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. DePayne

    I made this cake last night for a party. When i served it everyone thought i bought it – they were amazed with the flavor and texture. It is the creamiest cheesecake I have ever made. I was born and raised in Brooklyn and am very familiar with Junior’s cheesecake – this is better. This recipe now replaces all others.

    Wow, so happy to hear that – score one for you and KA! Thanks so much for sharing your success here – PJH

    Reply
  2. ckide

    I’ve made this cheesecake twice in the last 2 weeks. It is awesome! Everyone loved it, so I will definitely keep this recipe handy. Thanks so much!
    I made it for Christmas, and we still have about 1/3 of it in the fridge. I had a piece with some hot fudge on it for a mid-day treat yesterday. SO good and SO decadent. Glad we’ll have this recipe around for a long, long time. Salud! ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  3. dawn01

    This sounds wonderful. If you make a lot of cheesecake I have found that investing in a silicone cake pan the size or slightly larger than you cheesecake pan is easier than having to wrap pan in foil. Just put cheesecake pan in silicone pan and you never have to worry about water leaking through the foil. You can get inexpensive silicone pans on some commercial baking websites.

    Oh my goodness, what a great tip! Thanks so much, Dawn – happy holidays. PJH

    Reply
  4. enjhagen

    For ZANNE4848…For a pineapple filling, I have mixed a small jar of pineapple preserves with a small, drained can of unsweetened, crushed pineapple and spread it over a typical graham cracker crust. It’s not overly sweet and holds together nicely, not runny at all.

    Thanks so much for connecting here – I’m sure Zanne will appreciate this. Sounds delicious! PJH

    Reply
  5. sandra Alicante

    I made this this morning! OK, I didn’t use the base as hubby does not like cake base in his cheesecake (I do).
    I took the warning about the depth of tin to heart and ended up making a smaller cake with the left over mix. However, I could have got away with just the one, it barely rose. No idea why not, maybe our eggs are not as big? Or perhaps because I was careful not to beat in much air.
    Anyway, the second one, I added orange zest and oil of cassia. Ooh la la! Lovely christmassy spicy flavour.Mmmmm! You could use grated nutmeg on top, rather like a egg custard tart (a UK favourite). Anyhow, I now have lots of cheesecake for our friend arriving tomorrow! Poor thing, her hubby won’t even try cheesecake so she never makes it.

    That sounds delicious!! I am certain your friend will enjoy the treat–very thoughtful of you! (Also, she might appreciate a mini springform pan to create personal indulgences down the road!). However, before I get carried away, the thing with cheesecakes and rising: yes, the amount of air whipped into the filling (via the eggs, cream cheese, and sugar) plus the sheer number of eggs, will determine how much it will rise. This particular recipe is low in eggs to make the cheesecake very creamy instead of light and fluffy (the more eggs a cheesecake contains, the more “cake-like” and fluffy it will be!). I hope this sheds some light on your Christmas baking! Best, Kim@KAF

    Reply
  6. mdlrvrmuncher

    If you using smaller pans (I have 6 and 7 inch) can I directly ratio ingredients or is there a thing or two that I don’t decrease? (I am thinking eggs.)
    I already make your chocolate cheesecake at Christmas, Italian sweet cheesecake, too many cookies, and a new item each year. (There are 5 of us!)

    If reducing the recipe (by a 1/2 or a 1/3), you will want each ingredient to also decrease. The more egg in a cheesecake, the firmer and fluffier it will be (less creamy). I would convert the recipe to ounces and then convert each down to however large a cheesecake you’d like–this makes for a tall cheesecake, so I might suggest trimming the recipe in half to start and see how it turns out! You could always make a full recipe for the sponge cake base and simply bake the other half in a smaller square pan, flip onto a clean tea towel, spread with filling, roll up, frost, and make a mini buche de noel! http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/bche-de-nol-recipe Happy Baking! Kim@KAF

    Reply
  7. chloe

    PJ is right–there is also a tradition of eating dairy products at Chanukah in honor of Judith’s cleverness and bravery. Thank you for honoring it with such a delicious looking recipe!

    Reply
  8. Cindy Leigh

    This looks so good! I way prefers baked cheesecake to an instant, although cheesecake junkies will make do with the quicker versions when they need immediate cheesecake!
    I love my moms ancient version the best. It’s no crust, baked Ina tube LAN, and labor intensive, it has cream cheese, sour cream,and cottage cheese. It’s not overly sweet, which is fine, since we add a variety of pie filling toppings. Blueberry, strawberry, and pineapple (thickened ) are our favorites.
    It’s labor intensive if done correctly because properly done, the cream cheese and cottage cheese should be creamed through one of those cone shaped sieve and dowel thingies that you ca still find in the canning section of most old time hardware stores. We have tried using a food processor instead, and those results are not good. The cake “breaks” and weeps and the consistancy is not right. The closest I’ve come is feeding thecreamcheese and cottage cheese through the food grinder attachment on my KitchenAid. I think maybe extruding is gentler and aerated the mixture some? Not sure, but the old way is the best way. And maybe that’s why we didn’t get it that often? Mom always says it was a real chore. My dad adored it though and we always got it on holidays and his birthday.

    That does sound quite time consuming, however sometimes when the final product is so great is it worth the struggle!-Jon

    Reply
  9. yranan

    The cake looks and sounds amazing! Just a bit of a correction though, Chanukah is not the holiday with the emphasis on dairy products-that’s Shavuot, which comes in the spring. Chanukah is the Festival of Lights and the emphasis is on fried foods, in particular, sufganiyot (filled doughnuts) and potato latkes. Yummy stuff!

    Reply

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