Like the Chinese Almond cookies (thanks again to Garrett McCord!), I also brag about my cheesecake. Having made this cheesecake for over 20 years now – I can only guess that perhaps two thousand to three thousand people have tasted it, all with astonishment of “the best cheesecake I have ever eaten!!”. Most good cooks will recognize this as a classic, but the quality of the ingredients and the special crust make this unique. Here it is –
Notes – A) I recommend using the brands and quality listed here. This is no place for substitutes or diets! B) Over mixing can cause weeping on the surface, so please follow the instructions exactly including timing, temperatures etc. C) Having tried many, many decorative toppings, this mixed fruit topping is not just the prettiest, it also is the best foil(s) for the richness of the cake. D) Either a large stand mixer or mix by hand is best. The smaller hand-held mixer really struggles to keep up with this. E) Springform pan of dark heavy non stick metal (most recently found at grocery store). F) All ingredients should be at room temp. unless otherwise noted.
3 Cups of broken pecan pieces *
2 Cups crumbled Cinnamon Graham Crackers
4-5 tbsp of melted butter
(5) 8oz. pkgs of Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese, opened and brought to room temperature.
5 Large Grade AA whole eggs and 2 egg yolks, at room temperature.
Fine Grated peel of (1) 3/4 orange, and (1) whole lemon. (Best is to use a rasp style grater, very fine)
Large whole fresh vanilla bean *
1 3/4 Cup of Granulated White sugar
4 Tbsp of All Purpose flour
1/4 Cup Heavy whipping cream
For Topping –
2 Jars “Bonne Maman” French Apricot Preserves, warmed and pressed through a mesh colander into a microwavable bowl
Fruits – Strawberries, Raspberries, Blackberries, Kiwi Fruit, Carambola (star) Fruit, blueberries, ripe pear slices, mandarin orange segments Pineapple slices or chunks, Green/Red seedless Grapes, Mango, Passion Fruit, etc. (see notes)
* Advance preparation – Order special vanilla beans if you can. (beanvanilla.com) I use Tahitian Vanilla item #31 at $1.25 per bean. Cut lengthwise bend open and cut into 3 equal lengths to rest in the sugar, occasionally shaking, and scraping seeds into the sugar. Before use, perform one last scraping and then discard the pods ( or flavour more sugar!). The pecans I like are Millican Pecans (pecancompany.com) Pecan Pieces – 1LB Bag is $8.75.
Crust – Place crumbled Graham crackers and pecan pieces into food processor, and pulse until the crackers and nuts are similar in crumb, and just start trying to come together – quickly adding the melted butter by teaspoons at this point. Process until you just have a moist crumb mix. Pour into springform pan, and begin to spread out along bottom, bringing up 1″ up onto the sides. Press firmly all around to make the crust firm and compacted.
Filling – Place in mixing bowl, cream cheese, sugar/vanilla, flour and grated peels. Mix on medium speed until partially blended. Scrape the bowl and beaters at least three times during the mixing process to have mixture very consistent, without overbeating. I tend to mix for a minute, and scrape, then mix for a 2nd minute, scrape again, mix for 30 seconds and scrape a 3rd time and mix for a final 30 seconds. Beating by hand is the best, but tiring, as the goal is to try not to incorporate air into the batter, but very well mixed. At this point, mix in one whole egg at a time for 30-45 seconds, scrape and add the 2nd egg, mix again for 30-45 seconds, scraping again. Repeat this until each egg and the final addition of the 2 yolks and the whipping cream are incorporated and scraped between each addition. The batter will become much more liquid like a very thick pancake batter.
Preheat oven to 450°. Allow oven to heat well, and pour the batter into the springform pan. Place just above center in center of oven, and Bake for 10-12 minutes. Turn down the heat to 200° and bake for 55 to 65 minutes. The top will brown, this is fine. Should your cake develop a crack don’t worry – this can be covered with the fruits. The cracking may suggest overbaking or overbeating however.
Let the cake cool 3-4 hours, to room temp in pan. Run a very thin spatula or thin (flexible) knife. Release the side lock and let sides pull away from cake. Gently lift open ring above the cake and place the cake into the refrigerator to chill overnight or 6 hours. (Can be frozen successfully at this point – I never do.)
Topping – have all fruits clean, dry, inspected, blemish free and ready to place on the top of your cheesecake. If some items are very juicy, you can try placing them on towels until you place them on the top. My advice is to use at least three fruits, better at 6-7 types of fruits and 10-12 fruits can make a real show-stopper. Place them artistically on the top, overlapping, making rings, all diagonals etc. and if necessary, cut the bottom to allow to lay flat, or rest upon the curved surface of the cheesecake top. Return to refrigerator to chill all items for 1-2 hours. Microwave the 2 jars of sieved apricot jam, and gently brush onto the dry, chilled fruits, allowing the jam to settle in between the fruits. Use enough to adhere the fruits to the cake and each other, but avoid using so much jam that it loses its clarity. Finally, drip the jam along the outer edges occasionally letting it drip down the sides. Chill well, and serve while still on the bottom of the springform pan if you like.
Serves 10 – 18