Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Cheesecake Crust

Okay, now that I've shown you how to bake a cheesecake, it's time to graduate from store-bought crusts to homemade crusts. The basic cheesecake crust is even simpler than the basic cheesecake: 1 1/2 cups graham cracker cumbs, 1/4 cup sugar and 4 tablespoons melted butter. Mix in a bowl (I like to use my hands) and press into a 9-inch cake pan. I like to use a straight-sided glass to press it down evenly. Bake at 350F for about 10 minutes, and let cool thoroughly. Trust me on this one. Unless you want a pool of fat between your crust and your cheesecake, you will let this cool completely before pouring in your batter.

Now, this is your standard cheesecake crust. And really, it can be used for lots of things: tarts, pies, you name it. It's so classic, it hurts. And as far as I'm concerned, it's also so boring that it hurts. C'mon, people! Let's use a little imagination here! Anything that's dry, crispy and can be made into crumbs can be made into crust. All you need is a plastic bag and a rolling pin to turn it into crumbs. My standard cheesecake crust is crushed shortbread cookies. My very first one used Lorna Doone cookies, and my new few used Sandies. It doesn't matter which one you use, really. Just go with what ever is cheapest and doesn't taste like cardboard.

Another fairly common one you see is Vanilla wafers. These are actually still kind of boring to me, but not so much as graham crackers. Oreos aren't a bad idea either. Just make sure to scrape out as much of the white stuff as possible. And this brings us to another good point: remember that 1/4 cup of sugar? It's not technically required. It won't add any structural integrity. That's what the butter is for. I've often wondered if sugar was just added because it seemed like a good idea at the time: "Hey, I'm making a crust for a dessert, that means sugar, right?" The white stuff in Oreos is pretty sweet, and let's face it, there's no way to get it all off. And when you move into the world of savory cheesecakes, I don't think you'll be wanting to use sugary crusts anyway.

What you use for the crust depends entirely on what kind of flavor profile you're going for with the rest of the cake. Graham crackers, vanilla wafers and shortbread cookies are all great for a classic, plain New York Style cheesecake. But use Oreos and people will be scratching their heads. Making a cookies and cream cheesecake? You won't want anything but Oreos. But let's think about some other options. Got a peanut butter cheesecake you're just dying to try? Why not try peanut butter cookies? Or even better: use Oreos for the crust, and fold chocolate chips into the batter. And believe me, you won't go wrong putting your eggnog cheesecake into a ginger snap crust. Got a recipe for margarita cheesecake? This is the time to break all the rules and put together a pretzel crust.

But hey, why stick with crumb crusts? There has been more than one occassion where I've used a brownie crust. Just make up your favorite brownie batter and pour about a 1/4-inch layer into the bottom of your cake pan. Bake most of the way (but not completely) and allow to cool. Fold 1/2-inch cubes of brownies into a plain cheesecake batter, and pour into your pan. Bake as normal. The cheesecake batter will actually insulate the brownie pieces and keep them from cooking anymore. However, the batter won't protect the crust, which still needs just a little more cooking. It will finish baking at about the same time as the cheesecake, and add a nice chewiness to each bite. I wouldn't try this with a regular cake batter, though. I don't think you'll be happy with the results.

So let's get out there and explore a whole new world of crusts! Next time you're at the megamart, I want you to spend some time in the cookie and cracker isle. Look at each one and think to yourself, "what would taste good with that?" Just make sure to stay away from the soft cookies, and the world will be your cheesecake.

2 comments:

  1. I suppose as long as you're talking about different things for cheesecake crust I will mention my sugar-free cookbook (as in naturally sweetened recipes, not ones that use artifical sweeteners) uses wheat germ for its cheescake crust.

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  2. You may think it is a cheese cake sin, but I generally don't bother with the crust at all (for obvious reasons to you). Since the cheesecake recipe I use is a little more cakey, it really is better without it anyhow.

    Plus, I generally top it with fresh raspberries and a chocolate ganashe. You don't even miss the crust. It is my second most requested desert. Very rich, but not over poweringly sweet (too much sugar in the cheese cake can make you gag after one piece).

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