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.

Hanukkah 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. Zanne4848

    P.J.

    Wouldn’t I have to put something in the crushed (drained) pineapple to keep it together on the bottom without ruining the cheese filling? Maybe cook it with some cornstarch or add Clearjel?

    Or maybe I should go with some pineapple preserves (if I can find it).

    I definitely want to try your cake layer, when I think I have the time to pay attention to all the components. But the cheesecake looks really terrific – can’t wait to try it.

    It seems to me that a thin layer of crushed pineapple mixed with butter/brown sugar syrup – e.g., the bottom of a pineapple upside down cake – would hold up the cheese filling, which is generally quite thick. However, pineapple preserves are a definite option, as is simply simmering pineapple upside down cake topping until thick. Let us know how it comes out! PJH

    Reply
  2. lesnesmn

    I’ve been making this cheesecake for several years now and consider it the best recipe I’ve ever used. I’ve even made it without the spongecake layer and put the cheesecake layer between two Italian Cream Cake layers and frosted it with a cream cheese frosting. Delicious! Definitely a dessert for a special occasion and a lot of people. Also I’ve found that instead of wrapping the cheesecake pan with foil, I put it down inside a silicone pan a little larger than the cheesecake pan and then put it down in my water bath. No more leaky pans! Thanks for the post.

    That must be quite the cake! Cheesecake as a cake filling, what a concept.-Jon

    Reply
  3. jitterro

    Love cake crust on cheesecakes. I really need to make one of these someday…with a sour cream topping 😀

    I do as well, I have never heard of cheesecake with a cake base until this blog post. A testament to the fact that there is always something to learn!-Jon

    Reply
  4. barrie2

    Love this! In my ratty old trusty Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese Cheesecake cookbook (well used and well loved), there is a similar recipe that uses a yellow cake layer on the bottom, regular vanilla cheesecake in the middle and a ganache-like “frosting” poured over the cooled cheesecake – “Boston Cream Pie Cheesecake”. I made it once and it was delicious! Would be pretty easy to do here too – just add the ganache. YUM!

    Sounds decadent, everything tastes better with a little (or a lot of) ganache on it!-Jon

    Reply
  5. lorrainesfav

    PJ-Love the cake crust idea and recipe! A couple of years ago, I decided to try mixing the cheesecake batter in the food processsor. It works perfect and the batter does not get too much air in it. Being an X NYer, I have tried lots of cheesecakes too. This one looks great. I will try it for our Christmas Eve dinner. Nice and creamy-Happy Holidays and lots more great recipes to all at KAF

    Reply
  6. Zanne4848

    If in a big hurry and not able to do the cake , could ladyfingers be used or something similar?
    BTW, a bakery in Hackensack, NJ (at least 50 yrs ago) used to make a tall, scrumptious cheesecake with a bottom of crushed pineapple. I know I can’t just put down drained pineapple, but can anyone suggest how to do this?
    Thanks

    Absolutely – ladyfingers would be a fine substitute. As would a plain graham cracker crust. Or no crust at all – and sprinkle crushed cookies (flavor of your choice) onto the plate when serving. As for the pineapple – why not make the bottom part of a pineapple upside-down cake, using crushed pineapple in place of the rings, and no cherries or nuts? Seems to me this would work out pretty well… PJH

    Reply
    1. Dotsie

      I have been making Junior’s cheesecake for years. I use crushed up Nabisco Bills wafers (mixed with a little butter). So yummy.

  7. martibeth

    P.J., that does look pretty, and I’ve got plenty of cream cheese in the fridge at the moment, not to mention KAF’s cake flour. Thanks for that recipe. Merry Xmas, P.J.

    And Merry Christmas to you, too, Marti. Hope things are going well with you – and my favorite cows! Enjoy your cheesecake – PJH

    Reply
    1. Allison

      Thanks for the recipe. I am from Spring Valley, NY where as a child I enjoyed a fabulous cheesecake with a cake crust from our neighborhood bakery, Pakula’s. I have been searching for a recipe like this for years. Can’t wait to try it!! Happy Holidays!

    2. Ben L

      Not sure who Allison is but I’m also from Spring Valley and remember Pakula’s very well. We’ll be having this cheesecake for our Christmas dinner. Thanks. The crust looks terrific.

  8. deidremefford

    Will definately give this a try this weekend but if you want an incredible experience try Maida Heatter’s 8-hr cheesecake. 2 lbs of cream cheese, no crust, stark white inside & out. Baked 8 – yes 8! – hours in a low oven. Chemistry changes the structure/consistency to an entirely other level of cheesecake. If you are a cheesecake purist this will do it for you.

    It sounds delicious, definitely something I would like to try out in the future!-Jon

    Reply

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