Craig Claiborne’s Cheesecake

Making cheesecake is not really a difficult task. Making really good, light fluffy cheesecake, now that in and of itself is an art.

In the ten years that Greg and I have been married, the only cheesecake I ever hear about is his “Craig Claiborne Cheesecake” made with farm fresh eggs and tons of cream cheese. He made tens of thousands of them, at least one or two every day for the tweleve years he owned the Appletree Landing Restaurant in Canning, Nova Scotia. So he’s bound to be pretty good at making cheesecake.

There are other cheesecake recipes, but, Greg says, once you’ve tried this one, there is NO going back. From his memory, technically, this is Greg’s recipe for cheesecake, but since he gives credit to Craig, so shall I.

I was curious to see if his memory is the same as Craig’s recipe, so, I searched the internet high and low. I discovered that Craig has never actually published his cheesecake recipe in a cookbook (others have). His recipe was originally published in the New York Times on Dec. 29, 1968, and so, you can get the actual recipe from their archives, for a price. Here is an exerpt you can just click on if you’re interested in actually buying the article and getting the actual recipe:

“There is one dessert in America that is as typically New York as the subway to Coney Island, corned beef and pastrami, or the waiters at Lindy’s. That is cheesecake. The problem is that the quality of cheesecake varies tremendously — from coarse to smooth, leaden to gossamer. The cheesecake here is down-right suave in its style, flavor and texture.” — Craig Claiborne, NYT December 29, 1968

I suppose I should mention that I always thought Greg was just weird about the cheesecake pan, nothing is allowed to touch the inside of the pan, not a spoon, not a spatula, nothing, well nothing but butter and flour that is. The reason for that is that cheesecake is one of those weird cakes that continues to look like it’s raw in the middle right up until that magic moment when it’s just done, so it doesn’t want anything getting in its way while its rising. If anything does get in the way, like a dent in the pan or god forbid a scratch, then the cake, like a soufflé, cannot do it’s magic — which is rise up ultra high and fluffy. So make sure your cheesecake pan is pristine and stays that way. (I know… weird, just take my word for it.)

Another thing that greg would tell you is that the fresher and more organic your eggs, the better. The best eggs make the best cheesecakes. Thus I can easily extrapolate that concept and tell you that the same goes for the remaining ingredients. The better the ingredients, the better your cake.

So, without further ado, this is Greg’s Craig Claiborne cheesecake recipe:

Ingredients:

1/2 tbsp butter, room temperature
The grated zest of 1 lemon
3 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice (approximately one lemon)
2 lbs cream cheese, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 eggs
1/3 cup graham cracker crumbs

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees farenheit with the baking rack on the lowest position.

Butter and flour a 3″ x 8″ round cheesecake pan, make sure you cover the rim of the pan and set aside.

Mix lemon juice and zest together and set aside.

Beat cream cheese until smooth adding vanilla and sugar until well mixed. Add the eggs, one by one, beating until the egg is mixed before adding the next one. Then stir in the lemon zest and juice.

Pour the batter into the buttered/floured pan. Place that pan into a larger deep pan and add enough water to fill the larger pan about halfway. Bake until the top of the cake is golden brown and dry to the touch. It will still be very soft and you may believe that it is not yet baked through, but not to worry, it will firm up once refrigerated.

Take the cake out of the water and place it on a cake rack to cool for several hours. This resting stage is very important because if you try to finish the cake before it has completely firmed up, you will undoubtedly crack the cake.

Invert the cake onto a plate and remove the pan. Cover the bottom of the cake with graham cracker crumbs. Place another plate on top of the cake and invert the cake once again. Cover with plastic wrap or place the finished cake in a sealed cake keeper and refrigerate overnight.

Use a hot knife to slice the cake and serve it plain or with in-season fresh fruit and any one of the Peppermaster Hot Sweet Seductions sauces drizzled over the top.

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