Cheesecake is one of those “fancy” desserts that is surprisingly easy to make–and even more fun if you make your own cream cheese! I used neufchatel cheese in this recipe. Neufchatel is made from whole milk enriched with cream, so it’s a lower-fat version of traditional cream cheese.
Homemade neufchatel–each container is equivalent to one 8-ounce package of storebought neufchatel.
For more detailed posts on the hows, whys, and wherefores of making cheese, check out my Cheesemaking page.
To make your own neufchatel, combine a gallon of whole milk and a pint of heavy cream in a large pot. Heat to 80-degrees F and add one packet direct-set mesophilic starter (or 4 ounces prepared starter). Mix well then add three drops of rennet diluted in 1/4 cup cool water. Stir gently then let sit at room temperature (approximately 72-degrees) for 12-18 hours, until a thick curd forms. Pour into a colander lined with butter muslin then hang to drain for up to 12 hours, until it stops dripping. Put the bag back into the colander and place a small plate on top of the cheese. Top the plate with something about the weight of two bricks. Cover and refrigerate for 13 hours. Remove the weight and divide the cheese into containers. You’re done! Well, actually, the instructions said to knead the cheese briefly after removing the weight and before placing in the containers. I didn’t do that part and nothing blew up. Just sayin’. (Recipe and supplies: New England Cheesemaking Supply Company.)
Making neufchatel is really satisfying because the yield on this recipe is high, about 2 pounds. The yield is so high that I was unprepared for the quantity when I dumped the curd from the pot into the butter muslin. I ended up getting a second piece of butter muslin and arranging it so it would hold all the cheese, though in the process of all this last-minute finagling I managed to spill neufchatel all over myself. The cats loved me.
On the other hand, you could just go to the store and buy some cream cheese or neufchatel and carry on. Let’s make cheesecake!
How to make Classic Cheesecake:
2 cups crushed graham crackers
1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2/3 cup butter, melted
3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1/4 cup milk
I like to crush graham crackers, nuts, and all sorts of things with my pretty little flower hammer. It makes me feel girly and powerful at the same time. I like to feel girly and powerful.
Combine crushed graham crackers, walnuts, and cinnamon.
Add melted butter.
Place a 9-inch springform pan on a shallow baking pan. Springform pans are so cool. A pan with a latch! It’s like a pan with a secret.
(The baking pan is for support and just in case something were to leak out of the springform pan.)
Dump the crumb mixture into the springform pan.
Press the crumb mixture over the bottom and up the sides about two inches. Don’t worry about perfection here. Don’t be afraid to make a rustic cheesecake. After all, you want everyone to know you made this cheesecake. Anybody can spend $20 buying a perfect cheesecake at a bakery. You made your own.
You know what’s even worse? Those awful boxed cheesecake mixes. Whatever you do, don’t do that!
In a large bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar, flour, and vanilla.
Beat well. Add eggs and egg yolk. Beat again, just enough to mix. Stir in the milk.
Pour into the prepared pan. (How easy is this?)
Bake at 375-degrees for 35-40 minutes for a 9-inch pan. (If using an 8-inch pan, 45-50 minutes.) The center should appear nearly set–but not quite–if you shake it. Cool 15 minutes before slightly loosening the sides. (Just unlock the latch on the side of the springform pan, but don’t take it off yet.)
Give it another 30 minutes before releasing the sides completely.
Slide it onto a cake keeper (bottom of the springform pan still in place), cover, and tuck in the fridge. Chill for at least four hours before slicing.
For toppings, melt semisweet chocolate, or make a fruit sauce out of any jam by diluting the jam with a little bit of water, just enough to bring it to drizzling consistency. (Homemade jam makes the easiest fruit sauces!) I made this one with an easy caramel sauce topped with a sprinkling of chopped walnuts.
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup light cream or milk
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
In a saucepan, combine brown sugar, cornstarch, and water. Stir in cream and corn syrup. Cook and stir over medium-high heat till bubbly. Cook 2 more minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in butter and vanilla. (This is also a great ice cream topping.)
For other cheesecake variations, you could use cinnamon or chocolate graham crackers, or even crushed gingersnaps, for the crust. You could also use a cream liqueur instead of milk in the cheesecake batter. To make a swirled cheesecake, melt 2 ounces of semisweet chocolate or use a couple tablespoons of any fruit jam–add the flavor to half of the cheesecake batter. Pour each half of the batter into the pan and swirl gently through the entire batter with a spoon or spatula.
Tip about slicing cheesecake: Dip a sharp knife in hot water then dry it on a clean towel before making each cut to prevent bits of cheesecake from transferring to the next slice.
This is so delicious.
I’m sorry I ate your piece.
(NO, I’M NOT.)