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. RRM

    I have to tell you that I simply love this recipe. I found it last month, and I’ve made it three times in the last three weeks. The last time, I added a teaspoon of orange extract to the crust and to the batter, and it was marvelous. My family wanted it topped with blueberries, and the hint of orange really worked well. Thanks so much for such an excellent recipe!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Thanks for your feedback – much appreciated! I love that this recipe is good “plain,” but also lends itself so nicely to any number of tweaks – flavors, a different crust, etc. I want to try a butterscotch swirl in it sometime – doesn’t that sound yummy? 🙂 PJH

  2. Erin

    Made this for a work potluck luncheon- lots of great feedback, and several people were surprised that it was homemade. My only mistake was not making two! There were some sad faces as the last piece was snatched up. I am thinking the next time using Fiori di Sicilia in the cake crust- or at least using half orange extract/vanilla to give it a little twist, as I thought the cake crust could have had a little better flavor to pair with the amazing flavor of the filling. To get 16 perfect slices I cut it with plain dental floss-and used wax paper in between slices on a serving plate- this worked great-even the first slice out would have been presentable, but I was selfish and saved it for myself 😉 so delicious- thank you!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Erin, you’re right, the crust is quite plain; I wanted to do this version with its traditional Junior’s-type crust. Adding Fiori would definitely liven it up; and many of my friends who’ve made this simply substitute a graham cracker crust, so that’s certainly an option, too. Thanks for your feedback here – PJH

  3. Jennie Morris

    If I want to do this as individual cheesecakes, would cupcake liners work or would I need individual springform pans?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Jennie, I think cupcake liners will work just fine. You’ll need to cut way back on the baking time – and unfortunately, I really can’t tell you how long they’ll need to bake. Just start testing when they start to look set, and keep a close eye on them, OK? Good luck – PJH

    2. Jennie Morris

      So here is what I did…
      I decided that cupcakes would be a little small so I used my KAF burger bun pan with parchment on the bottom. I made the cake batter and divided between the 6 (please note that this was the beginning of my problem) cheesecakes. They took about 13 minutes (350 convection) and while they were cooling I made the cheesecake filling. OOPS. I should have paid more attention to the amount of filling. My 6 little cheesecakes only used 1/2 of the batter. So I tasted after I finished the first 6 – WOW! And I liked the ratio between cake and cheesecake so I made another recipe of cake and repeated the process using the rest of the cheesecake filling. I used a sheet pan and filled with water to hold my mini cheesecake pan (you really should change the name of the pan – I have) and baked for approximately 50 minutes. Since I had refrigerated the filling while finishing the first batch, they took several minutes longer than the room temperature ones. In the end, I had 12 beautiful, delicious mini cheesecakes. I won’t say individual cheesecakes because the size is really 2 servings. I don’t think I would ever make it as 1 cheesecake. I gave them as gifts this Christmas.

    3. PJ Hamel, post author

      Jennie, thanks so much for this valuable feedback – so much detail makes it useful for others wanting to try the same thing. And yes, we need to change the name of the hamburger bun pan – or keep it as a hamburger bun pan, but also sell it as a “mini dessert” pan, something of that nature- it makes lovely little pies and cakes, and now we know t’s perfect for sheesecake, too. Thanks! PJH

  4. Valerie Condron

    This is on my list for the office party, but as I have made similar with a pie crust/ graham crust, but I swirl apricot filling before baking with a toothpick or knife and it is awesome!

    Reply
  5. Sri

    Don’t know why I stumbled across this recently but decided I needed to know when you said it received such rave reviews. Never had the cake crust myself before and glad tried it, but we preferred KAFs graham crust. 🙂 and while we really enjoyed this cheesecake and I love kaf and adore PJ, we liked the ny cheesecake w it’s lemon zest and texture a bit better. 🙂 but room for more than one cheesecake in this world!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      I made this cheesecake with a graham cracker crust for Thanksgiving; the crowd I was baking for prefers that type of crust, and it was yummy. Hey, Sri, as you say – there’s room for MANY cheesecakes in this world! PJH

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Haven’t tried it – but I’d say you could probably add a sour cream topping maybe 10-15 minutes before the end of the bake? Rather than bake it longer… PJH

  6. Gwen

    my grandparents had come from nyc & everytime we went up to rochester shopping from my hometown of canandaigua,ny, my grandfather would ask us to bring him some cheesecake & eel (yuck).
    we got both at sibley’s dept store. the cheesecake never saw a graham cracker—it had some kind of crust, not pastry.
    would that be a new york style cheesecake. i’ve never seen it anywhere else.

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      If it has a cake style crust and a dense, rich texture it’s probably a NY style cheesecake. ~ MJ

  7. Sandra Baumgardner

    Is it possible to substitute splenda for sugar in this recipe? I’d love to make this for my brother who is diabetic and adores cheesecake. Also, any advice about alterations to desert recipes in which you substite splenda for sugar?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Sandra, I’m really sorry, but I have no experience using Splenda in cheesecake. I’m going to hazard a guess it would work, as the sugar really has nothing to do with structure… but no guarantees. As for other recipes, we did a series of blog posts on baking with Splenda a few years ago; search “Splenda” in the blog search box to read about what we found. Good luck – PJH

  8. Ann Goldman

    Coming from Brooklyn, and very much a fan of Juniors, if I’m going to bake a “Jewish style” cheesecake (remember, Brooklyn also has “Italian style,” ricotta based cheese cakes as well) , hands down Maida Heatter’s cheesecakes are truly the benchmark. She was based in Miami….which for some people is a suburb of Brooklyn.

    Reply
  9. sarah h

    This has little to do with brooklyn style which will be my next experiment in the kitchen but I have a wonderful recipe I’ve made it twice now. I call it s’more cheesecake. I use the graham cracker crust but I’m sure shortbread or oreo would work fine. I start with an already-made graham cracker crust, a box of no-bake cheesecake crust and two 8 oz cont. of cream cheese, as well as some powdered sugar and a tbs of vanilla. I also have some chocolate chips(or chocolate bar) and mini (or jumbo) marshmallows. Layer the finished crust with chocolate chips or chocolate pieces dispersed evenly and top with marshmallows (I’m sure melted chocolate, fudge or chocolate syrup would be fine too); you may want to rip up the marshmallows into smaller pieces if they’re jumbo). Then cover the crust with the no-bake crust and cover it.(LIKE A SMORE) bake at 350 till its golden brown and center s’more mixture is melted. Press down a little and add the no-bake filling on top. Then either soften two 8 oz pkgs of cream cheese by leaving them out for a few hrs or in the microwave and pour powdered sugar in, stirring until “cheesecake” has reached your desired sweetness. Add this mixture directly on top of the nobake filling layer (u can add a layer of melted chocolate w a splash of milk between the two cheesecake layers as to seperate them. And/or top with this or syrup. Freeze or refrigerate for several hours until thickened and chilled 🙂 I’m sure this may have been done, but I thought of it myself one night. Hope you enjoy!

    Gosh, Sarah! That sounds sumptuous (although not too difficult! Something to try out this week for a night out by the grill). Thank you for sharing! Kim@KAF

    Reply

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