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 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).
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.