"Cheesecake Extraordinaire," Mary Crownover

Pros: Scrumptious cheesecakes, lovely photos
Cons: Could use more variety of basic cheesecake flavors
Rating: 4 out of 5

When I was younger I wasn’t that fond of cheesecakes; they seemed too rich, too sludgy, too sweet. Then I tried making them (due to my now-husband’s love of cheesecakes and our joint love of cooking) and discovered that while commercial cheesecakes weren’t that great, homemade could be stunning. Homemade cheesecake recipes tend to be less sweet, with the tang of the cream cheese much more noticeable. And you can create them in nearly any flavor imaginable.

I guess there isn’t a huge cheesecake-baking market, however–perhaps a lot of folks think of them as scary things that are hard to bake at home, kind of like souffle. Perhaps, like me, too many people have had their opinion of cheesecake tainted by the commercial version of “cheesecake.” At any rate, it took us a while to find a few cheesecake cookbooks with what looked to be a decent variety of flavors in them.

“Cheesecake Extraordinaire,” by Mary Crownover, has the most gorgeous photographs, so naturally we started with it.

Equipment and Techniques

Contrary to popular belief, cheesecake really isn’t that hard to make. It does help to have a springform pan, although if you don’t care that much about taking it out of the pan and don’t mind experimenting with oven times and temps you can use something else like a deep dish pie plate (I do recommend a good Kaiser springform pan, however, as it’s perfect for the occasion and it’ll last you for years).

The book starts off with ingredient notes, equipment, and more; I highly recommend reading the “cheesecake basics” if you aren’t familiar with cheesecake-baking. The process is simple, but there are certain steps and aspects to it that are important, and it’s the lack of those that so often leads people to think cheesecakes are difficult to make.

The Cheesecakes

The cheesecakes are split into a handful of chapters: beverage-based (most, but not all, of these are based on alcoholic drinks and have a decent amount of alcohol in them), candy and cookie, caramel, chocolate, coconut, custard and spice, fruit, mint, nut, peanut butter, vanilla, and “guilt-free” (i.e., recipes using sugar substitute). Don’t get too excited here–most of the recipes are in the first and last chapters, beverage-based and reduced-sugar. For some folks that might be wonderful, but I found it rather limiting. I can’t stand the taste of sugar substitutes, and I usually make cheesecake to share with certain friends, some of whom really don’t like the taste of alcohol. That severely limits the number of useful recipes in this cookbook for me. It’s a personal thing, though–if you’d like those recipes, then those chapters will be more useful to you.

The cheesecakes we’ve made have certainly tasted absolutely delicious. There’s a recipe for individual vanilla cheesecakes that’s to-die-for, and a caramel pecan cheesecake that has a delightfully natural and somewhat subtle caramel flavor based primarily in brown sugar. Not a single cheesecake has disappointed.

That said, we have at times left off the frostings or toppings suggested by the book. One wonderful cheesecake recipe included a recipe for frosting that was entirely shortening-based–and I cannot stand shortening-based frostings. They’re just plain nasty. Often a cheesecake would be just as good or better without the suggested toppings; at other times the toppings work quite well (such as for the caramel pecan cheesecake, which is good either way).

Layout etc.

The layout is fairly simple and clear, with straightforward instructions. I have yet to find any mistakes or errors. Not every recipe includes a photo, but the photos included are absolutely beautiful and will certainly make you hungry!

I wouldn’t call this the ultimate cheesecake cookbook, but I’d certainly call it a very good one. Personally I’d like to see more non-alcoholic and non-sugar-free recipes, and fewer unnecessary toppings (or a higher quality of topping recipes overall). However, depending on your particular tastes in food, your mileage may vary! If you love high-alcohol cheesecakes and don’t have a problem with shortening-based icings and such, this may be the perfect cheesecake cookbook for you.

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9 comments on “"Cheesecake Extraordinaire," Mary Crownover
  1. judy says:

    i have baked a few recipes from mary crownover’s cheesecake books and have yet had one bake properly.
    starting out a cheesecake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes and then dropping the temperature to 200degrees for two
    hours and then letting the cake sit in the oven for 2 hours longer creates nothing more than a raw cheesecake. i use an oven thermometer to make sure the temperature is correct in the oven and to no avail i have created nothing other than raw mushy
    cheesecakes. i have followed other cheesecake recipes and the normal baking temperatures are between 325 degrees and 350 degrees. i have never had a failed cheesecake recipe until i tried mary crownover’s instructions.

  2. heather says:

    Have you checked to make sure your oven temp isn’t off? We’ve used the recipes in this book and had them come out beautifully, not undercooked at all.

  3. David says:

    Hello,

    The cover photo for Cheesecake Extraordinaire is stunning. Does anyone know if the chocolate rose leaves and stems were made by Ms. Crownover or purchased? If purchased, where could I find them? I know that I can make chocolate rose leaves, but the stems (with thorns) in the photo look great.

    Thanks,
    David

  4. Jessica says:

    Judy, I’ve had the exact same experiences as you. I’ve tried several of these recipes in three different ovens, and checked the temperature with an oven thermometer in two of those ovens. My new oven is spot-on, but the cheesecakes take AT LEAST twice as long to bake as the recipe states. I make sure my ingredients start at room temperature. I’ve tried everything I can think of – even took my springform pan to a local gourmet kitchen store (the owner & his staff really know their stuff) to make sure I was measuring it correctly and they confirmed that it is indeed a standard 9″ pan. When they are finally done, they taste great for the most part though! Just beware of the recipes that use liqueur – my husband likes the tang that comes at the end of a bite, but I sometimes find it lends a detracting aftertaste that isn’t worth whatever it adds to the main flavor.

    • Nancy E. says:

      If your cakes continue to come out less than “done” (quarter sized middle circle that wiggles), then increase your oven temp by 25 degrees and the baking time by 5 to 8 minutes. Or, if you’re fortunate enough to own one, use a convection oven – the forced air heat will bake the cakes more evenly and thoroughly. I’ve baked custom cakes for nearly 35 years and it’s the “little” things that you need to tweak sometimes to get the cakes right. Plus, using a good cheesecake pan and NOT a springform will add in better results. Those, in any size needed, can be purchased on-line from cooks.com and they’re MUCH better. I stopped using springforms to bake my creations more than twenty years ago.

      I’ve used this book on a consistent basis for at least fifteen years and every recipe I choose, the cake comes out nearly perfect. If not, that’s what ganaches, whipped toppings and fruit are for!

  5. Nan Cano says:

    10-05-10

    I made the Keylime Cheesecake this past weekend. I made it in a 12″ springform pan. As I always do, I doubles the
    ingredients. I have had no problems with any of the cheesecakes I have made prior to this one. From the start of the
    baking time at 350 to the final time at 200 this cheesecake was in the oven 2 hours and 45 minutes. The center was
    still not totally set. I usually add an additional 15 to 20 minutes to the total baking time when i do use my 12″ pan. This
    was very disappointing to me becuase it really tied my oven up for an unnecessary amount of time. Should the temperature of the oven be increased from 200 to maybe 275 or 300? This cheesecake was loved by all that had it and
    it was for a birthday celebration. I would definitely make it again if I could figure out the oven situation. Can you help
    with any suggestions. The only thing I did do for added tang to the cheesecake was to add some grated lime peel.

    Please offer any suggestions you may have for this problem.

    Thank you,

    Nan Cano

  6. E. David Barkley says:

    I’ve baked roughly 100 plus cheesecakes using the Crownover method. At the end of six-hour process, the tops are as flat as aircarft carrier decks, done thru and thru, rich tasting, but not cloyingly so.

    In addition to following the recipe correctly, there are a couple of other critical keys to success:

    1) Ensure your oven is calibrated for the dialed in heat; you need to verify this first and foremost

    2) Cake should be placed in the oven slightly below the center level, otherwise you’ll get deep surface browning from the first 15 mins at high temp

    3) Place a small cake pan of water on the lowest rack; this will act to steam the cake as if it were in a Bain Marie. NOTE: when opening the oven using the steam bath method, stand as far back from the oven door when opening. There will be an initial rush of steam that is both powerful and very hot

    4) Follow the temperature change and baking timing precisely

    5) When removing the cake from the final two-hour period, run a knife again around the inside of the springform. Cool completely on a wire rack before placing in the frig. Keep in the frig for at least overnight, or six hours before applying any toppings

    6) Before cutting, score the top with dental floss; gives you more precise portions. And, as a general rule with desserts, less is more. So, don’t worry about smaller slices

  7. Dawn says:

    I love Mary Crownovers method. I developed my own favorite recipes using her method as a starting point. I’ve never had a problem with them. I think I may have had to bake them a little longer than suggested. And I always leave out the creme from the cookies! I dont usually use the toppings either.
    To Nan Cano, I think you would need to keep the temp low but cook for much longer. Increase the initial bake time an extra 10 minutes and at least 40 minutes for the longer bake time. I lent my book out and dont remember to who, so I just bought another from Amozon lol I look forward to browsing though her great recipes again!!

  8. Vicki Vandevelde says:

    The recipe for the chocolate irish cream cheesecake calls for heavy whipping cream, but no where in the instructions does it say when to add it. Maybe proof reader should have been a little more careful.

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