The perfect cheesecake is an art form built upon a structure of physics, architecture and technology. Granted, your grace with a spatula and deft sense of flavorings can mean the difference between a run-of-the-mill cheesecake and an ethereally light monument to decadence. But first you need to master the basic skills — proper ratios of ingredients, the role of a fine crust, the importance of the right pan, correct timing in the oven, proper cooling and all the rest.
You have last week’s recipe . . . now here’s ‘how to’ techniques from a variety of sources:
* Use the best ingredients: Cheesecake is, by nature, a rich and lavish dessert. It also is fairly time-consuming and on the expensive side. Resist the urge to cut corners: Use only ingredients you know and trust, experiment with other brands only when time permits and you can risk less-than-stellar desserts.
* Choose the right equipment. Here are some of the more important items:
Springform pans provide the best mold for cheesecake. The tender, sticky cake is less apt to remain adhered to the edges of this pan.
Paddle-type beaters are better for making cheesecakes because they tend to incorporate less air into the batter than the “balloon whisk” variety. (If you have conventional beaters, don’t overbeat; see tip below.)
A jellyroll pan with a lip placed underneath the springform in the oven will help minimize the cleanup from an occasional leak, says Susan G. Purdy, in her book, A Piece of Cake (Atheneum,1989).
A long, thin spatula (from a cake-baking store or kitchenware shop) is useful both for loosening the cake from the edges and removing the chilled cake from the base.
* Work with proper temperatures: Cream cheese should be at room temperature for more complete blending and silken results. Remove eggs from the refrigerator just long enough in advance to remove the chill. Let mixtures cool as directed (usually to room temperature if no other specific temperature is noted.)
Invest in an oven thermometer to double-check your range.
You can soften cream cheese in your microwave, according to Kraft/General Foods. Place a single unwrapped (8-ounce) package in a microwave-safe container. Then microwave on high about 15 seconds. You may need to give the container a quarter-turn, then microwave for another few seconds. Add 15 seconds for each additional package. (Timing will vary, depending upon the power of your machine.)
* Prepare the pan: You’ll get nicer slices of finished (baked and chilled) cheesecake from the pan — and leave less of the crust on the springform base — if you follow this advice from Kraft/General Foods:
Turn the bottom section of the pan (the base) rim-side-down before inserting it into the springform pan (the side mold). Secure the latch, making certain the base is securely inserted. Grease and flour the pan (check the recipe to see if this is required).
Did this advice mean anything to you, or did you already know the delicacy of cheesecake preparation?
Next week we talk about cheesecake and changing skylines!