This is an ode to the classic cheesecake that made me first fall in love with the dessert. But perhaps more importantly, it is the version my husband, a bona fide cheesecake lover, still requests again and again (and again)! Baking in a water bath ensures a perfectly smooth surface and a beautiful custard with a silky, rich texture. Be sure to allow for carryover cooking—and remember that cheesecakes will continue to firm up and set as they cool—and err on the side of under-baking the cheesecake (it should still have a jiggle in the center at the end of baking when you gently shake the pan). I love to make it with my brown sugar shortbread as the crust, but it can easily be made with a graham cracker crust (or other cookie crumb crust). —Erin Jeanne McDowell
- Prep time 10 hours 35 minutes
- Cook time 1 hour 15 minutes
- makes One 9-inch cheesecake
Brown Sugar Shortbread Crust
(170 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
(71 grams) packed light or dark brown sugar
(3 grams) vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups
(210 grams) all-purpose flour
(2 grams) fine sea salt
(906 grams) cream cheese, at room temperature
(198 grams) granulated sugar
(23 grams) all-purpose flour
(2 grams) fine sea salt
large eggs, at room temperature
(115 grams) sour cream, at room temperature
(60 grams) heavy cream, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons
(7 grams) vanilla extract
Sour Cherry Topping
(454 grams) pitted tart red cherries
(99 grams) granulated sugar, divided
(14 grams) cornstarch
fine sea salt
vanilla extract (optional)
- Brown sugar shortbread crust: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and brown sugar on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the vanilla and mix to combine. Scrape the bowl well.
- Add the flour and salt and mix on low speed to incorporate. Scrape the bowl well, then mix for 15 to 20 seconds more.
- Grease a 9-inch springform pan lightly with softened butter or nonstick spray. Drop clumps of the shortbread dough into the base of the pan and use your fingers to press into an even layer (you can just cover the base, or allow the crust to come about ½ inch up the sides of the pan, your choice).
- Dock the crust all over with a fork, then chill for 1 hour. Toward the end of the chill time, position a rack in the center of the oven; heat to 350°F/175°C.
- Bake the crust for 15 to 18 minutes, until lightly golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool. Wrap the outside of the pan well with foil and place into a deep dish, like a casserole or large, shallow Dutch oven. Increase the oven temperature to 375°F/400°C.
- Make the cheesecake: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese on low speed for 3 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk the sugar, flour, and salt to combine.
- Add the sugar mixture to the mixer and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes more. Scrape the bowl well. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing on medium speed to combine, scraping well after each addition.
- Add the sour cream and mix on low speed to combine. Scrape the bowl well, then add the heavy cream and mix on low speed to combine. Scrape the bowl well, then beat in the vanilla.
- Set a kettle of water to boil. Pour the custard into the cooled crust. Gently transfer the dish containing the springform pan to the oven and fill the dish with boiling water, ideally so it comes about halfway up the sides of the springform pan.
- Bake the cake for 20 minutes, gently rotate the pan, and bake for 20 minutes more. The cake should be lightly browned at the edges and the surface and should appear visibly souffléd and puffy.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 275°F/135°C and bake for 10 to 15 minutes more, until the cake jiggles slightly in the center when you gently shake the pan.
- Turn the oven off and open the oven door to vent out the heat. Leave the cheesecake inside for 10 minutes, then let cool at room temperature for 1 hour. Unwrap the foil from around the pan.
- Chill the cake for at least 8 hours before serving. To unmold, using a small offset spatula, run it around the outside of the cheesecake to loosen, then gently remove the outer ring. Using a large spatula, gently loosen the base of the cheesecake and transfer to a platter.
- Make the sour cherry topping: In a medium pot, toss the cherries and ¼ cup (50 grams) sugar to combine. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the cherries are juicy. In a small bowl, stir the cornstarch, salt, and the remaining ¼ cup (50 grams) sugar to combine. Stir into the cherry mixture.
- Bring to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture visibly thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla, if using. Let cool completely, then spoon on top of the whole cheesecake, or serve alongside slices of cheesecake.