less is more: cheesecake tips for the new century

In the early days of the dr bob cooking team, before the expansion to include the superior kitchen talents of ms_ani, the primary emphasis of our food documentation was focused on desserts, with cheesecake as our specialty. While we have broadened our horizons considerably over the years, cheesecakes have remained a strength in our undeserved culinary reputation, although they are produced much less frequently and in more appropriate formatting these days. It took us too long to learn a simple fact about balance in this context that we think makes all the difference: less is more.

The typical cheesecake format that we followed for most of our careers until recently, and which is the standard universal recipe size, fills a standard 9 inch springform pan with a relatively thin crust, a very thick middle layer of batter which rises towards the rim of the pan during baking, and then a possible topping relatively thin in comparison with the batter layer. A typical serving slice then presents a high profile consisting mostly of that middle layer. Since the other two layers are meant to accent the taste of the primary layer, one must fork down vertically to try to get a bit of all three. Healthwise, most of the damaging ingredients are typically in that middle layer, so a reduction in its portion size is a pretty good idea that naturally runs counter to America's supersize mentality about dessert serving sizes. One way to do this is to cut narrower slices, but reducing the height factor considerably is more ingenious because even without narrowing the typical slice, the delivery quantity is severely reduced without a substantial deviation from the usual horizontal geometry of the slice. For sour cream based toppings, a similar reduction in height is also a practical step, since a thinner layer usually is still enough to accent the flavor of the middle layer without overwhelming it.

So, our practice lately as we pass through our mid century mark and are more concerned about surviving a few more decades into the future with a decent quality of life, has been to halve the batter recipe for a given pan size, and make sure the sour cream toppings when we use them (usually) do not cover the entire surface but leave at least a half inch rim of the cake around the rim exposed, which means that a bit less quantity has to be deposited in the center in the process of spreading it out. A whole 16 oz sour cream container (2 cups)  is just too much for a 9 inch cake from this perspective. If you don't want left over sour cream in your fridge, you can go with an 8 oz container instead (1 cup), although 12 oz is probably right (that's 1 1/2 cups for you fraction challenged cooks). Another option is to split a full recipe into either two 9 inch pans or maybe two 8 inch pans, or even mix and match, like an uneven split into a pair of 10 inch and 8 inch pans (with a 100 to 64 ratio of batter quantities to achieve the same height). Take one to the party and keep one for home!

Another very useful tip for extracting cheesecakes is to line them with a round circle traced out by the bottom of the springform pan on parchment paper and then cut carefully with scissors. The bottom should then be inverted from its usual orientation so that the rim points downward and the parchment paper lies on the flat rimmed surface so that when the side is removed, the cake can easily slide right off. Otherwise it will bake into the well made by that rim and you will have to excavate to release each slice from the bottom. Less hassle, more pleasure, no?

For self-serving dinner party presentation, when no designated cake cutter is empowered to stand between the cake and the ravenous serving-knowledge-deficient guests, who can literally lay waste to a beautiful product, while often taking more than their fair share considering the total number of target stomachs, a simple solution is to precut. This can be done with dental floss wrapped between the fingers on opposing hands and sawed down the center of the cake, dividing each cut angle in half a few times, halves, quarters, eighths, and then use your judgment (thirds make 24 thin slices of a 10 inch cake for example), depending on how large the diameter is. This works well even for a conventionally tall cheesecake, but is even easier for a low profile cake since there is much less surface contact between adjacent slices to work into and then out of with the floss. It also cuts much easier with a thin sharp knife for the same reason.

At one point in our aging process we experimented with low fat cream cheese and no fat sour cream, but the downsizing of the portion configuration vertically and horizontally is a much better solution. No need to sacrifice taste and texture if this is a fairly rare treat.

notes

  1. in progress
lessismore.htm: 4-feb-2011 [what, ME cook? 1984 dr bob enterprises]