I am generally not a dessert person. Often, when out to dinner, I opt for a second glass of wine over ordering dessert. If I’m going to spend the calories, I’d rather it be on wine. But cheesecake has long been a weakness of mine. And this just may be the most perfect cheesecake I’ve ever tasted. Adapted from a couple of recipes I’ve researched, below is the final product after much trial and error.
Also, I’m dedicating this post to my sister Brenda… who two days before Christmas was madly searching stores for a cheesecake without toppings. When I said, “It’s too bad you don’t live closer, I’m making cheesecakes tomorrow.” She replied, “Wait. You can make a cheesecake?”
Sometimes it’s hard to believe we come from the same womb.
2 cups of Graham cracker crumbs
2 Tbsp sugar
5 Tbsp unsalted butter (if using salted butter, omit the pinch of salt), melted
2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature (I use the 1/3 less fat)
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream (I use lite)
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cups sour cream (I use lite)
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 12oz bag cranberries
1 cup granulated sugar
2-3 cinnamon sticks
2 cups good port wine (I used Graham’s 6 Grapes Porto)
Special equipment needed
9-inch, 2 3/4-inch high spring-form pan
A large, high-sided roasting pan
Preheat oven to 350°F, with rack in lower third of oven. Leave room for a second rack below that to place water pan. Pulse the graham crackers in a food processor or blender until finely ground. Put in a large bowl, and stir in the sugar and salt. Use your (clean) hands to stir in the melted butter.
Put all but 1/4 cup of the graham cracker crumbs in the bottom of the spring-form pan. (Save the remaining 1/4 cup for garnish later). Gently press down on the crumbs using your fingers, until the crumbs are a nice even layer at the bottom of the pan, with maybe just a slight rise along the inside edges of the pan. Place in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.
Cut the room temperature cream cheese into chunks and place in the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed for 4 minutes until smooth, soft and creamy. Add the sugar, beat for 4 minutes more. Add the salt and vanilla, beating after each addition. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for one minute after each addition. Add the sour cream, beat until incorporated. Add the heavy cream, beat until incorporated. Remember to scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl, and scrape up any thicker bits of cream cheese that have stuck to the bottom of the mixer that paddle attachment has failed to incorporate.
Place a large, high-sided roasting pan on the bottom rack of over. Prepare 2 quarts of boiling water and fill roasting pan 3/4 full. This will help steam the cheese cake as it’s cooking which will keep it moist and prevent it from cracking.
Pour the cream cheese filling into the spring-form pan, over the graham cracker bottom layer. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Place it on the rack right above the pan of water. It should be a little below the middle of the oven. Cook at 325°F for 1 1/2 hours. Do not put the spring-form on a separate cookie sheet – you want to steam to rise up up and around the cake… and a cookie sheet will block the steam.
All ovens cook differently, so check your cheesecake at about an hour to an hour and ten minutes. Carefully insert a meat thermometer, check the temperature in the very center of the cake. It should be between 160 to 165 degrees. Don’t worry making a small hole in your cake – it’s going to have a topping.
Turn off the heat of the oven. Crack open the oven door 1-inch, and let the cake cool in the oven, as the oven cools, for another hour. This gentle cooling will help prevent the cheesecake surface from cracking.
Preparing sour cream topping
Place sour cream in a medium sized bowl, stir in the powdered sugar and vanilla, until smooth. Chill until you are ready to serve the cake.
Preparing the cranberry port compote
Place cranberries, sugar, and port in a sauce pan. Bring to a full boil, then reduce to simmer and throw in cinnamon sticks. Stir occasionally and enjoy the smell of your house for the next 20-30 minutes. Continue simmering until all the cranberries have popped (you can hear them pop!) and the port is reduced to a thick syrup. When done, use a potato masher to gently mash down some of the cranberries – but not all of them, leave some chunky and whole!
Ready to Serve?
Remove from the refrigerator and place the cake on your cake serving dish. Run the side of a blunt knife between the edge of the cake and the pan. Open the spring-form latch and gently open the pan and lift up the sides. Spread the top with the sour cream mixture and sprinkle with remaining graham cracker crumbs. Serve plain (here you go Bren!) or heap with the cranberry port sauce.
TIP: If you are taking this cheesecake to a party or outside your house, you may want to line the bottom of the spring-form with parchment paper, so that it can easily slide off of the pan’s bottom disk (so you don’t lose it). Otherwise, you can just serve it straight off the disk.
The Perfect Bite
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that any bite of the delicious cheesecake is the perfect bite! However, I will tell you that even though you need to store your cheesecake in the refrigerator, it is best served at room temperature. And the compote is best served warm. So keep that in mind and leave time before serving.
The Perfect Pairing
One of the mistakes people make when pairing a wine with dessert is getting something classified as a dessert wine. However, dessert wines are tricky and pairing a sweet with a sweet can be, well… too sweet if not done right. And cheesecake is one of the trickiest desserts to pair. Cream and fat are hard for wines to break through. So, this a perfect storm for a bad pairing, if you ask me.
But here’s a couple of tips: If you are getting a Port or a Madeira, they are intended to be drunk after dinner, as dessert, not with dessert. Although Port does go well with dark chocolate – oh wow, now I want some! Anyway, with this creamy cheesecake and bold cranberry-port compote, your best bet is a sparkling wine. Try a Prosecco, This Italian wine is crisp, fruity, and bubbly with a hint of almond and citrus flavor and plays well with others. Dolce Vita is a great little inexpensive Prosecco. Give it a try!
The Perfect Health
Recent scientific research shows that cranberries and cranberry products contain significant amounts of antioxidants and other phytonutrients that may help protect against heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Read more here.