Chef's Note: This item has a scary amount of cream cheese!!
(This recipe is derived from the Luscious Cheesecake recipe from Joanne Chang's Flour and the Berry Sauce recipe from Jenn Segal's Once Upon a Chef website.)
Part I: The Cake
48 graham crackers (12 full cracker sheets; 168 grams)
6 tablespoons (¾ stick/86 grams) unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1½ pounds (680 grams) cream cheese, at room temperature
1½ cups (300 grams) vanilla sugar (I just used the same sugar here as I did above)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (1-2 lemons)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
⅓ cup (70 grams) crème fraîche or sour cream
Aside: Getting fresh lemon juice.
To squeeze the most juice from your lemons, cut the lemons in half width-wise (NOT from one tip to the other tip), then press the insides with a fork. If you want, you can then run the juice through a filter to get rid of pulp and seeds.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan (be truly generous, as the butter acts as glue for the side crust) or coat it with nonstick cooking spray, then line the bottom with parchment paper. If you don't have a springform pan, see the note at the end of this section.
Put the graham crackers in a blender or food processor and pulse until they become crumbs. Use 2 to 3 tablespoons to dust the sides of the prepared pan. Leave the rest of the crumbs in the blender.
Add the butter, which should be melted, and the 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar to the blender and process until the mixture comes together. Press this crumb mixture firmly and evenly onto the bottom of the prepared pan. (The pan now contains the crust.)
Set the pan in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, or until the crust becomes lightly browned. Remove the pan and set it aside. Turn the oven down to 325 degrees F.
While the crust is baking, we can prepare the rest of the cake. Put the cream cheese in a bowl and beat on medium speed for at least a minute, or until smooth. Add the 1½ cups of vanilla sugar (or just regular sugar) and beat for 10-15 seconds, or until combined. Stop and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the eggs and beat for 1-2 minutes, or until well mixed. Add the lemon juice, vanilla extract, salt and crème fraîche and beat for 1 or 2 minutes longer. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl once again, then beat on medium speed for 15-20 seconds, or until smooth and thoroughly mixed.
Pour the mixture into the baked crust.
Place the springform pan in a deep roasting pan. Pour hot water into the roasting pan until it reaches about halfway up the side of the cake pan. (The water bath allows the cheesecake to bake slowly and gently, which leads to a smoother cake.)
Place the pans in the oven and bake for 1½ hours, or until the sides of the cheesecake are set and the center wobbles just a bit when the cake pan is jiggled. Turn off the oven and leave the cake in the closed oven for 1 hour longer. (This keeps the cheesecake from cracking when you remove it from the oven.)
Remove the cheesecake from the oven and let it cool at room temperature for about 1 hour.
Put the cheesecake into the refrigerator for at least 3-4 hours before serving (overnight is good, too).
Before serving, you can place berries in an aesthetically pleasing layout on top of the cake.
To serve, remove the pan sides, place the cheesecake, still on the pan bottom, on a serving plate. Slice and serve, sliding each wedge off the parchment onto a dessert plate. (When slicing, it helps to have a cup of hot water beside you to warm your knife before cutting the cake. This leads to cleaner cuts.)
Drizzle some berry sauce (recipe below) and add some berries onto your slice.
The cheesecake can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Don't have a springform pan? Don't worry! Just use a 9-inch round cake pan and prepare it the same way. Once you have finished the 1-hour cooling step, wrap the cake in the pan in plastic wrap and place in the freezer overnight. Remove from the freezer, unwrap, and warm the bottom of the cheesecake by placing the cake pan directly over very, very low heat on the stove top for about 1 minute. Run a paring knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it from the pan sides, then turn the pan upside down. Rap the pan firmly against a countertop until the cake pops out of the pan. Peel the parchment off the bottom of the cake. Turn the cake right-side up on the cake plate, and let thaw for 4 to 5 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.
Part II: The Sauce
1 pound of fresh strawberries
6 ounces of fresh raspberries
6 ounces of fresh blackberries
6 ounces of fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
¾ cup of sugar
Slice the strawberries and remove the stems and leaves.
Set aside about ⅓ of the berries and put them in the refrigerator for later.
With the remaining ⅔ of the berries, mix them in a sauce pan and add the lemon juice and sugar.
Bring them to a gentle boil over medium heat until they are syrupy, which takes about 5 minutes.
Let the berry mixture cool briefly before transferring to a blender. Purée until smooth
Set a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. A little bit at a time, pour the sauce into the strainer and use the back of a soup ladle and circular motions to force the juice through the strainer and into the bowl. Discard the leftover pulp/seeds (or save it to use as jelly, which is what we did).
Refrigerate the berry sauce until cold or ready to serve.
Before serving, add the reserved berries to the sauce and stir to combine. If the sauce seems too thick, add water to dilute.
Part III: Combine the two previous parts for a beautiful cheesecake!
Written and photographed by Dylan Zhou.