In June, newly retired from teaching, I decided to tackle the art of cheesecake and began practicing in earnest so I’d be ready to whip up what ended up to be three cheesecakes for my mother’s 90th birthday celebration in early July.
I learned to make a classic, cake-y, springform pan cheesecake. I made cheesecake from the recipe on the graham cracker crumbs box. And I made Margery Thompson’s cheesecake, which is really more like a creamy cheesecake pie—one that her family (of which I am a happily included part) deems The Best Cheesecake In All the Land. Actually, it was Marge’s son Mitchell who declared it so, though he died much too soon at age 43. When we in the family who have been tutored by the master (mistress?) make the cheesecake, we do so in honor of Mitchell.
I’ve been asked by a number of folks for that recipe, so here’s the version I took down, step by step, as Marge tutored her daughter Rebecca and me in cheesecake. I have to add that Marge got the recipe from an old church cookbook (the first version in the early 1950s, a later one that she still has in 1961). It was Helen Miniaci’s recipe, so we pay homage to her, too, with every incarnation.
“It’s easy,” says Marge, who has made this hundreds of times, and once you get the hang of it, she’s right. Easy-peasy, super yummy, not too sweet and very creamy!
Margery Thompson’s cheese(cake) pie
—Heat oven to 350°
—For crust (mix in 9-9.5-inch glass pie plate):
• 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
• 3-4 tablespoons melted butter
• 2 tablespoons sugar
(Press into plate so that crust goes up sides of plate nearly to the rim. Plate doesn’t need to be greased; “there’s enough butter in there so it doesn’t stick,” Marge says.)
—For filling (in a large glass or ceramic bowl)
—Beat with hand mixer or food processor until very creamy, almost runny:
• 16 oz. (2 8 oz. packages) of room temperature (“makes it easier to beat”), full fat cream cheese (“low fat doesn’t set up properly”) To make it easier to whip the cream cheese, beat in one egg with the cream cheese.
• ½ cup sugar (“basic white sugar is smoothest and easiest to whip”)
• 1 more egg
• ½ teaspoon lemon juice (“no pulp; tart lemons are best”)
• ½ teaspoon vanilla
—In a separate smaller glass or ceramic bowl, beat with hand mixer or food processor until very creamy, almost runny:
• ½ pint (half a pint container) sour cream
• 2 tablespoons sugar
• ½ teaspoon vanilla (“rinse lemon out of measuring spoon first to avoid curdling the cream”)
—Fold sour cream mixture into cream cheese mixture “sloooowly to avoid air pockets,” Marge says, using rubber spatula to gently turn the sour cream mixture into the cream cheese.
—Pour into crust, smoothing “gently so it doesn’t pull up the crust” on the sides of the pie plate. (Optional from Mrs. Miniaci: Sprinkle graham cracker crumbs on top.)
—Bake 25 minutes (“Do not over bake!” warns Mrs. Miniaci.) Remove carefully from oven and cool on a wire rack till completely cool (“a good four hours”) before covering with plastic wrap and putting in the fridge. Allow to chill in fridge at least overnight (“24 hours is better”). Can be refrigerated for up to two days before serving.
—Optional: Serve with a berry topping (frozen or fresh). But honestly, it’s perfect all by its ownself. Very rich, and a little goes a long way!