Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cheesecakes

As many of you foodies may be aware, last week was National Cheesecake Week. Dessert junkies celebrated cheesecake, which is usually anchored by cream cheese with crust made of graham crackers, or perhaps, vanilla wafers.

I grew up in New York City, which is arguably the cheesecake mecca. After all, we have Junior's in Brooklyn. Good cheesecake could be had not just at the famous Junior's, but in my house! Yep, my mother made a mean pineapple cheesecake that she routinely served for her semi-formal dinner parties.

I was always fascinated by what seemed to be a complicated process. She would make the graham cracker crust with the assistance of her beloved Kitchen Aid mixer. I can still see the speckled pan (this was before the days of microwave ovens) that she used to melt the butter that was combined with the crushed graham crackers and sugar. This was baked in the oven in the 9-inch springform pan.

While the crust cooled, Mommy made the pineapple mixture that was spread on top of the graham cracker crust. Atop this was a rich, creamy dairy-rich mixture anchored by full-fat cream cheese. Needless to say, it took only a slim piece of this cheesecake to be satisfying! I also remember, though, that the cheesecake did not stay in the refrigerator for very long.

We're now in the 21st century. Concerns about cholesterol, sugar and fat make Mommy's pineapple cheesecake seem downright dangerous. Hence, the proliferation of low-fat cheesecake recipes.

I was very skeptical about making a low-fat cheesecake, but I disciplined myself to try. I found a few recipes from Cooking Light that I put together into one. This magazine has reliably tasty recipes for cooking classics. Still, seeing a recipe that called for 1 package of low-fat cream cheese plus 1 package of FAT-FREE cream cheese made me very, very nervous.

I made the cheesecake about a week-and-a-half ago. I must be an honest blogger. I found it just ok; certainly not great. And not -- in my humble opinion-- good enough to warrant a second attempt. I found that I needed to add more butter to the graham cracker crumb crust, as the paltry amount called for in the recipe generated a very dry crust that simply did not hold together. The cheesecake itself tasted as if 1/2 the flavor had been sucked out. And when you think about the actual recipe, that's basically what happened. I knew better when I saw fat-free cream cheese as an ingredient. IT HAS NO TASTE!!!!! I started to use all low-fat cream cheese, and I should have followed my gut instinct.

The cheesecake was topped with a strawberry sauce that was ok. But again, just ok. There was no covering up the lack of creamy richness. This brings me to my last problem with the low-fat cheesecake. The texture was off. It wasn't soft-yet-firm and creamy. It was something unappealing that I'm not even certain how to describe.

So here's what I'll do. I'll post the Cooking Light low-fat cheesecake recipe. And I'll post a recipe for pineapple cheesecake that I can stand by. You be the judge! In my view, some foods are just not made to be low-fat. Cheesecake (at least for me) is one of those foods!!!

Low-Fat Cheesecake with Strawberry Sauce

Ingredients
Crust:
1 cup reduced-fat graham cracker crumbs (about 10 cookie sheets)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter or stick margarine, melted
Cooking spray

Cheesecake:
2 large egg whites
Cooking spray
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 (8-ounce) blocks 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (4 ounces) block-style fat-free cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
4 large eggs
*
Sauce:
4 cups sliced strawberries (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°.

To prepare the crust, combine the first 3 ingredients in a bowl. Firmly press the crumb mixture into the bottom and 2 inches up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes, and cool the crust on a wire rack.

Reduce oven to 300°.

Combine 1 1/2 cups sugar, 3 tablespoons cornstarch, and remaining dash salt in a large bowl. Add cheeses; beat with a mixer at medium-high speed until smooth. Reduce mixer speed to low. Add vanilla and 1 teaspoon juice; beat just until combined. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition just until incorporated. Add remaining 2 egg whites; beat just until incorporated.

Pour cheese mixture into prepared pan. Bake at 300° for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a 3-inch circle in the center of the cheesecake barely jiggles when the side of the pan is tapped. Turn oven off. Leave cheesecake in oven with the door open for 30 minutes. Remove cheesecake from oven; run a knife around outside edge. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack. Cover and chill at least 8 hours. Garnish cake with strawberries, if desired.

To prepare sauce, combine sliced strawberries, 1/2 cup water, and 2 tablespoons sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Strain mixture through a sieve into a bowl, pressing lightly with a spatula; discard solids. Return mixture to pan. Combine 1 tablespoon water and 2 teaspoons cornstarch in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add cornstarch mixture to pan. Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Transfer mixture to a bowl; cool to room temperature. Stir in 2 teaspoons juice.

Pineapple Cheesecake Made with Real Cream Cheese :-)

Crust
1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. butter, melted

Mix the ingredients well and pat into the bottom of a non-stick, 9-inch springform pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes. Cool.

Pineapple Base
1 small can crushed pineapple, with 1/3 cup juice reserved
2 1/2 tsp. cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon of water
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a saucepan over a low-medium flame, mix the pineapple and reserved juice with the cornstarch. Stir constantly until the mixture is thickened. Cool to room temperature and carefully spread over the graham cracker crust.

Cheesecake
1 1/2 lbs. cream cheese
1 c. sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 pt. sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Cream the cream cheese in a large bowl until mixed. Gradually add the sugar. Beat until combined. Add eggs, one at a time. Gradually beat in the sour cream. Mix in the vanilla extract. Pour over the pineapple mixture.

Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for one hour, or until a cake tester inserted in the center is just dry. Turn off the oven and leave the cake in with the door cracked for about 5-6 hours. This keeps the top from cracking. Chill in the refrigerator overnight. Serve.

Enjoy!

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