So you want to turn your kitchen into your very own cheesecake factory? The good news is, not only can you make great quality cheesecake from scratch in your own home, but you can add all kinds of flavors and toppings to this classic recipe and make it your own. The not-so-good news? Making cheesecake is a much longer process than baking other cakes from scratch. Unfortunately, it can't exactly be made last minute for a party you were hoping to bring a dessert to this afternoon. You've gotta make and bake the crust, mix the filling, bake that too, and leave it all to cool and refrigerate for hours before it can be served.
It sounds like a lot, but we promise it'll be completely worth it when you take that first forkful of cool, creamy, decadent, homemade cheesecake.
Preheat your oven to 325°F and place a baking rack in the middle of the oven.
First thing's first -- depending on what texture you'd like for the crust, either use crushed up or pounded graham crackers, or alternatively, run the pieces through a food processor for more finely ground, evenly-sized crumbs. Mix 1 1/2 cups of graham cracker crumbs with 2 tablespoons of white sugar and just a pinch of salt.
Melt 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a saucepan or microwave. Brush the base and sides of your 9-inch springform pan with some of the butter.
Blend remaining butter into graham cracker crumb mixture until thoroughly combined.
Press the crust mixture evenly along the bottom of the pan and up the sides. Make sure the corners consistently join to discourage the cheesecake filling from leaking during baking.
Bake crust at 325°F until golden brown, for 15 to 18 minutes. Leave to cool.
In a medium-size bowl, use a mixer to beat 4 cups of room temperature (softened) cream cheese until smooth.
Blend 1 ¼ cups of white sugar into cream cheese, and beat until mixture is light and fluffy. Gradually incorporate 1 ¼ cups of sour cream, followed by 6 eggs, followed by 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract. Blend but do not over whip.
Pour the fresh cheesecake filling into the cooled crust. Wrap the bottom and up the sides of the springform pan with foil and place in a larger roasting pan with high sides.
A water bath -- surrounding your cheesecake pan with water as it bakes -- will ensure the filling bakes evenly and smoothly, and will give you a more thoroughly creamy cheesecake from top to bottom. Boil a kettle of water and place the roasting pan (containing the springform pan) in the oven. Pour hot water into the roasting pan to surround the springform pan, so that the hot water sits halfway up the sides of the springform pan.
Bake the cheesecake on the middle oven rack for about 1 hour and 10 minutes. The outer edges of the cake will set, but the center will appear less solid and jiggly. (A few golden spots on the surface are fine, but remove the cheesecake immediately if cracks form.) Remove the springform pan from the roasting pan. Run a knife along the springform pan edges and cool the cheesecake to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Remove cooled cheesecake from refrigerator and bring to room temperature 30 minutes before serving. Detach the springform pan ring, garnish with berries if desired, and serve.