed
1 1/4 pounds (2 1/2 8-oz. packages) cream cheese, cut into rough 1-inch chunks, at room temperature
Dash of salt
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup sour cream
1 Teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Teaspoon vanilla extract
- To make the crust, adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees.
- Brush the bottom and sides of individual cheesecake pans with 1/2 tablespoon of the melted butter.
- In a food processor, crush the biscotti until small crumbs form. In a medium bowl combine the biscotti crumbs and 4 tablespoons melted butter. Toss with a fork until the crumbs are evenly moistened.
- Transfer the crumbs to the cheesecake pans and use a small spoon to firmly press the crumbs evenly into the pan bottom.
- Bake until fragrant and beginning to brown around the edges, about 10 minutes.
- Cool on a wire rack while preparing the filling.
- Increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese at medium-low speed to break up and soften it slightly, about 1 minute.
- Scrape the beater and the bottom and sides of the bowl well with a rubber spatula; add the salt and about half of the sugar and beat at medium-low speed until combined, about 1 minute.
- Scrape the bowl; beat in the remaining sugar until combined, about 1 minute.
- Scrape the bowl; add the sour cream, lemon juice, and vanilla. Beat at low speed until combined, about 1 minute.
- Scrape the bowl; add the egg yolk and beat at medium-low speed until thoroughly combined, about 1 minute.
- Scrape the bowl; add the remaining eggs one at a time, beating until thoroughly combined, about 1 minute, scraping the bowl between additions.
- Brush the sides of the pans with the remaining 1/2 tablespoon melted butter.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 250 degrees.
- Pour the filling into the cooled crust and bake 20 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. If you need to continue cooking the cakes, do so in five-minute increments until the cakes are done.
- Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and cool until barely warm, 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, at least 3 hours.
Yields: 24 individual cheesecakes