Brooklyn-Style Cheesecake: the dairy, dairy best

“WOW… This is the best cheesecake I’ve ever tasted.” – Halley, my boss.

“This is really good. In fact, I think it’s the best cheesecake I’ve ever had.” – Jeff, my co-worker.

“Hey, this cheesecake is REALLY good…” – John, my brother-in-law.

There’s nothing like unsolicited raves from taste-testers to make my day. Especially when what they’re tasting is uncharted territory – at least for me, a New Englander with only the tiniest of connections to New York, from whence this particular type of cheesecake springs.

It’s true, I actually lived in New York for a few years – Yonkers and Mt. Vernon, to be precise – but that was pre-K. All of my growing up and adulthood has been in New England which, aside from scattered pockets, is sadly bereft of an Empire State institution: the New York deli.

A towering corned beef on rye. Hot pastrami, its burned, fatty edges melting in your mouth. Half-sours. Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray, an oddly compelling celery-flavored soda.

To say nothing of lox, bagels, and cream cheese. Whitefish and eggs. Plus liverwurst and onions, a sandwich that’ll drive away unwelcome company for hours afterwards.

And then there’s dessert: fudge layer cake. Rugelach. Rice pudding. In Brooklyn: the famous Blackout Cake.

And cheesecake, the sine qua non of any self-respecting NYC deli.

We’ve all had cheesecake, right? It’s not hard to make, and is universally beloved.

Maybe you’ve made a box mix – add milk, stir, and pour into a graham cracker crust, no baking needed.

Or maybe you’ve made it from scratch; after all, it’s not complicated. Cream cheese, sugar, eggs, and vanilla, gently beaten and poured into a graham cracker (or cookie crumb) crust, baked, and crowned with the fruit topping of your choice.

I’ve done it myself; Easy Cheesecake is a never-fail recipe I clipped from The Boston Globe decades ago, one whose grease-stained edges attest to many cheesecakes.

But Brooklyn-Style Cheesecake? Never heard of such a thing, until “Junior’s Most Fabulous Cheesecake & Desserts” restaurant in Brooklyn, self-proclaimed home of the “World’s Most Fabulous Cheesecake,” was featured on the Food Network a year or so ago.

I was fascinated by this cheesecake’s crust: not crushed graham crackers, nor even a cookie crust, like so many New York cheesecake recipes, but a layer of sponge cake.

Cake crust – really?

So say the bakers at Junior’s.

I tried it; found a couple of online recipes purporting to be “Junior’s original.” Followed them faithfully.

The result was OK, but the process was weird and difficult. So I streamlined it, added a couple of practical-sense touches, and voilà! A light, golden spongecake crust.

So, while it’s truly the filling that shines here – “best ever,” says the crowd – I encourage you not to blow off the Brooklyn-style cake crust. Change is good, right?

If you decide it’s “meh,” go on back to your graham crackers. But at least you will have experienced one of New York’s culinary landmarks: a Junior’s cheesecake.

Chanukah starts tomorrow. With its emphasis on dairy foods, it’s the perfect opportunity to showcase our version of the
“World’s Most Fabulous Cheesecake” – Brooklyn-Style Cheesecake.

Click anywhere on this picture to enlarge it to full size – this will work for any of the photos you see in this blog post.

Sponge cake is light, airy, and “spongy,” in the nicest of ways – think Twinkies. This is a great place to use our cake flour blend, a lower protein flour perfect for light, fine-textured cakes. If you don’t have any, never fear; I’ll give directions for all-purpose flour, as well.

Since cream cheese is the star of this particular show, it pays to use the best – which in our book is Philadelphia. You’ll need 2 pounds – four of the 8-ounce blocks. A few hours before you’re going to bake, take them out of the fridge, unwrap, and let them come to room temperature. It’s much easier to make a smooth filling with room-temperature cream cheese than with cold.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9″ round springform pan or deep 9″ round removable-bottom pan.

This cake is very tall, and requires an extra-deep pan. Measure your pan; if it’s not at least 2 3/4″ deep, don’t attempt this recipe.*

*Another option – make your usual graham cracker crust in a 9″ pie pan, and fill with HALF the following filling recipe.

Wrap the bottom and sides of the springpan with aluminum foil, preferably a single sheet.

To make the crust: Place the following in a mixing bowl –

1/2 cup (2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour Blend*
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil or melted butter
3 large egg yolks, whites reserved

*If you don’t have cake flour, use King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, reducing the amount to 7 tablespoons (1/2 cup less 1 tablespoon).

Beat until well combined; the mixture will be stiff and somewhat crumbly/pasty.

In a separate bowl, beat the reserved egg whites with 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar until they’re frothy. Add 1/4 cup sugar gradually, beating all the while, until the mixture is stiff and glossy.

Gently but thoroughly mix the beaten egg whites into the batter. Take care to keep the batter light; mix gently, don’t beat. You may find at the end there are still some tiny lumps in the batter; that’s OK.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the cake has risen, is barely beginning to brown, and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven, and immediately loosen the edges with a table knife or thin spatula. Allow it to cool in the pan while you make the filling. It’ll settle and shrink a bit as it cools; that’s OK. Leave the oven on.

To make the filling: Place the following in a mixing bowl –

one 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch

Mix on low speed until smooth.

Add the remaining three 8-ounce packages cream cheese, continuing to beat on low speed until smooth.

Add 1 1/3 cups sugar and beat until well combined. Again, keep the beater speed on low; you don’t want to aerate this dense filling.

Beat in 2 large eggs, then 1 tablespoon vanilla.

Finally, gently beat in 3/4 cup heavy cream or whipping cream.

The filling should be smooth and pourable.

Place the springform pan into a larger pan, and fill the larger pan with enough hot water to come 1″ up the sides of the springform.

Spoon the batter over the cake in the pan. The filling will expand and rise, so make sure you don’t fill the pan right to the brim.

Place both pans on a lower-middle rack of your oven. Bake the cheesecake for 75 to 90 minutes, until the cake is just barely beginning to turn golden around the edges, and the top appears set. The center will still look jiggly; that’s OK. A thermometer inserted into the center should register about 160°F to 165°F.

Remove the cake from the oven, and gently lift it out of the water bath onto a rack.

Run a table knife or spatula around the edges of the pan to separate the filling from the pan; this will help keep the cheesecake from sinking.

Allow the cake to cool at room temperature, undisturbed, for 2 to 3 hours, until it’s no longer warm to the touch. Refrigerate the cake, covered, until you’re ready to serve it.

To serve, slice with a knife dipped in hot water and wiped dry. Repeat this step after every slice.

This cake is traditionally served without topping; but feel free to add your own favorite, if desired.

Now – I know many of you are itching to tell me that this isn’t a REAL New York cheesecake. It’s not Carnegie Deli’s cheesecake. Nor is it Lindy’s, nor that of the newly trendy Two Little Red Hens.

Junior’s Brooklyn cheesecake, like the borough itself, has attitude – mostly fostered by that sponge cake crust. It’s authentic to Junior’s, in Flatbush, in New York – and that’s good enough for me.

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Brooklyn-Style Cheesecake.

Print just the recipe.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. DaveHI

    I made a Junior’s cheesecake and it’s excellent. It’s lighter than any cheesecake I’ve ever had and can be cut without cleaning the knife between cuts. My cake did fall about 30% because (I think) I didn’t allow it to cool in the oven; I took it out and set it on a cooling rack. I’m making another one soon for a neighborhood cheesecake contest and will try cooling it in the oven.

    Reply
  2. Phyllis Ostby

    I can’t wait to try these cheese cake recipes. I so love the King Arthur experience and all it provides! I never liked graham cracker crusts, so seeing this sponge cake crust is a real surprise and treat for me. Thank you for all your help!

    Reply
  3. Pat

    I have heard that cheesecake freezes well although I’ve never tried. Could this version be frozen? I would like to make this ahead for the holidays if possible.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Yes indeed, Pat! It can be frozen for up to three months, wrapped well. Try to keep it in the back of your freezer to prevent it from thawing out when the door opens. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Kat, if you’d like to make a crustless cheesecake you’re welcome to go ahead and prepare the filling as is. Be wary of using a springform pan, as it might be more likely to leak without a crust as a barrier. You might want to try using a pie pan instead, knowing that the slices may not serve perfectly. You could also bake the filling in individual ramekins to make it easier to serve as well (like it’s done in this blog here, just without the crust). Good luck and happy baking! Kye@KAF

  4. Robin

    what if i soaked the sponge cake in condensed milk for a tres leches kinda deal

    is that crazy???????????????????????

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We like your inventiveness, Robin. While we think the flavor would be spot on, we’re worried the sponge would become too delicate and not be able to serve as a sturdy base. You might have a hard time getting the sponge to stay in tact if it’s soaked with all that deliciousness. Perhaps you should save your sweetened condensed milk in one of these other tasty recipes. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  5. Margo Haynes

    The best cheesecake I have ever eaten was in 1958 at this little German bakery in San Antonio, Tx. The owner was a small elderly, German woman that barely had a hint of an accent and her cheesecake looked much like yours above and it did have a crust on the bottom but at first I couldn’t see the difference between the crust and the cake…smooth as silk filling with just a hint of an indentation that she had topped with the most delicious sour cream topping and she called it a NY Cheesecake but the NYCheesecakes today could not touch hers in looks, quality or taste with a 10′ pole.
    I have searched for years for a recipe similar to hers. Hers did have a crust but it wasn’t hard like a cookie crust and it didn’t look quite like the spongecake crust that you make bit it’s darn sure close enough for me!

    Yours is fantastic! A delicious crust, a silky smooth and creamy filling! One couldn’t ask for more. Once again, King Arthur to the rescue! Bravo, P.J.!!!

    Reply

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