Raise your hand if you’re a cheesecake fan.
My brother Harrison’s hand would be through the roof at this moment (if he were reading this.)
Here he is with his lovely new fiance, by the way. Aren’t they just the cutest? You can tell he’s quite a goofball… but you can also tell that he LOVES this girl!
He also LOVES his cheesecake! In fact, I will very likely have to make him one as an engagement gift soon. He’s a classic kinda guy though… he won’t touch it unless it’s plain ol’ New York Style cheesecake, dense and served cold, with a drizzle of strawberry sauce.
Me? Not so much.
I’ve never been the “gotta have it” type when it comes to cheesecake. Most of the time I take one bite and I’m done… it’s just so rich!
Anybody out there like me? You can take cheesecake or leave it?
Or am I the only one??
I’m the only one, aren’t I? Darn it.
But wonder of wonders… last week I tasted a cheesecake that I just gobbled right up! And do you know what made the difference? Key lime!
It cut right through that rich, solid-block-of-cream-cheese-feeling I usually get from cheesecake and really transformed the entire dessert genre for me. Instead of noticing the heaviness I usually associate with cheesecake, I found it to be creamy and tangy and completely luscious! Citrus is the perfect way to round out a cheesecake if you ask me.
So although my open-call for requests brought about many magical-sounding suggestions sent my way (ALL of which I’ll be blogging about at some point in the future… mark my words, there is salmon on the horizon) today it just had to be cheesecake. Big thanks to Gina for the idea. Not just any cheesecake though. It had to be that cheesecake. (In case you live in the Searcy, Arkansas area of the country… the inspirational cheesecake I speak of came from The Key Lime Cottage.)
The recipe I chose to work from today comes from Ms. PCrocker, who so graciously posted this delight on Food.com. I was looking for a few certain things in a recipe… and this one had them all!
First off, I wanted to use an 8-inch pan. Bada bing! This one did.
Second, I didn’t want to use any key lime flavored gelatin or green food coloring. Check. Check.
Third, I wanted a good “butter to crumbs” ratio for the crust. I get so annoyed when a recipe tells you to melt 2 tablespoons of butter into 2 cups of graham cracker crumbs, and then expects you to make that into a crust! That, my friend, is ludicrous. This recipe called for 5 T. butter and 1 3/4 C. crumbs. Perfecto!
Fourth and finally, I didn’t want fluffy. Cheesecake is supposed to be dense and creamy, not airy. (Well, at least that’s my preference.) So that ruled out anything containing beaten eggwhites, or ten minutes of stiff whisking, or too many eggs period.
You’d be surprised just how many recipes out there are trying to turn cheesecake into some kind of cheese-mousse. And I’m not a fan!
So let’s get started…
Step One needs to be done HOURS ahead of time. Set out three packages of cream cheese and three eggs, so that they’re completely room temperature when you’re ready to make the cheesecake. I left these out the night before and made the cake in the morning.
When you’re ready to start… grab some key limes. You can totally buy key lime juice pre-bottled, did you know that? I encourage it, in fact. But this recipe was so SIMPLE that I felt the compulsion to make it more high-maintenance. I’m weird like that.
If you choose to buy fresh key limes rather than canned key lime juice, roll them under the heel of your hand first so the juice will come out easier. (But seriously, buy the canned juice.)
Then just start slicing them in half and squeezing the life out of them!
Don’t worry about the seeds just yet. It’ll only slow you down. We’ll strain those out later.
Just keep squeezin’.
(Note that key lime juice is NOT bright chartreuse green as some popular food manufacturers would lead you to believe. Hence my aversion to recipes that use key lime gelatin or green food coloring.)
And hey, make sure your pretty little pile of remains finds its way to a compost pile somewhere!
You’ll need about 6 tablespoons of key lime juice. (But a few drops more won’t hurt. I like things really limey!)
Next, find a fine mesh strainer and pour the juice through it into a bowl to get rid of the seeds. Then just set the juice aside. Also, preheat your oven to 350.
Then grab a food processor and some vanilla wafers or graham crackers. I used vanilla wafers this time, but I think I’ll do grahams next time. Nothing can touch em’ when it comes to cheesecake crust.
Throw a handful of the cookies into the food processor…
And pulse until they’re broken down into nice, fine crumbs.
Dump them into a bowl, and then melt 5 T. butter in the microwave.
Pour in the butter…
And stir until the mixture clumps together and all the crumbs are moistened.
Then press the crumbs into the bottom and halfway up the sides of an 8-inch spring-form pan.
Gorgeous! Nothin’ to it!
Put the crust into the 350 oven and let it crisp up for five minutes.
In the meantime, let’s start on the filling…
Throw your (completely softened) cream cheeses into a mixing bowl. Add a cup of sugar. Then beat with an electric mixer until it’s smooth. (Remember, the name of the game here is “non-fluffy” so don’t go CRAZY with the beaters. Use a rubber spatula often to scrape down the sides of the bowl, and when the ingredients are combined… stop mixing!)
Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla to the smooth cream cheese mixture…
Then add the key lime juice…
Then mix again until the liquids are incorporated. Again, beat with the mixer only as much as you need to… and use the rubber spatula to minimize the need for the beaters.
Next, crack three eggs into a measuring cup and lightly beat them with a fork. (Pre-beating them helps you avoid over-beating the cake filling when you add them.)
Gradually add the eggs to the cake filling, beating as you go, and scraping down the sides until the mixture is smooth and creamy and homogeneous. (Sorry, had to sneak that word in there. My husband uses it constantly.)
(You’ll notice that at this point I also scraped in half of a vanilla bean. I couldn’t help myself! My make-it-more-difficult compulsion strikes again!)
Lastly, spoon in two tablespoons of sour cream and gently mix it into the filling.
Yum, yum, YUM. Go ahead and stick that spoon in your mouth when you’re done.
The next step is very important. (To me, anyway.)
Place a nice cushy towel underneath the mixing bowl, then lift and drop it repeatedly onto the counter top from a few inches up. This releases air bubbles in the filling and causes them to float to the surface so they won’t get stuck in the middle of the cake. Again, this adds to the dense-ness factor I’m shooting for.
Now just gently pour the mixture over your crust.
And smooth it nicely with a spatula.
Now, find some aluminum foil and rip off a big sheet. Set your pan onto the sheet and fold the foil around it to create a little jacket. We’re going to cook this cheesecake in a water bath and we don’t want any water to seep in uninvited so the foil will prevent that. (I recommend a larger sheet of foil than what I’ve pictured below… so that it goes higher up the sides of the pan.)
Next find a larger baking dish and place the foil-lined pan inside.
Pour water into the baking dish until it reaches about halfway up the cheesecake pan.
The water serves two purposes. For one thing, it helps the cheesecake mixture to cook evenly. For another, it keeps the oven air moist which prevents cracking on the surface of the cheesecake. It works like a charm every time!
Now just place this interesting little balancing-act into the oven on the center rack, close the door, and set the timer for 45 minutes. We’re still at 350 by the way.
Amuse yourself for 45 minutes however you wish.
And when the time is up, turn off the oven, prop the door open about four inches, and leave the cheesecake inside undisturbed for 30 minutes. (The center will still be a little wobbly at first but it continues to set as the cake cools.) By allowing the cheesecake to cool gradually by leaving it in the oven, you again prevent cracking in the surface.
After the thirty minutes are up… pull the cake from the oven and allow it to cool fully on a wire rack for over an hour.
You can see how the lovely smooth surface has not so much as one crack! And it’s flecked with real vanilla. Ahhh, delicious.
Finally, and this is a big finally, let the cheesecake chill in the fridge for several hours. It only gets better with time.
That means its best to make this the day before the event you’re making it for. Which means you’re setting out the cream cheese like 72 hours in advance of the event you’re making it for… which is a little mind-blowing really. But make it anyway. Its SO worth it!
After several hours in the fridge, take a knife with a thin, flexible blade, and run it gently around the inner edges of the pan to loosen the cheesecake from it.
Then loosen the clamp on the side to expand the walls of the pan and free the cheesecake within. You won’t be able to pull the ring up over the cheesecake without nicking the side, so the best way to get the cake out is to slide it over to the edge of the table (placing a hand underneath it) and pull the pan walls downward pushing the cake up through them.
And voila! The most perfect cheesecake I’ve ever made OR eaten! It was melt-in-your-mouth creamy and a perfect balance of flavors.
You can make it too! And believe me, you want to. I’ll definitely be diving back into this baby for a late-night snack.
Oh and one more thing…
I’m not big on over-the-top embellishments for cheesecakes. I prefer a simple garnish that lets you know what is in the dessert. So for this one, I just sliced a few rings of key lime and placed them in the middle.
And here’s the printable recipe…
- 1¾ cups vanilla wafer or graham cracker crumbs
- 5 tablespoons butter, melted
- 3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, completely softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 6 tablespoons key lime juice
- 3 eggs
- 2 tablespoons sour cream
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- In a food processor, pulse wafer cookies (or graham crackers) until they are fine crumbs. Mix crumbs and butter together, and press onto bottom and halfway up the sides of a greased 8-inch springform pan.
- Bake crust for 5 minutes, then set aside.
- In large mixing bowl, combine cream cheese and sugar, beating until just smooth.
- Add vanilla and key lime juice and beat til just combined.
- Crack eggs into a measuring cup and lightly beat with a fork. Then add them to the cheesecake mixture, beating them in until just combined.
- Gently mix in sour cream.
- Pour mixture into prepared crust. (If desired, wrap outside of pan with a large sheet of aluminum foil, then place pan into a larger baking dish filled about ⅓ of the way with water. This "water bath" method prevents cracking.)
- Bake at 350°F for about 40-45 minutes (cheesecake should still jiggle a little in center). Turn off oven, crack open the door, and leave cheesecake inside undisturbed for 30 minutes.
- Remove cheesecake from oven and cool to room temperature on wire rack.
- Refrigerate several hours before serving.
- Garnish with key lime wedges.
Note: This post contains affiliate links. See my disclosure here.
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