I've been saving this recipe from the January 2002 issue of Food & Wine. If you're unfamiliar with this mag, they have a column at the end entitled, "Last Bite," wherein they feature a recipe, usually with a full-page photo. Their photo and this recipe so intrigued me that I cut it out and stashed it and periodically drooled over it. Well, I finally made it, with some modifications. Their recipe makes a 10-inch cheesecake. I halved the recipe and made an 8" cheesecake (recipe below is the halved, adapted version.) They use almond extract with the vanilla; I used lemon extract. Their crust of walnuts, sugar and melted butter didn't turn me on; I changed it to a walnut cookie crust which turned out to be a good move. I added some salt because their recipe had none; also added 2 Tbsp. cornstarch to firm the cheesecake up a bit and I upped the heavy cream a little. The star in this recipe is the vanilla -- please don't forget that. In order to protect the integrity of the vanilla, I opted to serve the cheesecake as is; no drizzle or grated chocolate over the cake; and I recommend your doing the same. This is a cheesecake to be savored slowly so the full flavor of the vanilla bean caresses your mouth. The walnuts are a great complement to the vanilla. Truly, this dessert is in a class by itself. Only the best vanilla should be used when making this recipe.
Did you know that Cook's Illustrated recently tested vanillas and found that the best baking results were obtained when using vanilla beans? This recipe uses a mix of beans and vanilla extract. I had some Madagascar vanilla beans, and I opted to use Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon pure vanilla bean paste instead of the vanilla extract (purchase at Williams Sonoma, 4 oz. about $11.00). This product is actually a replacement for vanilla beans in any recipe, because it contains vanilla bean seeds. So by using both the vanilla bean and Nielsen-Massey's vanilla bean paste, this cheesecake had a distinct but delicate vanilla flavor.
If you don't have an 8" springform pan, trot over to Wal-Mart and buy the Wilton pack of 3 springform pans (8", 9" and 10") for around $10.00. Do yourself a favor and make this cheesecake soon.
Food & Wine's Vanilla Bean Cheesecake with Walnut Crust, Adapted
CRUST: 3/4 cup toasted walnuts
4 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup brown sugar (I used 1/4 c. brown sugar + 1 tsp. Stevia Plus)
2/3 cup whole-wheat flour (the nutty flavor of the flour complements the walnuts)
SOUR CREAM TOPPING: 1 cup sour cream (I used lite and had no trouble with it setting)
2 Tbsp. white sugar (I used 1-1/2 tsp. Stevia Plus)
1 tsp. good quality vanilla (I used Nielsen-Massey vanilla bean paste)
FILLING: 16 oz. cream cheese (I used full-fat; it's what I had on hand, but Neufchatel is fine.)
1/2 cup sugar (I used 1/4 cup sugar + 1/2 Tbsp. Stevia Plus)
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
2 large eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract, good quality (I used Nielsen-Massey vanilla bean paste)
1/4 tsp. lemon extract
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/8 tsp. sea salt
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 350F. Position oven rack in center. Have filling and topping ingredients at room temperature. Place walnuts in a pie plate or other ovenproof dish and bake for about 8-10 minutes, or till lightly toasted and giving off an aroma. Set aside to cool.
Lightly grease bottom and about 1" up sides of 8" springform pan, using butter. In work bowl of 11-cup or larger food processor, combine first 3 crust ingredients and pulse till well combined and nuts are crumbs, scraping bottom and sides as needed. Add the flour and pulse till combined and mixture resembles coarse sand. Press crumbs into the bottom of the pan and about 1" up sides. Bake for 10-13 minutes, or until set and lightly browned around edges. Remove to wire rack to cool slightly while preparing filling.
Reduce oven heat to 300F. (Note: I missed this step and actually started to bake the cheesecake at 350F. It baked at that temp for 15 minutes, then I reduced to 275F for 40 minutes, added the sour cream topping and baked at 5 minutes. There was no harm done, showing how flexible cheesecakes really are and not to be feared. Just remember to check the cake about 10 minutes before expected done time; shake the pan gently to see if the center is set yet. It should jiggle slightly to allow for continued baking upon removal from oven.)
Prepare the sour cream topping by combining the topping ingredients in a small bowl and mixing by hand with a whisk or spoon. Set aside.
Wipe work bowl and blades with damp paper towel. Combine cream cheese, sugar and vanilla bean seeds and pulse till well combined and smooth, about 1 minute. Add eggs, one at a time, pulsing just till each is combined. Scrape bottom and sides of bowl as needed. Add the cream, flavorings, salt and cornstarch and pulse till combined, maybe another minute. Pour batter over crust and place pan in oven on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or till lightly golden and slightly jiggly in center. (Note: my cheesecake never got lightly golden, so look more for the slightly jiggly center as your guide.) Remove the cheesecake from the oven; immediately pour the sour cream topping over the cheesecake and smooth the surface. Return the cheesecake to the oven and bake for 5 minutes longer, or till the topping is set and no longer glossy on top. Transfer to a rack and let cool to room temperature before refrigerating for 3 hours. Cover the cheesecake loosely with plastic wrap or with tinfoil over top of pan and allow to ripen overnight. Run a knife or spatula around the edges of the cheesecake to loosen the sides -- you can do this while it cools. This cheesecake yields about 8 servings.