For me, the best cheesecakes are baked. I think the texture is much better than the whipped and refrigerated versions.
This is my favourite cheesecake recipe – every time I make it, it turns out well. It is based on Nigella Lawson’s London cheesecake recipe, but with a few minor variations, which I will explain as I go along. It is baked in the oven in a ‘bain marie’ which is effectively a water bath. You make the bain marie by filling a roasting tin with hot water and placing the tin of mixture into it. It is really important to line the tin with strong foil to avoid water seeping into the mixture. Make sure that you buy the extra long heavy duty foil – I use 3 layers to protect the tin and scrunch it all up around the top of the tin. Don’t buy the shorter length foil because you will have to overlap it, and the water will find a way of getting through. I also use a springform tin – you don’t have to, but if you want to present your cheesecake on a nice plate, you will need to turn it out and a springform tin is the best option. Make sure that the base of your tin is firmly in place before you fill the tin with mixture. If you push the bottom of the tin from underneath, it should not dislodge – if it does move then your base is not properly seated – push it hard until it ‘pops’ into place. Failure to do this will mean that you lose some of your mixture through seepage.
150g plain digestive biscuits (as my friend Sue said, “use the proper ‘pommie’ ones” e.g. McVities)
75g unsalted butter melted or very very soft
500g cream cheese (Nigella says to use 600g, but in Australia it comes in 250g tubs, so I use 500g with an 18cm tin instead of 600g with a 20cm tin. I also use one tub of ‘value’ cream cheese which is harder, and one tub of better quality or light cream cheese which is softer – if you use two tubs of good quality the texture will be too soft.)
100g caster sugar (Nigella uses 150g, but I think this is sweet enough)
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 tablespoons of vanilla extract
2 tablespoons of lemon juice (Nigella uses slightly less)
18cm Springform tin
Heavy duty long tin foil
For the topping
200ml tub sour cream (Nigella uses less, but I like a nice layer on top)
1 tablespoon caster sugar
Half a teaspoon of vanilla extract
1. Process the biscuits until they are like crumbs in a food processor (or put them in a bag and bash them with a rolling pin). Mix in the butter and use them to line the bottom of the springform tin, pressing them down so they are smooth and level. If you want to make it easier to remove the cheesecake from the base of the tin, you can line it with a layer of baking parchment before adding the biscuits, but this step is not compulsory. Put the tin in the fridge to cool and set the biscuit layer. Heat the oven to 180 deg C.
2. Beat the cream cheese until it is soft (you may prefer to use a food mixer for this, but you can also use a wooden spoon and some elbow grease). When it is smooth add the sugar. Beat in the eggs and egg yolks, then the vanilla and lemon juice. Boil the kettle.
3. Line the outside of the chilled tin with strong foil so that it covers the bottom and sides in one large piece. Repeat with another layer (I actually use 3 layers for extra safety, but you don’t have to). This will protect the filling of the tin as it cooks in the water bath.
4. Pour the cream cheese filling onto the biscuit base and place the springform tin inside a roasting tin. Fill the roasting tin with hot water from the kettle until it comes halfway up the sides of the springform tin. Carefully place the whole thing in the oven and cook for 50 minutes.
5. Just before the 50 minutes is up, whisk the topping ingredients together in a bowl – sour cream, sugar and vanilla.
6. Check the the cheesecake is almost set – it should be set enough to hold the sour cream layer, but not rigidly so. Pour the sour cream topping over the cheesecake and cook for a further 10 minutes.
7. Carefully remove the tray from the oven and take the springform tin out to cool. When it has cooled to room temperature place it in the fridge to chill it before unmoulding. It should shrink away from the sides of the tin slightly – if not, run a sharp knife around the edge before releasing the spring.
So that’s it – my favourite cheesecake. My friend Kara would like to try a choc mint cheesecake, so one day I am planning to try this recipe but with an Oreo base, mint flavoured filling (maybe with chocolate chips in it), and either a chocolate drizzle topping or chocolate shavings on top – or maybe even both. Watch this space.