This is going to be something of a novelty on Improv Soup: I’m going to supply quantities. However, there is still plenty of room to mess with this recipe. First, I’ll explain how to make the “plain” version, and then I’ll show how I turned it into a raspberry almond cake instead and supply tips for creating other flavors.
Preheat the oven to 325º. Put 1 sleeve of broken-up graham crackers, 1/4 cup sugar, and 6 tablespoons of melted butter through a food processor until it forms wet clumps. Press the mixture into the bottom of a springform pan. Wrap the outside of the pan with a couple of sheets of aluminum foil to prevent leaks.
Beat together the following ingredients, in order and making sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl between additions: 24 ounces cream cheese, 1 cup sugar, 2 eggs, 16 ounces sour cream, 2 tablespoons flour, 2 teaspoons vanilla, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1 cup heavy cream. Once the mixture is smooth and uniform throughout, pour it into the springform pan. Bake at 325º for 20 minutes; then, without opening the oven door, turn down the heat to 300º and bake for an additional 40 minutes. Turn off the heat, but leave the oven closed with the cake in it for one more hour. Then, pull it out and allow it to cool to room temperature; then cover the pan with saran wrap or aluminum foil and put it in the fridge to chill. When the cake is completely chilled and set, remove the ring of the springform pan and serve.
But that’s not very improvisational. Plain cheesecake is my old friend, but it has room for experimentation. In general, the three ingredients that make up the bulk of the filling – cream cheese, sour cream, and heavy cream – can be considerably reduced, making room in the batter for other things like chocolate, fruit purée, or peanut butter. My usual strategy is to cut down on the ingredient that matches what I want to add most closely in texture. For instance, to add a liquidy raspberry purée, I short the batter a similar amount of the heavy cream or sour cream. You can also make plenty of direct substitutions: in this version, I exchanged the vanilla extract for almond extracts. The crust is ripe for alteration – in a chocolate based cake, for instance, I’d have replaced the graham crackers with a similar volume of generic oreos (for which you can reduce the butter and the added sugar without sacrificing sweetness or texture). But in this case, I used the normal crust recipe – plus a quarter cup of almond flour (also known as almond meal.)
Here’s my almond-adulterated crust. Next, I made the raspberry component by cooking down some frozen raspberries and straining them with a wire mesh to remove the seeds (I wound up with maybe a third of a cup):
All the rest of my ingredients hanging out together photogenically. I added the raspberry just after the sour cream:
When I’d beaten it in completely, it left the batter just a very light pink.
But this darkened with some time in the oven:
Other variants: you can include solid things in your cake, like cookies, pieces of fruit, or chunks of chocolate. But if you don’t want your cheesecake to crack, make sure you submerge all of these things under the batter before you put it in the oven. (You can never perfectly guarantee that it won’t crack, but the best safeguard against it is a smooth surface and slow cooling.) You can make a batch of plain (white) batter, separate out some of it, and add fruit (and/or food coloring), then pour each color of batter into the pan for multicolored cheesecake. (Try a strawbery-blueberry-plain one for the Fourth of July, for instance.)