As far as cheesecake is concerned, I'm pretty much a purist. I like a plain dry cheesecake with a graham cracker crust, without any drizzles or toppings of any kind. It might be snobby to say, but my own cheesecakes (meaning the ones I make using the New York cheesecake recipe in The Joy of Cheesecake) have ruined all other cheesecakes for me. I don't even bother ordering cheesecake in restaurants anymore because I know it won't live up to one that I have made. It's a sad state of affairs, but it forces me to make cheesecakes at least once a year, usually for Christmas.
My only exception to eating/baking plain cheesecake is baking pumpkin cheesecake at Thanksgiving. A couple of years ago, my cousin brought a Trader Joe's pumpkin cheesecake to our meal and I have been obsessed with making the perfect pumpkin cheesecake ever since. Over the years I have tried a few different recipe combinations for the crust and the filling. Last year, I finally perfected it. I use a modified version of the basic graham cracker crust and the pumpkin cheesecake recipes in The Joy of Cheesecake.
In my opinion, if you're going to bake dessert, you might as well go full fat/calories or it just isn't going to taste as good. Run a few extra miles that week, but don't substitute ingredients so it's more healthy for you. Dessert isn't supposed to be healthy, that's why it's so good.
Along the same lines, don't cut corners and buy a pre-made graham cracker crust. I've never used one so I can't say that they taste bad, but making a graham cracker crust is so insanely easy that there's no reason to buy one that is packaged. Fresher is better and it doesn't get any fresher than crushing up the graham crackers yourself. It literally takes 5 minutes, trust me.
The best part is, the standard amount of graham cracker crumbs that you need for a crust is 1.5 cups, and the kind folks in the food packaging business thought ahead and made it so that if you crush up one sleeve of graham crackers, you get 1.5 cups. If this is a coincidence, it's a lovely one. I break up the sleeve of graham crackers with my hands and put them in a gallon-size plastic bag. Then I roll the can of pumpkin (or anything that is around) over the graham crackers to crush them up. Then you pour the crumbs in a bowl, add some sugar and butter, mix, and you're done. It couldn't be easier!
For the pumpkin cheesecake, I add some cinnamon, all spice, ginger, and nutmeg to the crumbs before I add the butter. I tried a few variations of a crust using ginger snaps, but they turned out hard as a rock every time. I found that using the graham crackers and adding the ginger snap spices works much better. You then press the crumbs into the bottom of a spring form pan.
Once you mix up your cheesecake filling, you just pour it over the crust in the spring form pan. Some recipes, including the pumpkin cheesecake recipe that I use, have you cook the cheesecake at a high temperature for around 15 minutes and then lower the temperature and continue baking. Make sure you fully read your recipe before you start baking! Also, make sure you bake your cheesecake far enough in advance so it has time to chill in your fridge. I usually like to let it chill overnight, but if you're in a pinch, a few hours should do it. Look, only a couple of small cracks!
The past couple of weeks that I've been cooking, I've been using a handy cookbook stand that Nick got me for Christmas last year.
It fits perfectly on the window sill in our kitchen and protects the pages from messes.
When we renovate our kitchen next year we're going to have to make sure to keep that wide window sill!