Stephanie Alexander’s “best-ever cheesecake”

3 Jun

A silky, creamy cheesecake with an almost custard-like consistency. Served with fresh passion fruit pulp.

 

My friend Tasha Seccombe and I share a love for baking, and for all things sweet and indulgent. Over the years, she has told me numerously about one of her favourite cookbooks, The Cook’s Companion, by Stephanie Alexander. It’s an Australian “food bible” of sorts and has sold more than 500 000 copies since it’s first print in 1996. In this book, Tasha said, is a recipe for a cheesecake that is the silkiest she had ever tasted, with a texture that barely holds together as it wobbles from the oven and finally sets in the fridge. I was more than a little intrigued and finally asked her to send me the recipe last week.

I’ve published a few cheesecake recipes on my blog before, and I feel that all of them have a specific place in the world of cheesecakes. Whether it’s a more crumbly crustless ricotta cheesecake, or a classic cheesecake, a pecan cheesecake, a white chocolate cheesecake, or even a freezer cheesecake, I love them all. It’s weird though, because in my mind, I associate cheesecake with coffee chops in the 1990’s. Classic as it is, it surely isn’t currently trending in any way and has kind of slipped my mind as an option to make at home or order in a restaurant.

In Stephanie Alexander’s book, she had taken the bold step to actually call it “Best-Ever Cheesecake”. For a woman of her stature and expertise, this should surely mean something! As with many other baked cheesecake recipes, this recipe calls for digestive biscuits and butter in the base. The difference comes in with the cheesecake being baked in a water bath, with quite a runny filling (lining the pan with foil over the base is imperative – just follow the instructions). It spends 1 hour at 180 C (Stephanie says 50 min, but I found that 1 hour is better for my oven), then another hour with the oven turned off. It is still very wobbly when it is taken from the oven to cool on the counter, and only really sets in the fridge after a few hours. The result is a truly silky, smooth and creamy cheesecake with no grainy or crumbly texture, not too sweet, just the essence of cool, comforting, dairy indulgence with a classic cookie base that holds everything together.

Is it the best-ever? That might depend on how you like your cheesecake. It sure is incredibly good – you were right, Tasha. So good that I ate half of that cheesecake myself, within a day. This recipe is a keeper and I’ll surely make it again.

Ingredients:

  • 100 g butter, melted
  • 250 g wheatmeal/digestive biscuits (Stephanie uses 300g, but I’ve found that 250g is more than enough)
  • 500 g cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 200 g caster sugar
  • 15 ml cornflour
  • 3 XL eggs
  • 30 ml lemon juice
  • 5 ml vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 cups (500 ml) sour cream

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180 C. Use a little melted butter to brush the sides and base of the 22 x 6 cm spring-form cake tin.
  2. Prepare the tin: Remove the base from the tin. Cut a round of baking paper the same size of the base, brush with butter and set aside. Cut 2 sheets of foil, 40 x 40 cm, and place them on top of each other on the brushed base. Place the baking paper round on top of the foils, then sit the springform tin over the stack and lock the triple-lined base firmly into place. Fold the overhanging foil sides to the top and out of the way to create a water tight container.
  3. For the base: crush the cookies in a food processor, then add the remaining butter and mix to combine. Press it firmly into the base of the prepared tin, smoothing the surface with the back of a drinking/whiskey glass.
  4. For the filling: Using an electric mixer with a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and caster sugar until smooth. Add the cornflour and then add the egg one at a time, beating until just smooth (do not beat too much air into it). Add the lemon juice, vanilla and salt, then beat until just combined, scraping the sides. Lastly, add the sour cream and beat briefly until just mixed. Pour into the prepared base, then put the tin into a larger deep baking tray and fill it with boiling water to come half way up the sides of the tin.
  5. Bake for 50 minutes at 180 C (I prefer baking it for 1 hour), then turn off the oven without opening the door and leave the cheesecake for another hour in the oven. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely on a wire rack (remove it from the water bath and open up the sides of the foil to release any trapped water). Refrigerate for several hours or overnight to set fully.
  6. Run a knife around the inside of the tin, then release the sides and remove the lined base. Transfer the cheesecake to a plate. Slice and serve, topped with fresh passion fruit pulp or fresh berries.

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