Eric Akis: A taste of New York cheer with cheesecake

Eric Akis

Last week, I was looking at family photos and came across ones from a trip my wife, son and I had taken to New York. We had a marvellous time and those photos made me reminisce about the food we enjoyed there.

One of the first things that came to mind was the New York-style cheesecake we had for lunch at the famed Carnegie Deli in Manhattan. Something we initially had not planned to order.

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That’s because this deli, first opened in 1937, is renowned for their sandwiches. The portions are generous and we thought we would have no room for cheesecake after eating one of them. For example, I ordered a “small” pastrami sandwich and it was packed with half-pound or so of rich, succulent meat.

But every time our waiter, who could have been a stand-up comic he was so funny, walked by our table he stopped and insisted we had to have the cheesecake. He must have done that a half-dozen times.

We finally broke down and when he walked by again we said we would like to try it.

The waiter stared at us and with a very serious look, paused and said: We’re sold out.

He waited a moment, admired the shocked look on our faces, and then said he was joking. We all laughed and were glad he was joking because that cheesecake was sweet and heavenly.

When thinking about that cheesecake it made me wonder, with the COVID-19 pandemic, when I’ll be able travel to New York to enjoy some again. I concluded it would be a while, but I now I had an incredible craving for that style of cheesecake. So I decided to make own and relive the experience that way.

As I sat down and ate a slice, it wasn’t, of course, the same as being in bustling Carnegie Deli. But it did make me very happy.

The recipe for that cheesecake is below. At the Carnegie deli the cheesecake was topped with glazed strawberries. In my recipe, though, I given you option to top wedges of the cake with whipped cream and sliced fresh local strawberries, which are in season now.

The cake yields 12 to 16 portions. If that’s too many for you, wedges of the cake could be frozen solid on tray, wrapped, and be kept frozen until ready to thaw and enjoy the next you want to enjoy some cheesecake.

New York-style Cheesecake

Tall, rich and divine cheesecake you can slice and serve with whipped cream and local strawberries. The cake can be baked a day or two before serving. Once cooled to room temperature, cover and refrigerate it, still in the pan, until ready to unmould and serve.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: 110 minutes

Makes: 12-16 servings

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs

2 Tbsp granulated sugar

3 Tbsp butter, melted

5 (250 gram) bricks firm cream cheese, at room temperature (see Note 1)

1 cup granulated sugar

2 Tbsp all-purpose flour

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

4 large eggs

1 cup sour cream

• whipped cream, sliced B.C. strawberries and mint sprigs, to taste (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Place graham crackers, 2 Tbsp sugar and the butter in a bowl and mix to combine. Spoon and press onto the bottom of a 9-inch spring-form cake pan. Bake for five minutes, and then set aside to cool.

Place cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat with the paddle attachment until smooth. Gradually beat in the 1 cup of sugar. Beat in the flour and vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Mix in sour cream until well incorporated. Pour the batter into the cake pan.

Place a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven still set to 350 F. (The steam rising from the water will help prevent the cheesecake from cracking on top during baking.) Set the cheesecake on the rack above the water and bake 10 minutes.

Lower oven temperature to 250 F and bake cake 70 minutes more, or until the centre of the cake barely jiggles when the pan is tapped. Turn the oven off and let the cake cool in the oven 30 minutes.

Transfer the cake to a baking rack and cool for five minutes. Now run a hot-water dipped paring knife around the rim of the pan to a depth of about 1/2-inch, pressing against sides of the pan as you do. (Doing this should help prevent the cake from cracking on top as it cools).

Cool the cake to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for at least four hours.

Unmould the cake, slice, plate and serve (see Note 2). Garnish slices of the cake, if desired, with a dollop of whipped cream, sliced strawberries and a mint sprig.

Note 1: I used Kraft Philadelphia Original brick cream cheese when testing this recipe.

Note 2: To get clean slices of cheesecake, dip a thin, sharp knife in hot water and wipe it dry before cutting each portion of cake.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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