Recipes

A Thesis on Cheesecake (and how the Enneagram is changing my life)

Happy Thursday!

This blog post brought to you by two different factors:

One: I’ve already survived a trip to the dentist this morning. It was just a cleaning, but the most mundane dental needs stress me out to an embarrassing degree, so I am feeling quite accomplished and proud of myself right now. I’m rewarding myself by ignoring my SUPER messy house, forcing my kids to play outside, and sitting down with a second cup of coffee to write something. I’ve learned recently that I need to write. It’s an actual need.

My husband and I have been doing a deep dive into the Enneagram lately. I know, we’re about 15 years behind everyone else, but we have fallen into it at just the right time in our lives, it seems. I can’t express how life-changing it has been for me, and how revolutionary it has been for our marriage. After eight years we are having conversations we never even knew we needed to have, and I can’t believe what we’re still learning about each other. I have found so much personal freedom in it, and I’m continually amazed at the realizations I’m making about myself. I’m learning how to care for myself better, which I’m so thankful for. I hope that my family – especially my children – will be able to enjoy the fruits of that soon.

ALL that to say, I’ve learned that writing can be very therapeutic for my Enneagram type, and I’m going to try to be more intentional about doing it, whether it’s here or elsewhere. (*steps off Enneagram soapbox*)

Two: My mom’s birthday was Tuesday. She LOVES cheesecake. Probably not as much as I do, but she does love it. I hosted her birthday party last night and made one for dessert. It’s a recipe I’ve been literally tweaking and perfecting for about four years now, and when this one came out of the oven I almost cried actual tears of joy.

I am a cheesecake SNOB. I’ve made myself a cheesecake for my own birthday every year since we got married; that’s how snobby I am. But about four and half years ago I started following the Trim Healthy Mama eating plan, which mostly focuses on NO sugar. I started experimenting with a sugar-free cheesecake, but still went off the rails occasionally because I just wanted a GOOD cheesecake. Right at one year ago, though, I linked white sugar to some actual health issues and swore it off completely, which meant absolutely no more messing around with those sugary cheesecakes. It was time to get down to business. And I think I finally figured it out.

It’s a really neutral and refreshing flavor, so you can pair it with anything; fruit, chocolate, nuts, etc. Also, it’s really easy to make… but it takes time, so plan way ahead and, as my husband says, “put on your patient shoes”.

I should say: I am embarrassed by the pictures I have here, because I was so excited about this cheesecake that I didn’t even take good photos. I know. I have issues. Hopefully I can make another one soon and take some really good pictures; if I do, I’ll update this post with them.

Anyway, I posted about Mom’s birthday cake this morning and got a bunch of requests for the recipe. Most of the people asking already eat the THM way, or at least low-carb, so the sweetener shouldn’t be an issue for you. If you aren’t used to that, though, and you don’t want to fool with Gentle Sweet, you can substitute it for whatever other sweetener you normally use. I will not promise that you’ll get the same taste, as those sweeteners vary greatly, but it’s an option.

The sweetener I use is called Gentle Sweet. You can buy it from THM here, or you can make your own using this recipe (which is what I do!)


Okay, let’s talk about the method. To get a cheesecake with no cracks, you need to follow a few rules:

1. Start with room temperature ingredients

2. Get all the air bubbles out of your cake before baking

3. Bake in a water bath

4. Bake it low and slow and DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN!

If you’re in a hurry and you don’t care about cracks, then just go to town and don’t worry about it… my snobbishness won’t let me do that.

Step one to make sure your cheesecake comes out of the spring form pan nicely is to line it with parchment paper. I actually redid this this morning to take pictures, because it’s really hard to explain. I lay one piece of parchment across the bottom of the pan, then put the sides of the pan on top. Tear another piece of parchment (I buy those pre-cut half sheet size pieces) lengthwise so that you have two long, skinny pieces. Place both of those, smooth side down so that there are no gaps, along the edge of the pan then guide them down into the crack of the pan as you close the sides. Clear as mud, right?


Now you’re ready to bake!

Mix your crust, and brush the bottom of the pan with butter. After baking the crust let it cool completely before brushing the sides of the pan with butter then pouring the filling in. Then bang the pan on the counter approximately two thousand times to remove all the air bubbles. Really, it takes a while; just when you think you’re done, you probably need to go another minute or so. This is a loud process and not something to do while the kids are napping. It also helps get a smooth, even top to your cake, though I still sometimes have to run a rubber scraper over it to get some kinks worked out.

Then set up your water bath. Place several layers of aluminum foil over a cookie sheet. I use a minimum of six pieces of foil, layered in all different directions, to really protect the cake from water. Place the cheesecake on the foil and then roll the foil up around your pan like a snug little blanket. When you put your pan in the oven, you’ll pour water into the cookie sheet so that it surrounds the spring form pan and makes a nice moist environment for your cake to bake in. I know… “moist.” Ugh.

someone word GIF

Here’s the thing: cheesecakes HATE sudden temperature changes. By baking in a water bath at a low, slow temp and then letting it cool down VERY slowly, you’ll prevent cracks and have a beautiful, smooth skating-rink top. The water should be evaporated by the time you get the cake out of the oven.

My three-year-old expressed great disappointment that she only got two pieces of cheesecake last night. Maybe I’ll have to make another one soon – just for me and her, of course – so that she can have more and so I can take pictures of the water bath process.

Bake it at 200 degrees for 3 hours and 45 minutes, then turn your oven off and DO. NOT. OPEN. THE. DOOR. until the oven is completely cool. For my oven, this seriously takes a minimum of 4-5 hours. It actually works best for me to mix my cheesecake in the evening and put it in the oven on time bake. Then the oven kicks off in the wee hours of the morning and is nice and cold and has a delicious cheesecake in it when I wake up.

Set the cheesecake on the counter to rest at least another hour before you put it in the fridge, then let it refrigerate another few hours before removing the pan sides… then refrigerate again for several MORE hours (ideally overnight) before serving. I usually make my cheesecakes at least two days ahead because of how long this whole process is, but it’s WORTH IT.

ISN’T THAT WORTH IT?!

Okay, I realize how ridiculously long this post is. It’s basically a thesis. I’m sorry. I’ll now give you the recipe.

New York Style Cheesecake (sugar free)

Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time3 hrs 45 mins
Chill Time12 hrs
Total Time16 hrs 15 mins
Servings: 16 people

Ingredients

Crust

  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 3 tbsp. butter melted
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. erythritol
  • 1 pinch of salt

Filling

  • 5 (8 oz.) bars cream cheese room temperature
  • 10 tbsp. Gentle Sweet*
  • 6 eggs + 1 egg yolk room temperature
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest** chopped super finely
  • 1 tsp. orange zest** chopped super finely
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Instructions

  • Line a 10″ spring form pan with parchment paper. Brush the bottom with butter. Combine the crust ingredients and press into the bottom of the pan; bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes. Let both the crust and your oven cool completely while you mix your cheesecake filling.
  • Beat the cream cheese and sweetener until they are completely smooth. Add the eggs and the yolk one at a time, beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl between each one.
  • Add the zests and the vanilla, beating well. Scrape the sides of the bowl and beat some more until everything is perfectly smooth. Add the whipping cream and beat for about 15-30 seconds, until it is well incorporated but not overly whipped.
  • Brush the sides of your spring form pan with butter, then pour the batter in and bang it on the counter for several minutes until ALL of the air bubbles have risen to the surface and popped.
  • Line a cookie sheet with several pieces of aluminum foil going multiple directions, then place the cheesecake on top. Roll the foil in around the pan to create a “bowl” around it.
  • Preheat your oven to 200 degrees, then place the cheesecake on the middle rack. Pour enough water into the cookie sheet so that it surrounds the spring form pan with at least 1/4″ of water.
  • Bake for 3 hours and 45 minutes, then turn the oven off. RESIST the urge to open the door and peek… if you have an oven light, use it to keep an eye on it but don’t open that door! Leave the cake in there until the oven is totally cooled down. In the last hour or so, if you need to speed things up a bit you can prop the door open a crack with a wooden spoon.
  • Set the cake on the counter for at least an hour before draping a towel over the top and putting in the fridge. (Don’t seal it until you’ve removed the sides of the pan). If you have it in there overnight, you can remove the sides of the pan and serve immediately, or you can refrigerate a few hours, remove the sides, and refrigerate a few more hours before serving.

Notes

*Or whatever sweetener you prefer. This is equivalent to 1-2/3 cups of white sugar, so you can convert it as needed.
**I love the freshness the zest adds to the flavor of the cheesecake, but as you’ll notice in my picture it does give it some “freckles”. If you’d rather have a really perfectly smooth, white cake, then omit the zest.


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