Mom’s Cheesecake

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This is not your mom’s cheesecake. I’m not trying to be cute about it (since it is in fact, my mom’s cheesecake – couldn’t resist); for most Americans who grew up on New York Style cheesecake, this is almost unrecognizable. I just assumed that was what all cheesecake was like until sometime in my teenage years I discovered the Cheesecake Factory. Now that was a whole different ballgame, not only because of all the toppings but because of the density. Most cheesecake really lives up to the name “cake,” a fact I never put together eating my mom’s cheesecake. Which is probably why it’s still my favorite – I am firmly on the Pie side of the Pie v. Cake debate.

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Let’s be clear, this cheesecake is not dense; it is not overly sweet; it is not especially tall. Jeff says it’s not really cheesecake; it’s more pie- or pudding-like and that’s certainly a fair point. I have in fact eaten it as a pudding -my mom would often leave out a little filling and a little crust for my dad and me to mix together and eat as a precursor to the cheesecake itself. I still highly recommend this but fair warning: there raw eggs.

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The funny thing is that in terms of ingredients, this cheesecake is not much different from any other. Cream cheese, eggs, sugar – check, check, check. I even use a Graham cracker crust now, mostly out of convenience. When I was very little my mom used Peek Frean’s Rich Tea Biscuits (what a great name) for the but those became impossible to find and the flavor of the Grahams is not different enough for me to go looking for other Rich Tea Biscuit brands.

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Now about the differences – New York style cheesecake recipes include flour, to add density and soak up some moisture, and the filling to crust ratio is significantly higher. This one is of necessity not a tall cheesecake since it would likely fall in on itself if you tried to pile it high. But the real difference is that in this one, the egg whites are beaten and then folded into the heavy batter. Just that small extra step makes an enormous difference in the final texture. This cheesecake is fluffy; it’s light; you can eat a heck of a lot of it before you start to really feel it. We’re not talking about light as in reduced-calorie so I can’t endorse eating multiple slices. I can only say that I’ve done it.

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The other beauty of this cheesecake is that a portion of the crust is sprinkled over the filling before it bakes. It covers up any pesky cracks which appear – although this cheesecake is less likely to crack than others since it’s designed to be airy and thus doesn’t sink as far into itself when it cools. It’s the sinking into dense-ness that causes cracks and since this is less dense, cracks are less likely. But they do happen, and the sprinkled crust will cover it up.

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There will always be the recipes that your mom makes better than anyone else and for me, this is one of them. I’ve included below the recipe she gave me, as she wrote it the first time I asked her how to make it, with some necessary clarifications to cover the instructions she assumed I remembered from years of watching. I did. Happy Mother’s Day.

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Mom’s Cheesecake

1 package rich tea biscuits graham crackers (1 sleeve/8 oz/13.5 crackers)
1 (4 oz/8 tbs) stick butter (at room temperature)
1 lb. (16 oz) cream cheese
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
A few drops lemon juice – up to a teaspoon
2 Eggs (separated)

Crush biscuits Graham crackers using a food processor or place them in a Ziploc bag and crush by hand with a rolling pin and mix with butter in the food processor or a stand mixer until well combined. Set this aside.

Prepare In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese with vanilla, lemon juice, sugar and egg yolks.

Beat egg whites stiffly to medium peaks and fold in to mixture. First add a third of the beaten egg whites and incorporate it thoroughly to lighten the batter a little and ensure the egg whites don’t fall completely when mixed in. Then fold in the remaining egg whites gently until almost fully combined. Some stray bits of egg white are ok.

Grease pyrex dish a 9 inch round cake pan* and make a layer of the biscuit Graham cracker mixture which should come about an inch up the sides of the pan. Keep some 3/4 cup of the crust mixture for the top.

Add cheese mixture and decorate top with remaining biscuit Graham cracker.
Bake at 350F for 35 minutes.

*My mom always bakes this in a small rectangular pyrex dish and cuts it into squares to eat. But I love the look of a slice of cake/pie so I bake mine in a cake pan. The pyrex dish is great for making bake sale or office treats.

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