National Cherry Cheesecake Day
Oh Picnic Day. The magical holiday at my alma mater where undergraduates, graduate students and post-grads are all united by the excessive consumption of fermented grains and sugars. Groups wander the campus, downtown and house parties under the guise of celebrating Davis but really the weekend feels like a Dionysian embrace of the spring equinox. Picnic day isn’t actually on the equinox, but it always seems to correspond to the exact time that the weather turns and girls don their sun dresses and bikinis. It’s supposed to be raucous fun but most years I always felt like the day was a colossal let down. My very first picnic day was spent indoors depressed and then finished taking a friend to the police station and hospital after she was taken advantage of. Several of the years following I wound up taking care of those who partied too much and one year I was sick with my usual spring bronchitis. Basically it always seemed like other people managed to have good Greek fun and I was somehow always playing nursemaid and navigating drama.
This year, and last year actually, were much improved. Last year was a great time with my apartment building flat mates and a decent party we managed to throw. This year I got to spend time with a boy and his friends and actually enjoy it. Boyfriends of picnic day past never worked out well, so this was a welcome change. The downside was that I completely missed spending time with a long missed friend of mine the following day because I was up until 5 AM Sunday morning playing card games and watching youtube videos about how much better star wars episode 1 could have been. (If you haven’t seen this video, watch it, it will blow your mind Star Wars Episode I Could Have Been Good) As a result I didn’t get out of bed and function as a human being until 4PM on Sunday and missed her completely.
In order to ensure that picnic day started off as awesome as I want it to be, and not just as awesome as it supposedly is, I brought my secret weapon. Cheesecake. The dessert I probably fall back on most because it is the first thing I really ever learned to make on my own aside from grilled cheese and omelets.
Others: You started with cheesecake?! Are you crazy? Those things intimidate the hell out of home chefs.
Me: Go big or go home…without cheesecake.
I’m sure I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: Cheesecake is painfully easy to make. It’s very few ingredients, and so long as you bring everything to room temperature and mix your batter properly you will have a delicious result. If you don’t care about presentation (i.e. you don’t mind if the top cracks) you will have an even easier time. If you DO then it’s still pretty simple: WATER BATH.
Since I knew today was going to be National Cherry Cheesecake Day, I decided to go with a classic towering New York Cheesecake and top it with whipped cream and cherries. So simple and since you are topping the cheesecake, you really can skip the water bath if you are so inclined. Any cracks that your cheesecake develops will be smothered by delicious, tart gems.
Classic Cherry Cheesecake
- 16 sheets graham crackers, crushed into crumbs
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- Zest of 1 orange
- Pinch of Salt
- 6-8 Tablespoons of melted butter
- 32 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 3 egg yolks, room temperature
- 2 whole eggs, room temperature
- 1 ½ cup sour cream, room temperature
- ½ cup heavy cream, room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tsp Vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and prep a 9” springform pan.
Break up the graham crackers in a food processor or place in a zipblock bag and hack away until you have crumbs. Blend the rest of the crust ingredients together and press into the springform pan. This batch makes a fair amount of crust so you can build height or cup the sides. Bake this for about 10 – 15 minutes. Remove and cool.
Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees and place a broiler pan with water on the middle rack.
Meanwhile beat your cream cheese in a bowl on medium-high for a good 4-5 minutes. You want to really whip and smooth this out to avoid lumps. Pour in the cup of sugar and beat an additional minute. Lower the speed to medium and add in the egg yolks and then the eggs one at a time; scrape down the bowl after each addition to ensure a smooth blend.
Lower the speed again to medium-low and add in the sour cream, heavy cream and vanilla extract. Make sure you scrape down the sides as needed between additions. You should have a smooth batter that will pour nicely into your springform pan and now cooled crust. Wrap the pan with some aluminum foil to ensure no water seeps in during baking.
Place the pan in your now pre-heated water bath and bake that sucker for 1 hour. NO PEEKING. After an hour turn off the oven, open the door for one minute, then close it again and let it go for another hour. This whole process and the water bath ensure even heating for the cheesecake and this is what keeps it from cracking. If you don’t care you can just bake the cheesecake at 350 for an hour, pull it out and let it sit on the counter.
Top with cherry pie filling if you’re being lazy, or some freshly pitted cherries and syrup if you aren’t. Since I wanted my cheesecake to travel well I made a stiff whipped cream to pipe along the border. This kept the cherries contained and meant they didn’t run off the sides and make a mess.