CLASSIC CHEESECAKE W/ SOUR CREAM TOPPING

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Last year, I featured a cocktail recipe that was inspired by my trip to Berlin, Germany back in 2016. I won’t go into detail again about the trip (you can quickly read about it here if you’d like), but I spoke about how I had received an issue for Bon Appétit the month before leaving for Berlin, and luckily enough, that particular issue had an article dedicated to Berlin’s coolest neighborhoods and the best places to eat, drink and hang out. Besides taking the amazing advice to hit up an all-day cafe called ORA in Kreuzberg, I made a mental note to partake in the German ritual called “kaffee and kuchen”, translating to coffee and cake, that Bon Appétit mentioned. It essentially means having a meal between meals and simply is an excuse to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee and snack in the afternoon. Bon Appétit said that the best place to partake in this was a spot called Five Elephant, and that you had to get a slice of their cheesecake. So, before Alex and I were heading to a late lunch (at Burgermeister - another spot I strongly suggest visiting) we decided to make the journey to Five Elephant for afternoon Americanos and a slice of cheesecake.

Americanos and cheesecake at Five Elephant in Kreuzberg, Berlin

Americanos and cheesecake at Five Elephant in Kreuzberg, Berlin

And let me tell you: it was without a doubt one of my favorite meals of the trip. It was a beautiful day with perfect weather and we took our coffees and slice of cheesecake and sat at a table outside surrounded by locals. The cheesecake lived up to its reputation and we tried our hardest not to eat the entire thing before heading to our next meal. I’m pretty sure we failed.

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When I came home from the trip, I filled my mom in on everything that we did, including the best cheesecake I had ever had. When I showed her the picture of our cheesecake and coffee (the picture above), she noticed that the cheesecake had a layer of sour cream on top, which she told me was exactly the same way her mother (who was Czech) made it. My Babi (grandmother in Czech) sadly passed away when I was 10, so I don’t always remember the amazing desserts that she made, so her cheesecake had completely slipped my mind. Actually, what I regret most is that my little lazy kid self wasn’t more interested in helping my Babi out in the kitchen - I would have loved to have learned to bake all her Czech desserts. But luckily, I have my aunts and mom to call on when I need a “Babi” recipe, since they saved all of her recipe books and clippings from newspapers and magazines, and it was my aunts who helped me with getting Babi’s cheesecake recipe.

Earlier this week, when I took the first bite of my interpretation of Babi’s cheesecake, I was immediately transported back to Kreuzberg. Babi’s recipe tastes exactly like what I had at Five Elephant, and now every time I’ll bake it in the future, not only will it remind me of my time in Berlin and the wonderful trip I had there, but it also will be a tribute to Babi and will allow me to bring her back to life (in my kitchen at least). When I gave a piece of the cheesecake to my mom, she was ecstatic and quite emotional that she was able to taste that flavor again since she hasn’t had it since Babi passed away. I truly cannot wait to pass these recipes and my own onto my kids and grandkids and I just hope that they develop a passion for baking as I did.

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The cheesecake filling itself is extremely simple with only 4 ingredients - cream cheese, granulated sugar, eggs and vanilla extract. I usually recommend doing a water bath but since this is a smaller cheesecake, it only bakes for about 30 minutes, half the time compared to my other recipes. So therefore, I feel like going to the trouble of preparing the water bath isn’t worth the extra time or effort. I also made this cheesecake twice, once with a water bath and once without, and funny enough, I preferred the texture of the cheesecake without the water bath. AND although a water bath also aides in preventing cracks from occurring, there’s no need to worry about that due to the sour cream topping. The topping, consisting of sour cream, granulated sugar and vanilla extract, is poured over the baked and slightly cooled cheesecake, and then popped back into the oven for another 8-10 minutes. So any cracks or imperfections are hidden underneath the topping. And if for some reason your sour cream topping isn’t as smooth as you’d like, cover the top with fruit and you’re good to go.

If you’re not completely sold on the sour cream topping, trust me, it makes the cheesecake SO much better by adding more creaminess and tanginess. If you want, you can use less of the sour cream ( instead of a whole pint, you can use half) and just make a thinner layer.

P.S. interested in another Czech dessert? Here’s a recipe for palacinky aka Czech crêpes.

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Classic Cheesecake with Sour Cream Topping

Makes (1) 9in. or 10 in. cheesecake

Recipe adapted from my Babi and aunt!

Ingredients

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For the crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

  • 3 tbsp. light brown sugar

  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon

  • 5 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:

  • 2 (8 oz.) packages of full-fat cream cheese, room temperature

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar

  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

  • 3 large eggs, room temperature

For the sour cream topping

  • 1 pint (16 oz.) sour cream

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions

Make the crust:

  1. Move the oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 350°F.

  2. In a bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, ground cinnamon, and melted butter and transfer to a 9 or 10 in. springform pan. Using the back of a measuring cup, firmly press the crust mixture into the bottom of the pan as well as the sides. Try to get the crust as evenly spread as possible. If the sides aren’t perfect, no worries.

  3. Bake in the oven for 9-10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool while preparing the filling. Keep the oven on at 350°F.

Make the filling:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer) beat the cream cheese on medium speed for 2 minutes, and then add in the sugar and cream together for a few more minutes until no lumps remain. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

  2. Add the eggs one at a time on low speed, making sure each one is incorporated into the mixture before adding the next. Add the vanilla extract and mix until just combined. Turn off the mixer and finish mixing the filling using a spatula, making sure to get anything that may be down at the bottom of the bowl (this area usually gets left untouched when using a mixer). Pour the cheesecake filling into the pan and spread it evenly.

  3. Bake the cheesecake for 20-25 minutes. The center of the cheesecake will still have a wiggle to it, but the outer edges will be set. Take the cheesecake out of the oven and allow it to cool for about 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, turn the oven temperature up to 450°F.

Make the sour cream topping:

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the sour cream, granulated sugar and vanilla extract together. Slowly pour the mixture over the top of the slightly cooled cheesecake and spread evenly using an offset spatula.

  2. Place the cheesecake bake in the oven and bake for 8-10 more minutes.

  3. Allow the cheesecake to cool completely before transferring it to the refrigerator. Refrigerate the cake overnight/at least 8 hours before slicing into it.

CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKE W/ CHOCOLATE GRAHAM CRACKER CRUST

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As promised, today I am giving you the ideal dessert for Valentine’s Day that is equal parts decadent and addicting: the ultimate rich and creamy chocolate cheesecake. Earlier this week, I shared my recipe for lemon poppy seed buttermilk waffles that are fresh, light and perfect for Valentine’s Day breakfast/brunch. So I wanted to go the opposite direction for dessert and give a rather sinful dish that will hit you over the head with it’s rich and chocolate-y flavor.

As far as desserts go, Valentine’s Day is all about chocolate and since I’m at the point where I can make cheesecakes in my sleep ever since my Pumpkin Cheesecake post, I thought it was about time to give my recipe for my favorite chocolate version. I was planning on giving this recipe back at Christmastime, because I usually serve this for our Christmas Eve dinners, but I decided to put it off and wait for the right time. A day where you show people how much you love them with extravagant gifts, flowers and desserts? Valentine’s Day is definitely the right time for this recipe.

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Chocolate cheesecakes are typically made with an Oreo crust and although Oreos are my favorite cookies in the entire world (I’ve put much thought into this), I didn’t want to take anything away from the cheesecake filling. Like ketchup, if there’s Oreos in any dish, that is the dominant flavor that you will be tasting, so I decided to stick with my favorite graham cracker crust but put a spin on it by adding cocoa powder. I was hesitant that the cocoa powder wouldn’t really come through against the graham crackers, but the end result was absolutely delicious and I couldn’t be happier with it. Alternately, you can make it a bit easier for yourself and buy chocolate graham crackers from the grocery store and skip the cocoa powder.

As for the filling, it’s a rather straightforward recipe for a cheesecake and the only chocolate that is added comes from two cups of chocolate chips. Because we won’t be using any other kinds of chocolate in the filling like cocoa powder or chocolate bars, I recommend opting to use a higher end brand of chocolate chips, such as Guittard or Ghirardelli. We’re making a chocolate cheesecake that has no bells or whistles and so we want the chocolate that we’re using to be high quality. And if you have chocolate bars laying around, definitely make chocolate shavings and top your cheesecake with it! It’ll add a dramatic touch to the cake and can also cover up any cracks that may occur.

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But we won’t have any cracks, will we?! The last time we made cheesecakes together, I gave pretty detailed directions in how to achieve a flawless looking cheesecake. To summarize: 1) all ingredients for the filling need to be at room temperature. In this recipe, this means the cream cheese and eggs, but not the milk since it will be warmed up in the microwave; 2) do not over mix the batter! Over mixing adds too much air which will cause the cheesecake to rise too quickly in the oven and therefore fall and develop cracks; 3) bake the cheesecake in a water bath - an optional but highly recommended step that not only insures a crack-free cheesecake, but leads to a cheesecake with a smooth, moist, and creamy texture; and 4) allow the cheesecake to cool properly meaning slowwwwwwwly. It’s best to leave the cheesecake in the oven for an hour after it’s done baking (with the oven turned off), and then bring it to room temperature on a cooling rack before eventually transferring it to the fridge.

Let’s go back to the water bath method for a minute. If you’re having trouble visualizing exactly what it’s supposed to look like, here’s a video that should give you some clarity. And if you’re like me and worried about water getting into your springform pan despite having the foil wrapped around it, there’s the option of using slow cooker liners. You simply wrap the liner around the springform pan, tie the excess bag in a knot, and then wrap foil around it. I got this idea from the blog, Life, Love and Sugar, and if you click here, you’ll see step-by-step photos on how to do it.

Ands that’s it! I know all of this information seems a bit daunting and may lead you to consider running to get a box of chocolates from Sees Candy instead. But, please don’t! Homemade is always so much more meaningful even if it comes out looking like a hot mess or tastes a bit off. Trust me on this! And if you’re single, this cheesecake will be perfect for your Galentine’s Day party for you to split with all your girlfriends, or you can make this and send your kids to school with it to share with their class. Or do like Alex and myself, and slowly chip away at it each day and cry when it’s all gone.

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Chocolate Cheesecake w/ Chocolate Graham Cracker Crust

Makes (1) 9 or 10-in. cheesecake

Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour

Ingredients

For the crust:

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  • 1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs

  • 3 tbsp. light brown sugar

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

  • 6 tbsp. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:

  • 2 cups chocolate chips, semisweet or bitter

  • 1/2 cup milk, 2% or whole works

  • 1 tsp. espresso powder (optional, but recommended to intensify chocolate flavor)

  • 3 (8 oz.) packages of full-fat cream cheese, room temperature

  • 1 cup granulated sugar

  • 4 large eggs, room temperature

  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

  • 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour

Directions

Make the crust:

  1. Move the oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 350°F.

  2. In a bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, cocoa powder, and melted butter and transfer to a 9 or 10 in. springform pan. Using the back of a measuring cup, firmly press the crust mixture into the bottom of the pan as well as the sides. Try to get the crust as evenly spread as possible. If the sides aren’t perfect, no worries.

  3. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool while preparing the filling. Keep the oven on at 350°F.

Make the filling:

  1. In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the chocolate chips and milk together until smooth. Do this in 30 second intervals, stirring well after each time, and being careful not to burn the chocolate. Once melted, stir in the espresso powder (if using) and set aside.

  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer) beat the cream cheese on medium speed for 2 minutes, and then add in the sugar and cream together until no lumps remain. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

  3. Add the eggs one at a time on low speed, making sure each one is incorporated into the mixture before adding the next. Add the vanilla extract and flour. Scrape the sides of the bowl again.

  4. With the mixer on low, slowly add the melted chocolate and milk mixture to the bowl. Once all is added, turn off the mixer and finish mixing the filling using a spatula, making sure to get anything that may be down at the bottom of the bowl (this area usually gets left untouched when using a mixer). Pour the cheesecake filling into the pan and spread it evenly.

Prepare the springform pan/water bath

  1. Boil a full kettle of water for the water bath. While the water is heating up, carefully place the springform pan in the slow cooker liner (this is an optional step, but if partaking, I provided a link above that has a visual for this), and then finally, tightly wrap the pan in 1-2 pieces of foil. Place the wrapped springform pan inside of a roasting pan. Once the water is boiled, you can either 1) pour in the water while the roasting pan is in the oven or 2) pour in the water with the roasting pan out of the oven. Either works, just try not to have the oven door open for too long if you choose option 1.

  2. Bake the cheesecake for 55-70 minutes. The center of the cheesecake will still have a wiggle to it, but the outer edges will be set. Turn off the oven, crack the door slightly, and leave the cheesecake in there for one hour.

  3. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and allow it to cool completely on a cooling rack before transferring it to the refrigerator. Chill the cheesecake for at least 4 hours before eating it. When ready to serve, run a knife around the edge of the pan and remove the springform pan piece. Top with shaved chocolate, raspberries, homemade whipped cream, etc. Cheesecake will last up to 5 days in the refrigerator - just cover it with plastic wrap.

PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE

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It feels kind of insane to sit here and give you a cheesecake recipe with everything that is going on in my home state of California. With a mass shooting and 3 deadly fires that are far from being contained, California has been through a lot this week. I grew up in Oak Park and Agoura Hills (where the Woolsey fire is wreaking havoc) and my grandma and dad both still live in the area. Although my family members are okay, I’ve been sick to my stomach thinking about those who were less fortunate and what they had to endure this past week. It’s devastating to think how many people will not have a home to celebrate Thanksgiving and other holidays this year. When natural disasters happen like this, I feel absolutely powerless to make the situation better; I wish I could put an end to the pain that they’ve all suffered. If you’re wanting to help out in any way, there is always the option to donate to organizations that will support those who lost their homes, businesses, etc. and of course aid those who are risking their lives to end these fires. The New York Times has a great article that outlines how you can help out; it should lead you in the right direction. And please just be thankful for what you have every.single.day and not just on Thanksgiving.

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Ok, back to the blog.

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, the upcoming recipes I’ll be giving you will not only be perfect for the big day, but also for the rest of the holiday season. These desserts are actually what I plan on making for either the Friendsgiving party I’ll be attending this weekend, or for Thanksgiving itself next week. So since I’m making these myself, I can promise you that they are all tried-and-true recipes that I firmly stand behind and have made countless times.

Growing up, cheesecake was never really my thing. I liked it just fine, but always felt like it was too rich and I could never eat more than one or two bites. My sister on the other hand could probably polish off an entire cake to herself if she was in the right mood. Her cheesecake obsession is what led me to making pumpkin cheesecake for Thanksgiving about 3 or 4 years ago when she texted me asking (aka demanding) that I make it. I obliged and in the end, I was left with an incredible dessert that not only made my sister happy, but led me to finally become a huge cheesecake fan.

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The thing with cheesecakes is that they can be a bit intimidating to make due to the time and patience that goes into baking each one, especially if you don’t want to end up with the dreaded cheesecake cracks. Below are my tips for cheesecake success.

  • The ingredients - cream cheese, sour cream, eggs - all need to be at room temperature, which I suggest pulling out of the fridge 4-5 hours before you plan on baking.

  • When making the batter, more attention is needed in order not to over mix it. This is a given for most recipes like cakes and cookies, but especially important with cheesecakes because if you over mix and add too much air, the cheesecake will rise too quickly in the oven and then fall… and crack. Not good!

  • A water bath needs to be prepared - this is optional, but I strongly recommend it. The first time I made cheesecake with a water bath was also the first time I didn’t have a crack in my cheesecake. That alone was enough for me to convert to this method, but it offers much more than making your cheesecake more attractive. A water bath ensures even baking and gives the cheesecake the creamiest, most amazing texture. Essentially, the cheesecake is enjoying a day at the spa and comes out of the oven smooth and moist.

  • And lastly, the baked cheesecake needs to cool properly, which in this case means gradually. This entails having the cheesecake sit in the oven with the door cracked and the heat turned off for one hour, then sitting at room temperature until completely cooled, and then finally, refrigerated for at least 4 hours before even cutting into it.

Pretty much, if someone shows up to Thanksgiving or any party for that matter, with a homemade cheesecake, please give them a big hug and say “thank you”. The good news is that cheesecakes can be made days in advance (4-5 days) and can be left, covered, in the refrigerator. This is why it’s perfect for Thanksgiving, because you can check off dessert days before worrying about the turkey or sides.

Let’s go back to the water bath method for a minute. If you’re having trouble visualizing exactly what it’s supposed to look like, here’s a video that should give you some clarity. And if you’re like me and worried about water getting into your springform pan despite having the foil wrapped around it, there’s the option of using slow cooker liners. You simply wrap the liner around the springform pan, tie the excess bag in a knot, and then wrap foil around it. I got this idea from the blog, Life, Love and Sugar, and if you click here, you’ll see step-by-step photos on how to do it.

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I know this all sounds stressful, and believe me, I get it, but if you follow the tips and steps I provided, baking a cheesecake isn’t all that bad. And if you do get a massive crack in your cheesecake, just cover the dang thing with a ton of whipped cream and no one will care, I promise.

P.S. If you also want to decorate your cheesecake with sugared cranberries like I did, simply dip the cranberries in egg whites (pasteurized if you’re nervous about raw egg) and then gently roll them in granulated sugar. Try to get one even coating of sugar so that you can still see the color of the cranberries. It’s easiest to do one at a time.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Recipe adapted from Paula Deen

Yields (1) 9 or 10 inch cheesecake

Ingredients

For the crust:

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  • 1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs

  • 3 tbsp. light brown sugar

  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

  • 6 tbsp. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:

  • 3 (8 oz.) packages of full-fat cream cheese, room temperature

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

  • 1 (15 oz.) can of pumpkin puree, I prefer Libby’s brand

  • 1/4 cup full-fat sour cream, room temperature

  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon

  • 1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (sold at grocery stores, or you can make your own)

  • 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour

  • 3 large eggs + 1 large egg yolk, room temperature

Directions

Make the crust:

  1. Move the oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom of a 9” or 10” springform pan and line with parchment paper.

  2. In a bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, cinnamon, and melted butter and transfer to the pan. Using the back of a measuring cup, firmly press the crust mixture into the bottom of the pan as well as the sides. Try to get the crust as evenly spread as possible. If the sides aren’t perfect, no worries.

  3. Bake in the oven for 9-10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool while preparing the filling.

Make the filling:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer) beat the cream cheese on medium speed for 2 minutes, and then add in the sugar and cream together until no lumps remain. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

  2. Add the pumpkin puree, sour cream, vanilla extract, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and flour. Slowly mix together on low, and begin to gradually add the eggs, one at a time. Once the eggs are incorporated, turn the stand mixer/hand mixer off. Finish mixing the filling using a spatula, making sure to get anything that may be down at the bottom of the bowl (this area usually gets left untouched when using a mixer). Pour the cheesecake filling into the pan and spread it evenly.

Prepare the springform/water bath

  1. Boil a full kettle of water for the water bath. While the water is heating up, carefully place the springform pan in the slow cooker liner (this is an optional step, but if partaking, I provided a link above that has a visual for this), and then finally, tightly wrap the pan in 1-2 pieces of foil. Place the wrapped springform pan inside of a roasting pan. Once the water is boiled, you can either 1) pour in the water while the roasting pan is in the oven or 2) pour in the water with the roasting pan out of the oven. Either works, just try not to have the oven door open for too long if you choose option 1.

  2. Bake the cheesecake for 55-70 minutes. The center of the cheesecake will still have a wiggle to it, but the outer edges will be set. Turn off the oven, crack the door slightly, and leave the cheesecake in there for one hour.

  3. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and allow it to cool completely on a cooling rack before transferring it to the refrigerator. Chill the cheesecake for at least 4 hours before eating it. When ready to serve, run a knife around the edge of the pan and remove the springform pan piece. Serve with whipped cream, ice cream, or a drizzle of caramel. Cheesecake will last up to 5 days in the refrigerator - just cover it with plastic wrap.