Lemon Cheesecake

Cheesecake is one of our favorite desserts.

It started with Mr. Dirtywrench. I made my first cheesecake about thirty years ago for his birthday because I knew it was his favorite dessert. I quickly learned that if we were in a restaurant and the waitress offered us dessert, the question wasn't What kind of desserts do you have? but What kind of cheesecake do you have? because cheesecake was the only dessert he ever ordered. I have made him a cheesecake for his birthday every year.

But now, he is not the only one in the family who requests cheesecake instead of traditional frosted cake for their birthday. It happens here frequently. Another testament to the popularity of cheesecake is that this weekend I booked a wedding for June when the bridal couple will not be serving any traditional wedding cake. They ordered four kinds of cheesecake for their guests- double chocolate, classic New York style, cheesecake topped with fresh strawberries, and this one- lemon cheesecake topped with lemon sauce- the same one Alyssa requested for her birthday.

Here is the cheesecake recipe that I have developed. It will serve about twenty birthday guests or if not entertaining that many, give you lots of leftovers to relish for days!

I buy my cream cheese in these enormous three pound boxes. We have serious cheesecake eaters around here. They expect to have seconds, thirds and fourth servings so I make ten inch cheesecakes. If you have to buy your cream cheese in those little bitty grocery store boxes, you will need four 8 ounce packages and one 3 ounce package- about 2 1/4 pounds of cream cheese!

It is best to use a spring form cheese cake pan or a pan like this with a removable bottom. You will want to remove the cheesecake from the pan when it is cold and these work the best for clean removal.

Here's a tip- no matter what kind of cake is being made, I always line the bottom of the pan with parchment or wax paper. This facilitates the removal of the cake to transfer onto a pretty plate. Clean and easy.

Butter the sides of the pan.

I rarely have graham crackers in my pantry so my cheesecake crust is always a shortbread or nut crust.

Combine in a food processor or in a bowl:

1 cup walnuts (finely chopped if not using a food processor) (pecans or hazelnuts are also good)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon of sugar
a pinch of salt
1/2 cup of cold butter cut into pieces (1 stick)

Pulse in the processor until nuts are chopped and mixture looks crumbly.
If not using a processor, cut butter into mixture with a pastry cutter and blend until crumbs form.

Press this into the bottom of the spring form pan.
Bake for 12-14 minutes in a 375 degree oven.
Set aside to cool while making the cheesecake batter.
Turn the oven down to 300 degrees.

For the cheesecake: Place 2 1/4 pounds of cream cheese in a large mixing bowl,

Beat the cream cheese for a minute until smooth and then gradually add 1 1/2 cups sugar.

For this lemony cheesecake, zest one lemon. If making a plain cheesecake use 1 teaspoon of zest, if making lemony cheesecake use all the zest of a regular lemon (okay, I think about 2 teaspoons- I guess...)

For extra lemony flavor add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon extract or lemon oil. Also add 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla for a well-rounded flavor. (If making plain cheesecake, use 1 teaspoon vanilla and no lemon extract.)

That is my goofy bottle of vanilla. The label used to say "Kahlua" but I drank the contents and needed the bottle. I get my vanilla in a gallon jug, or sometimes I make my own, then I decant it into smaller dark bottles like this former brandy bottle in which I had made kahlua. You wouldn't believe how fast I go through a bottle of vanilla this size. Fifteen dozen cookies a week will make it disappear in a flash.

Beat the lemon zest, vanilla and lemon extract into the cheese mixture.

Beat in six whole eggs one at a time, beating well after each one. Frequently scrape down the sides of the bowl during beating.

Do not attempt this extremely dangerous stunt at home. Breaking eggs with one hand while taking photos with the other should be left to the professionals. Too bad I don't have any around here. Maybe I wouldn't have gotten egg shell in the batter. Or cheese on the camera.

Beat until smooth. Cheesecake is so easy!
Unless you have a camera in one hand.

Pour the batter onto the pre-baked nut crust.
Yes, it has some small lumps, but I'm not the least bit worried about that. They will bake out.

Tap the whole pan a few times to make any air bubbles rise to the top.

Here's the trick to baking a cheesecake without getting any unsightly cracks in the top.
Place a wide pan with hot water on another oven rack under the cheesecake pan. (Again, tricky with a camera in one hand! Hire a kid already.) It is not necessary to have the cheesecake pan in the water. The pan of water will add humidity to the oven atmosphere and keep the cake from cracking.

My oven has a steam bake feature but this method still works the best.

Bake the cheesecake in a slow oven- 300 degrees -for one hour until the center feels firm(ish). It will still jiggle but will be evenly firm from each edge to the middle. Turn the oven off and leave it in the oven for another 30 minutes.

Remove and cool completely and cover with plastic wrap and then refrigerate for at least three hours before removing from the pan. Transfer to a pretty platter for serving.

I topped this cheesecake with a lemon curd sauce. Delicious!

This cheesecake is also delicious with any kind of berries, fresh or preserves.

Lemon Cheesecake

1 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
a pinch of salt
1/2 cup cold butter cut into pieces

Bake at 375 degrees for 12 minutes

2 1/4 pounds cream cheese
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
the zest of one lemon
6 whole eggs

Bake at 300 degrees for one hour.
Top with lemon sauce.

P.S. This makes a large ten inch cheesecake that serves 20. I have halved the recipe and used a six inch spring form pan with good results. That size will serve 8-10