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“Chez Meredith Cheesecake” • May 18, 2006

Way too fabulous for words!!

SOOOO — exactly how do you like your cheesecake? Soft? Fluffy? Silky? Perfectly smooth? Like whipped cream? Float off the plate? Maybe just lighter than air? Hmmmm???

Well, if that’s the way you like it — then good for you!  Now you can leave!!!!!!!

Because we aren’t making ANYTHING that CRUMMY here at Chez Meredith!  Our cheesecake is melt in your mouth creamy, but it is THICK and DENSE!!!!  You don’t slurp it up with a straw like crummy cheesecakes!  You’ve gotta GNAW on this one!!

AND — we’re going to make it delightfully, deliciously, and deviliciously wicked!!  (“Hark, Hark — do I hear the pitter patter of tiny Eagle Brand feet??” “Indubitably,” she says with a sly blond smile!!)

By the way, “deviliciously” is the Meredithese word of the day!  Fascinating language!!  When I do my recipes for frosting, I’ll introduce you to “licklicious.” And all of you people, (the GUYS, who else?) out there with the naughty little smirks on your faces contemplating other uses for the adjective “licklicious,” well — you can just stop that right now!  I expect you to always remain proper gentlemen in the Chez Meredith cooking classes.  Hey — we’re trying to run a high class joint here!  So you’d better behave — or Mama Will Spank!!

Just so you’ll know, this recipe for cheesecake was originally “lost” back in the pack, but one of my good friends, (she’s a DNA,) insisted that I make it the first one listed.  And also — it kinda breaks one of the Chez Meredith cardinal rules — it requires a significant amount of manual labor — but then, that’s why we have males!!

Anyway — you gotta understand that by it’s very nature, cheesecake is temperamental.  It’s one of those spoiled brats of the dessert family.  All cheesecakes are temperamental — including the Chez Meredith one because there are a couple of issues you’re gonna have to work out with “your own particular oven.” I can give you some hints and guidelines, but at that ultimate moment of truth, it’s just you and your oven — mano a mano!  (Or possibly mammo a mammo depending upon the respective genders of you and your oven!) However, this leads to a good news/bad news situation.

The good news is — you’re gonna have to eat your mistakes.

And the bad news is — you’re gonna have to eat your mistakes.  (Please, please don’t throw me in the briar patch!!!)

I know, I know, it’s a tough job, but somebody has to polish off all those errors.  Back when THE Boss was earning his way through college working at restaurants, the standard rule was that whoever cooked the mistake — ate the mistake.  THE Boss said it was really amazing how no one ever made a mistake on some kind of inedible petroleum derived casserole ugly-gooey thingie — it was always with the steaks and lobsters when the “mistakes” happened.  (I think THE Boss lived on his mistakes!!  Now he just tries to live with them!!)

So even though cheesecake is temperamental, little Meredith is gonna teach you to at least minimize problems.  And once you gain a little cheesecake cooking experience with your oven, etc., you’ll be able to nail it every time and then lord that fact unmercifully over mere mortals!!  (Success is it’s own reward!!)

I want all of you to promise to READ EVERYTHING carefully before you start DOING ANYTHING!  You need to understand your inner cheesecake completely before your start trying to make it.  And if you don’t do that, you’re gonna get in trouble!  Not only trouble as in — “you’ll mess up your cheesecake,” but “trouble” trouble with me — and then you’ll have to stay after class for detention for being naughty — and you’ll be required to take and PASS my little punishment seminar entitled, “Isometric Imbedding, Submanifolds, and Modern Developments in Surface Theory,” and if you’re not fluent in stuff like abstract Riemannian manifolds, complex projective spaces, Kählerian metrics, Fubini-Study metrics, etc., etc., ad nauseum, you’re gonna really be in major ugly trouble!!  (You’ve now been warned, so you’d better be good!) By the way, that’s all math stuff — I keep telling you I’m a smart blond!  We’ll beat up on Riemannian manifolds sometime in an M Column.  And I’m gonna put a super sexy title on it to sucker you into reading it, too!!  (I’m kind of devilicious myself!!)

To make cheesecake, you gotta have a 10 inch, (or very close — 9 1/2 will work,) diameter springform pan — and not a wimpy layer cake springform pan only an inch high, but a fully grown, mature, in its prime cheesecake pan 3 inches high.  And NO — you can’t use a pre-made graham cracker crust and aluminum pie pan combo thingie from the grocery store for three very good reasons:

No. 1 — it’s too small.

No. 2 — It’s Too Small!

No. 3 — IT’S TOO SMALL!!!!

(Whoa boy!  “Some” people!!)

You may have to go to one of those kitchen specialty shops (or more cleverly, “shoppes,”) to get a decent pan.  However, I did find some for sale at my local Kroger’s and one of the three Wal-Mart’s on my block had some, too.  Of course — you could try my technique — Miss DNA had one that was just perfect — now Miss DNA doesn’t have one anymore!!

And before any of you clowns out there even think about ratting me out to her, she KNOWS I have the pan.  We traded out — I got the pan — and she gets a superb Chez Meredith Cheesecake every now and then!!  And by the way, any little revelations made here, better stay here!!  “The Meredith” has an extremely low regard for blackmailers!  (I generally plant them in the row next to the petunias!!)

Springform pans have removable sides which unlatch and then separate from the bottom — which means that not only is there a seam on the side, the entire bottom to side “interface” is a continuous seam — and remember that we are going to be pouring liquid things in it — and then baking those liquid things — and further, that in the case of cheesecake, we are going to have the whole pan sitting in a casserole dish of boiling water!!  SO — time for a quick pop quiz!  Can you see the potential problem here??

I don’t have time to grade your tests, (and I can’t find my red pencil anyway,) so I’ll gonna give all of you the benefit of the doubt and assume that everyone correctly selected answer “D.” Trust me, you NEVER want to see the results of a springform pan that took on a life of it’s own and let everything leak out — which allowed “everything” to bake away for another hour or so all over your oven!  If it happens to you, your poor male is gonna be scrubbing in that oven so long and hard that he’ll need a service animal just to operate the TV remote!  (You’d be surprise how many males fall victim to springform pan tragedies — someone should probably start a telethon.) And if that doesn’t convince you, just look at it this way — YOU might have to be the service animal running the remote for him — you’ll end up with ugly calluses all over your channel changing fingers!  And even worse, think of your poor manicurist!  Once she gets a look at your hands after you’ve spent a few hours male channel surfing, she’ll probably end up in bankruptcy court after paying for all her psychotherapy bills!  You’ll ruin her life, her husband’s life, her kid’s lives, and even her dog and cat’s lives!  It’s not a pretty picture to have on your conscience.

SO — anytime you are using Mr. Murphy’s Marvelous Springform Pan Invention, wrap the outside of it totally and securely in aluminum foil!!  Remember, the life you save, may be your male’s!!  (And your manicurist’s!!)

OK — so what’s this stuff about a casserole dish of boiling water?? Remember I said cheesecakes are temperamental.  They are well know for throwing a complete tantrum in the oven, (or afterwards when you think the crisis is over,) and cracking open like Grand Canyon!!  I’m sure that the whole concept of smothering cheesecakes with fruits, icing, etc., was invented solely to hid the cracks!!  SO — we’re gonna cook it in a water bath, (yes — your cheesecake is gonna get a bath,) and then we are going to let it cool down very slowly — which will absolutely, positively prevent it from cracking!!!  (But keep the fruits and icing handy JUST IN CASE!!!)

The water bath not only helps prevent cracking but it also provides very uniform heat and keeps the bottom from burning and the top from browning!  Besides, your cheesecake will love relaxing in it’s little private hot tub!  A pampered cheesecake is a happy cheesecake!  And a happy cheesecake doesn’t crack!  Your casserole pan for the water bath needs to be at least an inch on all sides wider than the baking pan.  We’ve gonna use a 10 inch diameter baking pan, so we need a minimum 12 inch casserole dish in both directions.  It also needs to be deep enough so that at least half the baking pan is immersed.  In a perfect world, the water would be at the same level outside as the cheesecake inside.  (By the way, in case you haven’t noticed — you DNA People live in a pretty imperfect world!)

When we get ready for baking, we’re gonna put a folded towel in the bottom of the water dish to make sure the baking pan doesn’t touch anything but water or water saturated towel.  AND — the water we put in the pan MUST be boiling!!  So you’ll need to heat it up on the stove.

Let’s see — we’re gonna have a springform pan filled with cheesecake, (with said pan securely wrapped in aluminum foil,) that we are gonna put in a big, (translation: heavy,) glass casserole dish, which we are going to fill up with boiling water, and then we’re going to somehow negotiate it into the middle rack of the oven.  Hmmm — this could be a problem — a DANGEROUS PROBLEM!!!

Let’s consider one possible solution — “Oh, Dear? Would you come into the kitchen for a moment? I need a little help from those big strong handsome manly muscles of yours!” (Remember ladies, you must never forget who is labor and who is management!)

WELL — that isn’t gonna work because it’s WAY TOO RISKY — even for males that are well noted for dashing off to meet their Maker right after saying, “Hey Everybody — Watch This!!”

SO — let’s have our male put the casserole dish, (with the folded dish towel,) in the oven, then put the cheesecake in the dish, and then use a teapot with it’s clever little spout to pour the boiling water into the casserole dish.  It’s a LOT SAFER this way.  You certainly don’t want your male injured!  Think how expensive the vet bills would be — and how they would seriously cut into your shoe budget!  My motto is “Better Safe Than Barefoot!!”

OK, now let’s talk about one very significant ingredient that when handled improperly can drop kick your cheesecake smack dab into the middle of the freeway to disaster!  And that ingredient is — cheese!!  And yes, your cheesecake is gonna have cheese in it!  I want all of you that are surprised with that little revelation to stand over there by the wall so I can keep a VERY close eye on you!  (Psst — somebody make sure they don’t have any sharp objects!  I don’t want a swarm of lawyers showing up if the idiots injure themselves!!)

First — you’ve gotta use CREAM CHEESE!!  Yes — cream cheese — absolutely, positively no substitutions!  And having said that, I’m sure I’ll get a bunch of e-mails from wise guys asking, “Can I substitute Neufchâtel?” Of course you can substitute Neufchâtel for the cream cheese — you can substitute a bowling ball and three ground squirrels for all I care — but your cheesecake is gonna be SERIOUSLY CRUMMY!!  (And maybe just a “little” weird!) USE CREAM CHEESE!!!  (And to think we let these people drive cars and vote!!)

Item two — NO — you can’t use whipped cream cheese!  Sure it’s already soft and easy to use, but it is filled with air — which is gonna make one of those soft, mushy, runny, wimpy, disgustingly crummy cheesecakes!!  Don’t buy whipped cream cheese in a plastic tub — buy the 8 ounce bricks of the REAL STUFF!

Three — NO — you can’t use fat free, fat reduced, imitation, synthetic, artificial, faux, bogus, plastic, asphalt derived, guano extracted, or other reprehensible abominations of fake cream cheese!  Remember the Chez Meredith Vision Statement, “Damn the Calories — Full Taste Ahead!” By the way, if you think you just can’t “live” without a tattoo — that would make a pretty good one!  (And if you do — please DON’T tell me WHERE you put the tattoo!!)

Number four — you’ve got to properly prepare the cream cheese before attempting to use it in the recipe.  This will require the intensely strenuous efforts of both you and your devoted male.  Your job is to remove the cream cheese bricks from the refrigerator and place them upon the counter to warm up.  Your male’s job is to sit on the couch with your feet in his lap while he exercises those big strong handsome manly muscles giving you a heavenly little foot rub.  Said foot rubbing should continue until the cream cheese has completely reached room temperature or until your male’s arms fall off!  (I’m a firm believer in sharing the joys and labor of cooking!) And if you don’t let the cheese warm up, you cheesecake is gonna be crummy!  Cold cream cheese makes lumpy cheesecake.  Your male will also have to whip it for so long to make it smooth that it’ll be filled with air.  See Item Two above for the perils of that.  Also, you want to make sure your male whips the cream cheese first before you add anything else.  Get the cheese prepared right, and then the rest of the stuff is easy.  Get the cheese wrong and you’re guaranteed to make crummy cheesecake.  (And then the neighbors will start circulating petitions about you!)

Remember I said that cheesecake is a brat.  And even worse, it’s a sneaky brat.  It will sit there in the oven cooking merrily away and innocently keep telling you , “I’m not done yet — I’m not done yet — I’m not done yet.” And then the next time you take a peek at it, (elapsed time 4.26 seconds since the last time you checked on it,) it will gleefully and sadistically announce, “I’m charcoal!!  I’m charcoal!!  I’m charcoal!!  HA-HA-HA-HAH!!!” By the way, there are no Constitutional prohibitions about shooting a smarty pants cheesecake — although you’re neighbors are likely to start circulating “those” petitions again!  (It’s probably best to make sure that all cheesecake executions are sanctioned by the NRA, the DAR, and witnessed by an official designee of the Anaheim, Azusa, and Cucamonga, Sewing Circle, Book Review, and Timing Association.)

So — in the battle of wits and wills between you and your cheesecake, you’ve got to be even sneakier!!  (Trust me — you never want to admit to the world, or particularly your bridge club, that you were outsmarted by a cheesecake!)

Most importantly, don’t listen to it!  Cheesecakes are pathological liars!  When it’s done it won’t LOOK done!  It should still be wobbly in the center.  Let it cool down, then chill it in the fridge overnight.  Also, not only do you get cracks because cheesecakes are basically diabolical at heart, but overcooking is guaranteed to create crevasses!  So — don’t overcook it!!!  But to do that, you and your oven are gonna have to come to a mutually beneficial understanding.  Oven temperature dials lie as much as cheesecakes.  So you’re gonna have to experiment a little with time and temperature to get everything to turn out just right.  My philosophy is to always undercook rather than overcook.  It’s a lot easier to eat an undercooked error that it is to chip away for a week at a charcoal briquette disaster!!

(Psst!  There’s a real sneaky way that’s almost sure fire to tell when “someone” is done.  But I’ll have to tell you later after “someone” is safely in the oven.  I don’t want the “c-h-e-e-s-e-c-a-k-e” to hear about it and go hide under the bed or something!  That’s what Fauntleroy does when I have to take him to the vet.  Fauntleroy is my pet dragon.  He’s really handy when I make crème brûlée!)

When you take the cheesecake out of the oven, run a knife around the inside of the pan to loosen it from the sides.  Be careful not to slice into the cheesecake while loosening it.  Of course, if it cracks just as you are freeing it from the pan sides, you are more than justified in doing a little Norman Bates shower impersonation on it!!  (Just make sure there are no witnesses!  You can hide the evidence with fruit or icing!!) By loosening it from the sides, as your cheesecake chills, it can pull away gently from the pan and not crack.  And after it’s cooled in the fridge, do this again before you “pop the top” on the springform pan.

OK — fast forward to the next day and it’s time to unleash your cheesecake from the pan.  Remember to do the knife bit around the edge, then unlatch the springform pan side, carefully lift it away, and voila!  Your cheesecake is now ready for a serious “eat until you hurt” feeding frenzy!!

AND YES — it is totally ready!!!  Leave it on the bottom of the springform pan!!  Slide a thin knife between it and the pan bottom while it is still really chilled to loosen it, but DON’T take it off the pan bottom.  If you want it on some fancy smancy glass dish or something, then put the cheesecake and pan both on the dish!  You can put some frosting or something around the bottom to hide the pan bottom, but leave it on the pan.  You have nursed this thing along this far, don’t start playing with fire and crack it open while trying to move it to some dumb serving dish!  (And be warned if you insist on trying to transfer it, that the last person that attempted that, not only busted their cheesecake, but a plague of wombats descended upon the house to wreck unholy retribution!!  And if you are not familiar with wombats, be glad!!  They’re really pretty obnoxious — and just plain noxious, too!!  WHEW!!!  I had to drop them from my “A” list — although we still exchange Christmas and birthday cards.)

Hmmm — we’ve about finished all the required pre-recipe discussion.  I want to thank all of you good students for staying with me and reading everything.  Of course, there were a few that even after my threat of a post-doc math detention class, still decided to skip over everything and rush straight ahead to the ingredients and directions.  SO — I think we should have a little fun — at their expense, of course!!  I want all of you good students to ignore the following FAKE RECIPE and we’ll see how many others foolishly chose to ignore my warning.  Remember good students — the following is NOT for you — the REAL RECIPE will be coming along shortly.  By the way, you might want to take a short break, stretch you legs, and maybe take a look up and down the street to see what you neighbors might be up to — like maybe out in their front yards!!



27 boxes graham crackers

13 dozen eggs

15 pound bag all purpose flour

7 quarts confetti

1 1/2 quarts red glitter

5 pound bag kitty litter

1 industrial strength weed-eater

1 dance tutu, pale pink or lilac

5 gallons super glue

1 soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever

1 lawn sprinkler, underground preferred


Empty all 27 boxes of graham crackers into a large receptacle — a bath tub will work perfectly.  Remove your shoes and socks and “grape stomp” on the graham crackers until all have been reduced to crumbs.  Remove 13 dozen eggs from cartons and carefully place them atop the graham cracker crust — do not crack them out of the shells!  Remove your pants and underwear and resume stomping until eggs and graham cracker crumbs are well mixed.  Add 15 pound bag of flour, 7 quarts confetti, 1 1/2 quarts red glitter, and 5 pound bag of kitty litter.  Remove the rest of your clothing and get the weed-eater from your garage and blend mixture until silky smooth.  Slip into the dance tutu, then pour the 5 gallons of super glue into the mixing bath tub.  Immediately dive into the bath tub and roll around until fully coated head to toe with the crust and filling mixture.  Quickly exit the tub, crank up Saturday Night Fever on the CD player to full volume, open the windows, turn on the lawn sprinkler, and do a John Travolta Disco Strut back and forth across your front lawn amid the sprinklers.  Keep strutting as the super glue hardens.  Wait for the nice men in white suits with butterfly nets to arrive.  Go with them willingly — they are taking you to meet your cheesecake!!  And you can add a special garnish to your cheesecake while the nice men wrestle you into your new jacket by singing at the top of your voice, “I DID IT MY WAY!!!!!”

SOOO — have all the smarty pants been taken away???

WELL — that ought to shake up the old neighborhood!!!  And — eliminate a few of “those people” that just refuse to follow directions!!  And when they are eventually released or make bail, (depending upon the jurisdiction,) Mistress Meredith is gonna be waiting for them with her math books!!  Trust me — my mathematical tomes and I can add a whole new dimension to the entire dominatrix punishment bit!!  (By the way, if you’re “really into pain,” you might want to consider scheduling a few private sessions with Mistress Meredith.  I’m running a sale on Tensor Calculus, Organometallic Chemistry, Diophantine Approximation, Quantum Chromodynamics, and Molecular Beam Epitaxy discipline sessions.  Cash only — no credit cards!)

So now let’s move on to the REAL RECIPE that all you good students have been waiting for.  Actually, this is going to be a “stealth recipe” because I’m gonna hide it within the text to make sure that no “skip ahead smarty pants” catch on to our clever little trick!!

SO — for the REAL CHEESECAKE RECIPE, you’re gonna need, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear — WHOOPS!!  Wrong Recipe Page!!  (That’s my little Christmas “Surprise” Special I send to people that mail me “concrete” fruit cakes!) Hmmm — dum di dum — (flip, flip, flip) — here we go — Cheesecake!!!

For the crust, you’ll need 1 1/2 cups of graham cracker crumbs, 1/4 cup melted butter, and optionally, 1/2 cup white sugar.  And before any crybabies start whining about the “boring” graham cracker crust, we’ll talk about variations later.  Besides, I like the traditional graham cracker crust — and it’s my recipe, so I get to pick!

And for the cheesecake itself, you’ll need 4 - 8 ounce “bricks” of cream cheese, 1 — 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk, (Eagle Brand arriving stage left trailed by paparazzi,) 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream, 1 1/2 cups white sugar, 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, 5 whole eggs, 2 egg yolks, (and no I don’t know what to do with the extra 2 egg whites so don’t ask,) and optionally, 1 tablespoon of vanilla.

Now that we’ve got everything together, let’s start with the preparations.  Get out the springform pan, carefully insert the bottom into the cylindrical side, and snap the latch securely shut.

Now open the latch and do it right this time!!!

Good!  Now get the aluminum foil and wrap the outside of the pan securely in case you STILL didn’t put the idiot thing together correctly, (and to outwit Mr. Murphy!!) Drag out the casserole dish for the water bath so it’s ready to go.  By the way, the dish I use is one that was “liberated” from Miss DNA’s kitchen and is just the right size for the cheesecake pan.  However, while cruising through the number two Wal-Mart on my block, I ran across a really cool aluminum foil disposable roaster pan that was both the right size and had raised ridges on the bottom.  It really looked perfect and the price was two for 99 cents!!  (Even my budget could stand that!  Of course, I’d still try to get THE Boss to buy it for me — or better yet, just loan me his credit card!!  He’s got one of those black Centurion thingies — THE Boss is disgustingly rich!)

Finally, put a folded dishtowel in the bottom of the casserole dish, (or roaster,) fill up the teapot with water, dash into the living room, snatch the TV remote, and lead your baying labor force back to the kitchen!

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit or 175 degrees Celsius.  By the way, as soon as I’m elected President, I’m gonna put a stop to all this measurement nonsense — including the Fahrenheit/Celsius mess.  Zero degrees “Meredith” will be the temperature of my feet and 100 degrees “Meredith” will be the temperature of the rest of me!  It’ll be really easy to understand!!

First we’ll make the crust.  There are two ways to approach this.  You can buy regular graham crackers and crush them up to get 1 1/2 cups of crumbs.  To do this, you’ll need at least two full boxes.  That’s about 15 to 20 crackers for the crust and the rest to eat while laboring over the crushing.  (All executive chefs are required by law to snack while cooking — check the Constitution!) The other alternative is to just buy a box of the exact same graham crackers that are already nicely crushed up and save yourself all the trouble — and the calories!  (I like the one from the cute little Keebler tree elves.)

If you are determined to “crush your own,” bust them up by hand first, then crush them up with your food processor or blender.  If you don’t have a food processor, or if your “food processor” of choice has found the remote and returned to the TV, then put the crackers in a heavy plastic bag and “attack” it with a rolling pin.  Leave the bag slightly unsealed to let out the air as you roll and crush the crackers.  (This is obviously something best left to the “labor” part of your team — go steal the remote again!)

After the crumbs have been crushed, (either by your male or the elves,) dump them in a mixing bowl.  Now it’s time for decision number 1.  Do you add sugar or not? I personally have never found anything too sweet for me, (you know — “sweets for the sweet,”) so I dump in the 1/2 cup of white sugar.  Some “stick-in-the-muds” think this is too sweet, so if you are one of “those people” then leave out the sugar.

For melting the butter I found this perfect little one cup size metal measuring cup at my favorite cooking supply house, (that would be Miss DNA’s kitchen.)  Spoon out the butter, (and yes — USE BUTTER!) and then just set the little “pan” on the smallest burner of your stove top on LOW heat and stir constantly until melted, (perfect male assignment.) You can also use a plastic or glass cup and try nuking the butter in the microwave.  This never seems to work very well for me.  Either the butter is still a brick or the smoke alarm is going off!  (I’m going to resist the temptation to explain why butter doesn’t melt very well in the microwave.  We’ll save our discussion of polarized and non-polarized molecules and their response to microwave radiation for another time.  Hmmm - I think I'll do an M Column about it instead!)

Once it’s melted, dump it in with the crumbs, (and sugar,) and mix it up to coat the crumbs.  Then dump the whole mix in the bottom of the springform pan.  Pack it tightly together on the bottom with your hands so that it doesn’t “float” up into the cheesecake.  You can also use a flat bottom tumbler to smush it down.

Decision number 2 — some people also like crumbs on the side.  Actually, I kind of like them, too, but I’ve never had a lot of luck with making them STAY on the side.  It seems like some part always collapses just as I pour in the cheesecake.  I’ve tried pre-baking the crust a little to make it stay on the sides, but then the crust usually ends up overcooked — and it still usually collapses.  And I’ve trying chilling the crust to solidify the butter, but it still tends to crumble.  SO — I threw in the towel and just put crumbs on the bottom.  If you figure out a FOOL PROOF way of doing this — and you tell me — then we’ll be friends for life!  If you figure it out and DON’T tell me — your new neighbors will be the wombats!  AND — before I get any e-mails from GUYS — NO — I’m not going to try it with duct tape and WD-40!!!

If you are a traditionalist and perfectly happy with a graham cracker crust, you can skip the next part — it’s my concession to all the dessert radicals and wannabe’s!

NO — you don’t have to use graham crackers.  You can use just about any crushed up cookies.  I’ve tried it with vanilla wafers, Oreo’s with the “stuff” scraped out, (which needless to say, said “stuff” didn’t go to waste,) sugar cookies, butter cookies, shortbread cookies, etc.  I even got an e-mail that suggested crushed Sugar Frosted Flakes!  I haven’t tried that one yet, but it might have possibilities!  I think just about anything that is not too gooey would work, so experiment all you want.  Let me know if you come up with something really cool!  By the way, I’ve tried it with peanut butter and with crushed almonds but they were both too gooey to make a decent crust so they ended up mixed into the cheesecake bottom layer — which wasn’t all that bad!  I’m gonna experiment with the almonds some more when I add amaretto to the cheesecake.  By the way, even though amaretto has an almond like taste, it is actually made from peach pits!!  Who’d uh thunk it??

OK — now with the crust prepared, it’s time to prepare the cream cheese.  We’ll assume that your male has recovered his strength from the foot rub and is now primed for “creaming” the cream cheese.

This is probably about the right time to start the tea pot of water to heating for the water bath.  Remember that it needs to be boiling.

If you don’t have a hot to trot male handy, you can put the cheese in an electric mixer on low speed and blend it until it’s smooth.  Don’t over do it and whip in a bunch of air!  The best way is to just dump it in a mixing bowl and let your male mush it smooth with a wooden spoon!  Watch him carefully so he doesn’t get too violent and incorporate a lot of air!

While he’s getting the cheese smooth and creamy, dump the flour and sugar into another mixing bowl and whisk it to make sure that the flour doesn’t lump together.  If you want to make a chocolate cheesecake using dry cocoa, mix it in with the rest of the dry stuff.  You can also “chocalatize” it by adding melting chocolate after it’s all mixed together.

Once the cheese is nice and creamy, add the dry ingredient, and then the wet ingredients to the cheese mixing bowl.  Time for decision 3.  I like adding the vanilla, but some people insist of leaving it out.  (Everyone is entitled to their own faulty wrong opinions!) Even if you started with the electric mixer instead of a convenient male, finish the mixing by hand.  Make sure that you scrape everything down from the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  All those little grains will come back to haunt you if you don’t get them mixed in properly.  Be careful while mixing so that you avoid getting air into the mix!  When you are done the mix should be creamy, smooth, and have a high gloss!  If you want to add melted chocolate, fruits, candies, cookies, etc. this is the time to gently fold them in.

Now carefully pour the mix into the springform pan and place the pan on the towel in the glass casserole dish, (or aluminum roaster pan thingie,) and finally put the whole assembly on the middle rack of your oven.  Once it is all securely stashed on the rack, carefully pour the boiling water from the tea pot into the casserole dish to complete the water bath.

You cheesecake is going to need to bask away at it’s little bathing ritual for between an hour and an hour and a half, but you’ll need to check on it at about 45 minutes, particularly for the first time with your oven.  Even assuming that your oven temperature control isn’t lying to you, each oven is still going to cook differently.  This is because “temperature” isn’t really what oven baking is all about.  “Heat transfer” is what really counts and heat is different than temperature!  This is one of the consequences of getting recipes from a Digital Person that is not only a gorgeous sexy blond and obviously a superb executive chef, but also a dirty hands engineer that really paid attention when taking thermodynamics!!

To better understand what’s going on, think about a tank of water with two pipes coming out of the bottom — a small one and a large one.  If you open the valves on both of them, the water comes out at the same pressure since they are both fed by the same reservoir source, but the AMOUNT of water coming out of the big pipe is a lot greater than out of the smaller one.  The water pressure is like temperature and the volume of water is like heat.  If your oven has a big heat “pipe” then it is going to supply more heat than an oven with a tiny heat “pipe.” There are lots of factors that determine how rapidly your oven can transfer heat from the coils in the bottom to the food — or from the gas burner, or nuclear reactor, or whatever else you are using to cook with!  The volume of the oven, the size of the heating coils, the type dish, even the inside color of the oven all have effects.  “Convection” ovens cook faster than traditional ovens by adding a fan to swirl the hot air around inside to more quickly transfer the heat from the hot air to the food.  This sometimes also can lead to very dried out food because all that super hot desert air can take away moisture quickly.  In our case, we are slowing down the heat transfer and making it very uniform with the water bath.  That’s why it’s going to take longer to cook with the water bath than if you just put the cheesecake on the rack.

So you want to check on everything at about 45 minutes.  First, make sure that your water level hasn’t dropped significantly.  You’ll probably need to add some more boiling water — and make sure it is BOILING!!  Adding cold water is going to thermally shock your cheesecake and it’s going to scream bloody murder and crack open like Grand Canyon!!

And as promised, here is the secret to Meredith’s little “doneness” cheat method!  (I love little “cheats!”) I use a metal steak cooking thermometer to check the temperature of the cheesecake!  (This is why I couldn’t tell you about this earlier — cheesecakes like all rational things are very sensitive about being “probed!”) Always take your measurements right in the middle.  When it’s done, the middle will still be soft and the evidence of your probing won’t show up!  My target point is 160 degrees Fahrenheit or 70 degrees Celsius.  Because the water bath is helping to stabilize the heat flow to the cheesecake, the temperature will rise pretty slowly.  Until you’ve got some experience, start checking at 45 minutes and then every 10 minutes.  Keep track of the total time for the next cheesecake and you won’t have to check it as often.

Once it reaches 160 degrees, turn off the oven and let it “set” in the oven for another hour to “set” the cheesecake.  This additional warm cooling period with the addition of the water bath insures that your cheesecake was slowly and smoothly warmed and then cooled — and that should keep it from cracking and give it a divine creamy and even texture.

While the cheesecake is baking away we need to make decision number 4.  My traditional recipe calls for another little food rub at this point although a sweet little neck, shoulder, and back massage is a nice variation.  However you choose to pass the time, make sure to set the kitchen timer so you don’t overcook your cheesecake while you float heavenly off in la-la-land!!

Once the cheesecake has cooled down, do the knife bit around the edge and let it chill overnight in the fridge.  Do the knife bit again the next day and then lift off the springform pan sides.  You can use a hot wet knife to smooth out the edges if needed.  You can also TRY mushing additional graham cracker crumbs into the side.  I’ve never had much luck with this — it never does look right for me.

To cut it, I fill up a tumbler with hot water, rest the knife blade inside to warm it up, quickly dry the knife and make a cut — then back to the hot water for the next cut.  Keep the knife hot and wiped dry and clean and you’ll make perfect cuts!!!

I’ll do another recipe later about a lot of variations to our basic cheesecake, but this thing has already gotten ridiculously long!  However, if you’ve stayed with me to the bitter end — and have completed your lab work by successfully cooking a fabulous Chez Meredith Cheesecake — then you are now an official graduate of Meredith Cheesecake University and should be accorded all rights and privileges associated with the honor!!!



PS — I’ll look into getting some Cheesecake U. alumni tee shirts, etc. made for MeredithMart™ so you can inform the world that you are now a cheesecake person of substance!!

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Last Updated: May 2006

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