I somehow seem to have acquired a reputation as the Cheesecake King of Bartholomew County.  It’s an undeserved reputation; all I did was find a recipe and follow it.  I don’t even remember exactly where I found the recipe.  I think it came with a set of springform pans that I bought, but I’m not sure.

The trickiest part, in my opinion, is the crust–tricky only because you have a lot of options and I’ve never really measured anything.  You can use graham crackers or Oreo crumbs or whatever floats your pickle, but my favored crust for cheesecake is made with animal crackers.  Run them through a food processor or whack them with a hammer in order to reduce them to crumbs.  Add some melted butter–enough that it kind of resembles wet beach sand.  It should pretty much hold its shape when you pick up a handful and squeeze it.

You’re going to need a springform pan–9″ is ideal, but you can get away with using one that’s slightly larger or slightly smaller.  Spray it with some Pam or something like that (the guys that I worked with in Maryland called it “ninja spray.”  No idea why), and then pack the buttery crust crumbs into the bottom.  You can bring some up the sides of the pan, if you like.  I think that’s a nice touch.  You don’t have to get manic about packing it super-tight, though–the cheesecake batter is pretty darned heavy and will work some of its own gravity magic to keep the crumbs in place.

Okay, here’s the easy part.  Leave a pound and a half of cream cheese out at room temp for quite a while, until it gets nice and soft.  It takes forever, but there you are.

Put that into your stand mixer with the paddle attachment and whap it around until it gets consistently beaten up.  Add a cup of sugar and let that get incorporated.  All told, we’re looking at maybe two, two-and-a-half minues.  Not a major undertaking.

Next thing you do is incorporate three eggs, one at a time, and still using the paddle.  Takes a little patience–let the first one get beaten well in there before you add the second, and likewise the third.  Beat in a teaspoon of vanilla extract, a good pinch of salt, and then a quarter-cup each of sour cream and heavy cream.  Glomp that mix into your prepared springform pan and wrap a couple of layers of aluminum foil over (under?) the bottom of the pan–you’ll see why in a few seconds.

Find a bigger pan–a roasting pan or something–big enough to accommodate the springform pan with a bit of wiggle room all the way around.  Set the springform pan inside of it, and add water about halfway up the side of the springform pan.  The foil serves to keep the water from leaking or seeping in through the bottom of the springform pan.  Happy now?

Whether you know it or not, you’ve just created a “water bath,” known in French as a bain marie and in Spanish as a baña maria.  Mary’s bath?  I don’t know why.  Some things, you just have to take on faith.

Chuck that into a 350º F oven for about 45 minutes, and then turn the heat off, prop the oven door open somehow (I generally use a wooden spoon or a kitchen towel), and ignore for about an hour.  It should set nicely during that time.  How do you know for a fact whether it’s done?  Give the pan a nudge.  If the center jiggles like Jell-O, you’re good.  If the center ripples like water, it needs to cook longer.  In any case, when it is at the point that the center does the characteristic Jell-O jiggle, you still need to leave it alone for an hour or so and let it set.  That done, cover it–still in the springform pan–with plastic and stash it in your refrigerator.

The next day, if all has gone well, it should be uniformly firm (not hard as a rock, but–you know what cheesecake should look like), and it should have pulled away from the side of the pan.  Unbuckle the side half of the springform pan, and that’s pretty much it.

The top might brown a little bit (unlikely, but possible) or crack, but that’s okay.  It won’t effect the flavor, and the worst that can happen is that you disguise the cosmetic blemish with some blueberry sauce.  There are worse things than that.

Nota bene:  Domestic oven thermostats are wildly inaccurate.  I definitely encourage you to invest a few bucks in one of those thermometers that goes inside your oven and use it to give you an idea of how (at least mentally) to do the calibration.  I’m pretty happy with my current gas oven, though it runs about 50º F higher than the knob setting says.  My previous oven, an electric, ran about 25º F low.  Doesn’t sound like much, but it can make quite a difference when you’re baking.

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