There is New York cheesecake, and then there are all the others. Not to be totally New York-centric, but that’s kinda how it is. Although, you could say ricotta cheesecakes are third version, more Italy-inspired. Here’s how it is.
What makes a New York cheesecake official is its dense texture, which feels so smooth and rich you can’t eat more than a small-to-medium slice without regretting it later. Because it’s heavy. Haters compare it to a brick or a slab of cream cheese on crust. But pro-New York cheesecake enthusiasts are adamant about its superiority.
All other cheesecakes — especially tawdry versions flavored with Irish coffee and Key limes — are frauds, according to the cookbook American Classics, by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated.
“An orchestration of different textures and an exercise in flavor restraint, New York cheesecake should be a tall, bronze-skinned, and dense affair. At the core, it should be cool, thick, satiny, and creamy; radiating outward, it goes gradually from velvety to suede-like, then, finally, about the edges, it is cake-like and fine-pored,” they say in American Classics.
“The flavor should be simple and pure and minimalist, sweet and tangy, and rich to boot. It should not be citrusy, vanilla-scented, fluffy, mousse-like, leaden, gummy, chewy, or starchy. It should not be so dry as to make you gag, and it definitely should not bake up with a fault as large as the San Andreas (we’re talking New York, after all)…”
Cream cheese, heavy cream, eggs, and sometimes egg yolks create the consistency New York’s style is known for. Junior’s Cheesecake is one of the iconic examples of how it’s done. The company claims the magic formula includes cream cheese, heavy cream, eggs, and vanilla.
Rose Levy Beranbaum, a.k.a. The Cake Queen, author of The Cake Bible plus many other esteemed baking books, uses Philadelphia-brand cream cheese and a lot of sour cream for her New York Creamy Cheesecake recipe. Sour cream can keep the cheesecake’s texture smooth if you want to freeze it.
Among the more than a dozen cheesecake recipes on Chowhound, we’re usually either mixing in 2 pounds of cream cheese or 2 pounds of ricotta into our cheesecakes. And then we offer hybrid recipes that use a some of both. Yep, and some recipes also ask for sour cream.
At the ubiquitous The Cheesecake Factory’s 200 locations nationwide, the Original Cheesecake was created by Evelyn Overton in Detroit, Michigan, in the 1940s and contains cream cheese, a thin sour cream top layer, and a graham cracker crust. Her son, David, opened the first The Cheesecake Factory restaurant in Beverly Hills, California, in 1978.
How do you get that rich, creamy but also light, fluffy texture? Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites: Add the egg yolks when the instructions say add the eggs, then continue with the recipe when it says add in the cream and possibly sour cream. But then you beat the egg whites until you have peaks that don’t move. Add those egg whites to the whole mixture, mix a little more, and then pour the entire filling into the crust-filled pan.
Technically, a cheesecake could also be savory and served with crackers as an appetizer. Here are a few of our varieties:
Four packages of cream cheese go into this traditional cheesecake flavored with nothing besides vanilla and lemon zest so you can taste the true, unsullied cream cheesiness. Make an easy graham cracker or vanilla wafer crust beforehand. Get our Classic Cheesecake recipe.
Orange-Vanilla Ricotta Cheesecake
In this cheesecake, it’s the ricotta that does the heavy lifting rather than cream cheese. And instead of graham crackers or vanilla wafers for the crust, it’s pecan shortbread cookies. There’s orange zest inside plus an orange-marmalade glaze that’s “adulted” with vodka. Get our Orange-Vanilla Ricotta Cheesecake recipe.
Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake
Now this is a great idea for a crust: spiced gingersnap cookies. Oh yeah. Also, this dessert combines two of our favorites: pumpkin pie and cheesecake. Cream cheese rules here. With the gingersnaps and pumpkin purée, it’s truly a fall and winter holiday dessert. Get our Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake recipe.
Whoa. Just whoa. Blurring the line between chocolate torte and cheesecake, this recipe creates one of the most decadent, crave-worthy treats you can make. It’s. Just. So. Good. Get our Nutella Cheesecake recipe.
Pecan and Salted Caramel Cheesecake
Take a classic cream-cheese-based cheesecake with a graham cracker crust and then add crunchy, buttery pecans and gooey-sweet caramel on top and you’ve got a talker of a dessert. Get our Pecan and Salted Caramel Cheesecake recipe.
This is the cheesecake (based in cream cheese) to make when you have extra eggnog in the fridge or if you’re the type of person who gets excited when nog first appears on the refrigerated aisles of the grocery store during holiday season every year. Otherwise, you’ll have a hard time finding the namesake ingredient in June. The gingersnap crust seals the holiday feel. Get our Eggnog Cheesecake recipe.
Ginger-Brandy Mini Cheesecakes
Just half a teaspoon of freshly grated ginger and 2 tablespoons of brandy all you need to get that spicy-warm flavor in this cream cheese version that also uses sour cream. You can put nuggets of candied ginger on top of the brandy-orange-honey glaze too, if you want. Get our Ginger-Brandy Mini Cheesecakes recipe.
Obsessive Ricotta Cheesecake
This version of ricotta cheesecake still has a 8 ounces of cream cheese in it to add more smoothness. And then there are the optional candied fruits tossed into the mix, a controversial addition for many of us cheesecake enthusiasts. Get our Obsessive Ricotta Cheesecake recipe.
Chocolate Cheesecake Bars
If you don’t want to get all into the commitment of baking a real cheesecake, get the same flavor and texture with less work by making these bars. They need only one package of cream cheese, plus heavy cream and chocolate chips. Oh, and for a nice, nutty touch, the crust has almond flour in it. Get our Chocolate Cheesecake Bars recipe. Get our Chocolate Cheesecake Bars recipe.
Amy Sowder is the assistant editor at Chowhound in New York City. She loves cheesy things, especially toasties and puns. She’s trying to like mushrooms. Her running habit is the excuse for her gelato passion. Or is it the other way around? Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and her blog, What Do I Eat Now. Learn more at AmySowder.com.