The classic New York Cheesecake from Cook's Illustrated owes its distinctive browned top and velvety texture to a risky baking technique. It spends 10 minutes in a 500-degree oven, after which the oven is turned down to 200 degrees for the remainder of the baking time. Success with this method is dependent on the oven temperature falling at a very specific rate: too fast and your cheesecake will be soupy; too slow and it will be burned, cracked and grainy.
For success every time, we turned the conventional method on its head: We baked the cheesecake for about 3 hours at the lower temperature and then removed it from the oven while we heated the oven to 500 degrees. Finishing the cake at the higher temperature produced the proper appearance and texture, without the risk. A hybrid graham cracker/shortbread crust gave our cheesecake the classic flavor and the structure to withstand prolonged contact with the wet filling without turning soggy, for a perfect cheesecake every time.
Foolproof New York Cheesecake
Serves 12 to 16
6 whole graham crackers, broken into pieces
⅓ cup packed (2 1/3 ounces) dark brown sugar
½ cup (2 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 ½ pounds cream cheese, softened
1 ½ cups (10 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
⅓ cup sour cream
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
This cheesecake takes at least 12 hours to make (including chilling), so we recommend making it the day before serving. An accurate oven thermometer and instant-read thermometer are essential. To ensure proper baking, check that the oven thermometer is holding steady at 200 degrees and refrain from frequently taking the temperature of the cheesecake (unless it is within a few degrees of 165, allow 20 minutes between checking). Keep a close eye on the cheesecake in step 5 to prevent overbrowning.
1. FOR THE CRUST: Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 325 degrees. Process cracker pieces and sugar in food processor until finely ground, about 30 seconds. Add flour and salt and pulse to combine, 2 pulses. Add 6 tablespoons melted butter and pulse until crumbs are evenly moistened, about 10 pulses. Brush bottom of 9-inch springform pan with 1/2 tablespoon melted butter. Using your hands, press crumb mixture evenly into pan bottom. Using flat bottom of measuring cup or ramekin, firmly pack crust into pan. Bake on lower-middle rack until fragrant and beginning to brown around edges, about 13 minutes. Transfer to rimmed baking sheet and set aside to cool completely. Reduce oven temperature to 200 degrees.
2. FOR THE FILLING: Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat cream cheese, 3/4 cup sugar, and salt at medium-low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Beat in remaining 3/4 cup sugar until combined, about 1 minute. Scrape beater and bowl well; add sour cream, lemon juice and vanilla and beat at low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Add egg yolks and beat at medium-low speed until thoroughly combined, about 1 minute. Scrape bowl and beater. Add whole eggs two at a time, beating until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds after each addition. Pour filling through fine-mesh strainer set in large bowl, pressing against strainer with rubber spatula or back of ladle to help filling pass through strainer.
3. Brush sides of springform pan with remaining 1/2 tablespoon melted butter. Pour filling into crust and set aside for 10 minutes to allow air bubbles to rise to top. Gently draw tines of fork across surface of cake to pop air bubbles that have risen to surface.
4. When oven thermometer reads 200 degrees, bake cheesecake on lower rack for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, remove cake from oven and use toothpick to pierce any bubbles that have risen to surface. Return to oven and continue to bake until center registers 165 degrees, 2 1/4 to 2 3/4 hours longer. Remove cake from oven and increase oven temperature to 500 degrees.
5. When oven is at 500 degrees, bake cheesecake on upper rack until top is evenly browned, 4 to 12 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes; run paring knife between cheesecake and side of springform pan. Let cheesecake cool until barely warm, 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold and firmly set, at least 6 hours. (Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.)
6. To unmold cheesecake, remove sides of pan. Slide thin metal spatula between crust and pan bottom to loosen, then slide cheesecake onto serving plate. Let cheesecake stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes. To slice, dip sharp knife in very hot water and wipe dry between cuts. Serve.
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