[Photographs: Vicky Wasik] For those of us who have a thrifty streak and like to make the most of seasonal produce, there are any number of “hacks” to minimize food waste. My favorite is to take scraps most people would throw away and macerate them […]
Month: July 2019
[Photograph: Vicky Wasik] Here’s an easy, no-fuss method for making the most of your summer cherry haul: After making cherry pie, cherry ice cream, or any other cherry treat, toss all those pits with a bit of sugar. This will draw out all the flavor […]
A tuna steak may be the color of red meat, but to my mouth, swordfish is the fish that offers the most steak-like eating experience. Buttery, juicy, and meaty, swordfish has a substantialness that few other creatures of the ocean can match.
Grilling it is one of the best ways to bring those meaty qualities to the fore. It’s easy to do, relying on only a few important steps: choosing the right piece of swordfish, preparing the grill correctly, and grilling the steaks just right.
How to Choose Swordfish Steaks for Grilling
Swordfish rarely arrives at your local fish market whole—it’s just too big of a fish. This makes it harder to determine the freshness of what you’re buying. You can’t check the clearness of the eyes or the pinkness of the gills, or use any of the handful of other methods we recommend for judging freshness when you’re planning to cook a whole fish. With swordfish, you have only a few ways to determine if it’s still good to eat.
It’s difficult to judge the freshness of swordfish by looks alone, but it doesn’t hurt to consider appearances. Look for swordfish steaks that are light in color, ranging from cream to gently pink to ivory. What you don’t want is swordfish flesh that’s turned a dull brown tint. Swordfish also has some darker muscle tissue that runs through it, which can turn a deeper brown with age; if there’s a slight reddish tint, that can suggest freshness.
A better measure is smell. Like all fish, swordfish at the market should never be stinky or smell unpleasantly fishy. Instead, it should have a faint and distinctly clean fish aroma. These can be difficult for some folks to tell apart—isn’t any fishy smell a bad smell?—but there is indeed a difference. Think of it this way: You want your fish to smell like a pleasant ocean breeze, not like the docks after a day in the hot sun.
There’s an additional consideration when you’re choosing swordfish for grilling: size. Fish, being a more delicate protein than, say, beef, has a tendency to stick and fall apart on the grill. Swordfish is more robust than many flakier options, but it can still meet that fate.
This is easy enough to avoid if you follow our grilling instructions below, but before any of that, you want to choose swordfish steaks that won’t make things harder than necessary.
The thickness of the steak is most important. You want a piece of swordfish that’s about one to one and a half inches thick. Any thinner, and it’ll be more likely to bend and break when you try to flip it; it’ll also be more likely to cook through before the fish has fully released from the grill (more on that below). You’ll end up with a difficult choice: attempt to remove the fish when it’s properly cooked but risk breaking or tearing it, or leave it on longer to ensure it’s easy to remove but risk overcooking it.
The overall size of the steak is the other consideration. There’s nothing wrong with trying to grill a large cross section of swordfish, but the bigger the slab of fish, the more likely it is to break when you flip and lift it. It’s just like trying to flip a massive pancake—the bigger it is relative to the spatula size, the higher your chances of ruining it during the flip.
It’s best to buy a very large piece of swordfish and then cut it into smaller portions yourself, or you can ask your fishmonger to portion the fish for you.
How to Grill Swordfish Steaks: Step by Step
Step 1: Prep Your Grill
Setting up your grill for swordfish steaks follows the same basic best practices for grilling anything else. You want to preheat your grill and grill grate, clean the grate well with a grill brush, and oil the grate. A hot, clean, and oiled grill grate will be much less likely to severely stick to your fish than a gunky, cold one.
I recommend setting your grill up for a two-zone fire, which means spreading the lit charcoal over one half of the charcoal grate while leaving the other half empty. This allows you to sear the fish over high heat, and then move it, if necessary, to a cooler portion of the grill to finish cooking over indirect heat.
Whether or not you need to do the finishing step over indirect heat will largely depend on the thickness of your fish. A thinner swordfish steak may be done as soon as both sides are nicely seared, while a thicker one may need a few extra minutes for the heat to penetrate more deeply to the center.
Step 2: Prep the Swordfish Steaks
While your grill is preheating, you can prep your fish. This might include portioning it into more manageable sizes, if that still needs to be done. You’ll also want to dry the fish well on both sides, using paper towels, which will help speed up the searing process and reduce the chances that the swordfish sticks to the grill.
To that end, another thing I like to do is lightly rub the dried steaks with a neutral oil, like canola or vegetable oil. It’s just one more bit of insurance against sticking.
Step 3: Grill the Swordfish
When your grill is ready and your fish is ready, it’s time to grill. Season the fish all over with salt and, if you want, pepper. Remember: Pepper is a spice and therefore always optional, while salt is a fundamental flavor agent—absolutely required, unless you’re on a salt-restricted diet.
Salt draws moisture out of proteins like fish and other meats, so I make sure to sprinkle it on the swordfish at the last second. After we’ve made sure to dry the surface of the fish well, the last thing we want to do is get it wet again right before putting it on the grill.
I start by setting the swordfish steaks over the hotter section of the grill to get a good initial sear on the first side. Even with all of the preparations we’ve made, the fish will still likely stick to the grill grate at first, so do your best to refrain from attempting to lift or move the steaks prematurely. They should release on their own once they’ve browned well.
If the fish has adhered to the grill grate at all, the best way to release it isn’t to try to jam a metal spatula underneath. Instead, slide a thin metal tool, like the tines of a carving fork, or even the spatula blade itself, down between the grill grates and under the fish. Then gently lift from below, being careful not to force it if it’s stuck on tight.
Now turn the fish and repeat on the second side. As you can see in the photos here, I’ve put a crosshatch pattern on the swordfish steak by rotating it roughly 45 degrees partway through searing on each side. Is that necessary? No, absolutely not. There is no benefit to trying to brand the fish with a diamond pattern, aside from the fact that it kinda looks nice. It comes with a risk, too, which is that in order to do it, you need to lift and rotate the fish even earlier than if you just left it until it was time to flip. So, do it or don’t do it; it’s up to you.
If the fish isn’t cooked through to your desired doneness at this point, allow it to finish cooking over the cooler area of the grill, flipping and rotating it every minute or two for even cooking.
Step 4: Determining Doneness
This gets us to the last question: How do you know when your grilled swordfish steaks are done?
The two main factors that will determine doneness are the thickness of your swordfish steaks and the heat of the grill, which, in turn, is determined by a dizzying number of variables, including the type and quantity of charcoal you’re using, its distribution on the charcoal grate, how long it’s been burning, the distance between the grill grate and the charcoal, and where exactly on the grill you’ve placed your fish.
It is, in short, impossible to give any meaningful time estimates for doneness, and you should be wary of any recipes that do.
In my experience, if you’re cooking over direct heat, you can usually get a good sear on each side of a swordfish steak in about four or five minutes, give or take a couple minutes here or there. That’s all you need for the exterior—a good sear. But you still need to make sure it’s cooked nicely in the center.
For me, perfectly cooked swordfish is somewhere in the zone of medium to medium-well, where there’s still a portion of slightly translucent flesh in the center that’s warmed through, but not chalky or dry. Others might want their fish more well-done. The USDA says you should cook fish to 145°F (63°C) in the center to make sure you’ve killed any possible pathogens. That’s well-done in the world of fish, and too hot for my tastes, but if you want to follow their guidelines, there you go.
I prefer to aim for an internal temperature closer to about 130°F (54°C) for swordfish. Keep in mind, though, that when you’re attempting to take the temperature of a piece of fish this thin, moving the probe even one millimeter in one direction or another can give you a different reading. As accurate as a good thermometer has the potential to be, it’s not perfect in this scenario. Kenji has described how to account for this in his article on how to use an instant-read thermometer.
In short, you push the probe all the way through the piece of meat, then slowly draw it back up until you find the inflection point where the temperature is lowest. That should help you hit close to the true temperature center. Even so, it’s not a guarantee.
That’s why I also employ a totally unscientific method that I’ve developed over years of cooking, and one that I think everyone else should try to cultivate as well: psychic doneness readings. That’s right. On this empirically driven cooking website, I’m encouraging you to imagine the heat penetrating into the fish, and use a sense of intuition to help guide you.
Okay, I’m kidding about the psychic part, but in all seriousness, intuition is an essential part of cooking ability. It takes some experience to become good at it, and it’s certainly not foolproof, but when you combine it with a thermometer, you’ll tend to get better results than either method alone is likely to deliver.
On more occasions than I can count, I’ve overridden the numbers my instant-read thermometer was telling me based on nothing more than a carefully honed gut feeling, and saved the meal as a result. Not because my thermometer was broken or inaccurate, but because I knew that it had limitations of its own, especially on thinner cuts like this. Like self-driving cars and automatic pilot systems on airplanes, cooking still requires some degree of human oversight to make corrections when the machines fail us. And they do fail us.
You are the last safeguard against poorly cooked food. Don’t ruin pricey swordfish steaks by forgetting that.
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3. Season swordfish steaks all over with salt and, if desired, pepper, then set over hot side of grill. Cook swordfish until first side is well seared and the fish releases from the grill grate, about 5 minutes. If the fish sticks, try to gently […]
[Photograph: Vicky Wasik] There are a few items every rental-home kitchen seems guaranteed to have—and they’re never the ones you need. There will be unlabeled jars of clumpy spice powders, one plastic cutting board with corners curling in toward the middle, a dull carving knife […]
There’s certainly a time and a place for low-and-slow grilling—allowing huge slabs of meat to smoke and slowly turn fall-apart tender via indirect heat. After all, that’s how true pulled pork, Texas-style brisket, and other delicacies of American barbecue are made.
While indisputably delicious, these dishes require the kind of time that most of us have only on weekends. That doesn’t mean grilling is out of the question during the week, though—the intense heat levels a grill can achieve make it a practical method for quickly cooking steaks, chops, fish, and more.
With that in mind, we’ve collected 21 of our favorite fast grilling recipes—including skewers, seafood, and perfectly flame-kissed vegetables—all of which are done in 45 minutes or less. Check out our guide to grilling for even more recipes and helpful how-tos.
Grilled Snacks and Side Dishes
It’s not hard to see why these grilled cheese skewers are such a popular snack in Brazil—how do you argue with molten cheese on a stick? Plus, they’re so easy, they practically make themselves. The cheese of choice, queijo de coalho (available online if you’re not lucky enough to have a Brazilian market nearby), typically comes pre-skewered, so all you have to do is grill the skewers until the cheese is deeply golden brown on the outside and warmed through.
This recipe showcases our preferred way to grill crisp green vegetables so that they actually stay crisp even as they char. By placing the vegetables on a small wire rack directly over a chimney starter full of hot coals, you ensure they get hit hard with the intense heat they need to cook through quickly without turning limp. Stalks of broccolini, cooked until just tender and dressed in umami-rich XO sauce, are a perfect illustration of the process.
Save the snap in your sugar snaps by grilling them with the same hot-and-fast chimney-starter method used for the broccolini above. Once they’re well blistered, we pair these sweet snap peas with a creamy buttermilk-dill dressing for a nicely dippable backyard snack.
It’s really easy to burn asparagus on the grill, or overcook it until the stalks are floppy and flaccid. Using the chimney-starter method lightly chars the asparagus and helps the spears retain a slight bite. An herb-filled Green Goddess Dressing makes an excellent dipping partner.
Cabbage may seem like an underwhelming choice for a vegetable side, but when
prepared on the grill, it develops a nutty, sweet flavor and tons of crisply charred edges. Cutting the head into wedges, but leaving the root end intact, allows you to grill it without it falling apart. This version pairs the cabbage with a punchy Thai dressing of hot chilies, fish sauce, lime juice, garlic, and herbs; for alternatives, check out our Grilled Cabbage With Blue Cheese Dressing and Grilled Cabbage With Yogurt and Mint.
Grilling brings out the best in fresh summer corn: The powerful heat helps concentrate the kernels’ sweetness, and, if you use our recommended method of shucking before grilling, adds a pleasant char to the exterior. Basic grilled corn needs very little adornment, but if you want to get adventurous, try adding flavorings, like garlic and ginger soy butter, harissa and mint, or spicy chili mayo.
Perhaps the best way in the world to serve grilled corn, and certainly our personal favorite, is in the form of elotes, or Mexican street corn. Simply slather your lightly charred corn with a creamy mixture of mayo, garlic, cilantro, chili powder, and Cotija cheese. A squeeze of lime finishes it off, cutting through the richness of the cheese and mayonnaise.
Like cabbage and other brassicas, cauliflower benefits from an intense blast of heat to bring out its sweetness, and a grill is the perfect tool for the job. An earthy spice rub with just a bit of heat gives this cauliflower lots of flavor, while starting over direct heat and finishing over indirect leaves the thick wedges crisp on the outside and tender inside.
Grilled Main Dishes
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts often get a bad rap for turning out tough, overcooked, and low on flavor. But when time is tight, and as long as you’re willing to invest a little extra care and attention, they can be among the best cuts of meat to bring to the grill. We brine the meat quickly before cooking to maintain its juiciness and flavor, and dry the breasts thoroughly to achieve browning faster. Pounding the breasts to an even thickness also helps them cook more evenly.
When you’ve got mere minutes to get dinner on the table, these chicken cutlets are the answer. Because they’re so thin, they cook through in record time, and a marinade of garlic, rosemary, lemon juice, and olive oil doubles nicely as a finishing sauce. We grill them on the first side until they’re golden brown and almost cooked through before flipping and cooking for just 30 seconds on the second side.
As the above chicken cutlet recipe shows us, it’s entirely possible to make flavorful chicken without an hours-long marinade. For these quick chicken and cherry tomato kebabs, we first marinate the chicken briefly in a mixture of garlic, lemon juice, maple syrup, and olive oil. Grilling the tomatoes and chicken on separate skewers allows you to cook each one as long as it needs and no more, so the little tomatoes don’t end up shriveled beyond recognition by the time the chicken is tender and charred.
This is a skewer for those who prefer their meat simple and unadorned, without any marinades or sauces to get in the way of the rich lamb flavor. Though mutton is traditional, we swap in more accessible lamb shoulder and thread chunks of lamb fat on the skewers along with the meat for extra flavor. Using our new-and-improved skewer-grilling setup allows you to minimize the distance between the coals and the skewers, for a faster cooking time resulting in charred and juicy meat.
This is a burger for when you want to get fancy: Though it comes together in just 30 minutes, and the patties themselves are fairly basic, an impressive array of toppings makes them fit for a special occasion. The juicy patties, formed from freshly ground beef chuck, are topped with lightly seared romaine lettuce, garlic confit, and a generous slab of garlic-parsley compound butter, which melts alluringly into both the meat and the bun.
In this Chilean sandwich, the familiar pairing of grilled beef on a bun gets finished with juicy sliced tomatoes and a much less familiar ingredient—cooked green beans. It might sound like an unlikely combination, but somehow it works. You’ll want to cook the beans until they’re well softened, so that they integrate fully into the sandwich.
Blackened-fish sandwiches are a classic Florida dish for good reason. We coat fillets of sturdy white fish, such as grouper or mahi-mahi, in a paprika-based spice rub, then grill them until they’re dark and crisp, yet still juicy and flavorful within. Once cooked, the fillets are stacked on tender rolls with lettuce, tomato, and a creamy condiment, like mayo, tartar sauce, or rémoulade. It’s a simple and easy-to-make sandwich that tastes like pure summer.
Halibut is a flaky, meaty white fish that becomes near-glorious when simply grilled with salt and pepper, using the method we recommend for all grilled fish fillets. Pat the fillets dry with paper towels, brush them with oil, and season them liberally before adding them to the grill. Once the fish is cooked, it needs no more gussying up than a squeeze of lemon before it’s ready to eat.
Though they’re small fish, sardines pack a ton of flavor. Once they’re grilled, they don’t need much more than a squeeze of lemon juice, but a marinade of olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic before they’re cooked helps reinforce that flavor. A little smoked Spanish paprika in the marinade accentuates the smokiness the fish draw from the live fire. Check out our guide to buying, cleaning, and filleting fresh sardines if you’ve never cooked with them before.
Few dishes taste more like the Mediterranean coast than simple grilled squid sprinkled with olive oil and lemon juice. Carefully drying the cleaned squid bodies before they’re grilled ensures they turn out well browned, while placing them over intense direct heat helps them sear quickly before they overcook and become rubbery.
The classic combination of fennel-scented Italian sausage and sweet and tangy peppers doesn’t need much improvement, but a multistep cooking process avoids some of the common pitfalls of grilling sausages, including the dreaded blowout. We cook the sausages in a pan placed directly over the grill, along with the sautéed peppers and onions, then finish them on the hot side of the grill to give them color and char.
This recipe follows the same method used for the Italian sausages above, but with a completely different set of flavors. For juicy, snappy grilled brats, start by cooking them in a bath of sauerkraut, beer, and mustard in a disposable aluminum pan placed right on top of the grill grate. After the sausages have slowly simmered in the liquid and absorbed its flavor, finish them over scorching direct heat to get them nicely browned.
Grilling a whole beef tenderloin might sound like a long project better suited to the weekend, but this supremely impressive main dish actually comes together in just 45 minutes. First, we encrust the tenderloin in salt, which seasons the meat deeply and insulates it against the heat. A damp kitchen towel wrapped around the tenderloin then helps the salt adhere, forming a crust, before the whole package is thrown directly into the hot coals. The towel simply burns away during the cook, leaving nothing but perfectly rare or medium-rare meat.
Halloumi is a salty and squeaky semi-soft cheese from Cyprus that takes well to grilling, since it’s firm enough to hold its shape over very high heat. Here, we thread the cubed cheese onto skewers along with onions, zucchini, and tomatoes. Before cooking, the vegetables get tossed with a simple Greek-inspired marinade of olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, and herbs, for extra flavor.
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Over 160 languages are spoken in the New York City borough of Queens, more than in any other municipality on earth, and half of its 2.3 million residents were born outside the United States. People of color, who represent 50% of Queens’ population, own a […]
On the heels of my love letter to the ultimate cheesecake pan, beautifully constructed from non-reactive aluminum with a seamless design and a whopping four inches of depth, I’d be remiss not to share my recipe for the ultimate cheesecake. Of course, as per the pronouns peppered throughout that last sentence, what’s best is a subjective thing. My work in restaurants shaped my perspective of a cheesecake; I didn’t want some paltry slice showing up to the table, no fancier than a given customer could make at home.
I wanted a classic but jaw-dropping presentation, a slab of cheesecake so tall it could set itself apart from the rest before that first bite. And, of course, that first bite had to really count. It needed to taste exactly how someone would expect a New York cheesecake to taste, but better. It had to blow all their other points of comparison out of the water. It had to be creamier, more flavorful, and nuanced, with nothing gummy or cloying about it.
If it failed on any of those counts, I could rest assured the grumpy Yelp reviews would roll in. “Nothing special. Could save some money and make it myself at home.”
And so, eventually I developed a recipe that delivered across the board, something that is really special. And hey, now you can make it yourself at home.
I started with a formula that was printed in New York more than a hundred years ago, changing up the blend of ingredients but keeping the overall ratios intact. You can read more about that in my cookbook, BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts, which takes a deep dive into origins and evolution of both cream cheese and cheesecake. Here, I’ll be focusing strictly on ingredients and technique—so let’s dive in!
Preparing the Graham Cracker Crust
My preferred pan, an eight- by four-inch loose bottom style, doesn’t require any prep, but I do like to line the bottom piece with foil. Later on, when the cheesecake has been un-molded, a gentle tug on the foil will expose a nice gap between the cake itself and the pan. This makes it easy to slip an offset spatula underneath, to lift and transfer the cheesecake to a serving plate (please, don’t ever cut it into slices directly on the bottom of the pan; it’s not good for your knife, and it’s not good for the pan).
When it comes to cheesecake, I’m all about a graham cracker crust. The use of a cookie crumbs for a cheesecake crust dates all the way back to 1928, making it a perfectly traditional option despite what some purists may claim. I mean, if you don’t like it, that’s one thing! But with over 90 years of established use, let’s not pretend the graham cracker crust isn’t a legitimate option.
If you have my cookbook, along with the time and inclination, the crust offers a perfect excuse to whip up a batch of homemade graham crackers. If they don’t turn out aesthetically perfect, who cares? You’ll grind them to crumbs, and have experienced a low-key chance to play with the graham technique. The effort-to-reward ratio here pays off for sure, as their graham flavor is particularly bold. Plus, the grahams can be made as far in advance as you like. They keep for weeks at room temperature, and even longer in the freezer.
But no pressure! Your favorite brand of store bought graham crackers will do nicely. Biscoff cookies are my personal favorite on lazy days; they have a deep, graham-like flavor backed by notes of caramel and subtle spice, contrasting brilliantly with the gentle tang of the cheesecake. Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, give Biscoff-style speculoos cookies a whirl instead.
To make the crust, I don’t even bother with a bowl. Rather, I mix the cookie crumbs with salt (to taste) and butter directly in the prepared pan. Once the crumbs have been moistened, I compress them into an even layer by hand. They may feel a touch dry compared to what you might expect, but the crust will absorb moisture from the cheesecake later on, binding it all together.
Making the Cheesecake Batter
Like many of my other recipes, the filling relies on a few less-than-traditional ingredients than you’d normally find in a New York cheesecake. With all these “hacks,” my intent is always a dessert that tastes how it should, but somehow more so. For example, I use a small amount of coriander in blueberry pie to increase the blueberry aroma with a sympathetic essential oil found in coriander. Or I’ll let rose water intensify the floral sweetness of honey in a semifreddo.
In either case, the goal isn’t to make a Coriander Blueberry Pie or a Rose Honey Semifreddo. Rather, the idea is for these ingredients to add depth of flavor and aromatic complexity to the inherent flavors we want to emphasize, so that the blueberries taste more like blueberries, and the honey tastes more like honey.
So when it comes to the “secret” ingredient in my cheesecake, fresh goat cheese, please believe it’s not meant to be the star of the show or even detectible on its own. Its role in this recipe is primarily textural, breaking up the sometimes gummy texture that cream cheese can develop on its own—who hasn’t encountered a weirdly gooey cream cheese frosting, or a slice of cheesecake that somehow sticks to the roof of your mouth?
At just 11% of the cheesecake filling by weight, fresh goat cheese is a small part of the whole, serving merely to complement the cream cheese by improving its texture and offering a touch of complexity to the dairy profile, so it’s more than a one-note affair.
Because the flavor of the goat cheese won’t shine through on its own, there’s no need splurge on pricey chèvre from a local creamery, nor should you stoop to a pre-crumbled supermarket brand. Choose a fresh goat cheese that’s fresh, creamy, and soft, with a clean dairy aroma and minimal funk. When in doubt, brands like Vermont Butter & Cheese and Montchevré perform quite well, but ask someone at the cheese counter or in the dairy department, and they can point you to something subtle and mild.
Along with my cream cheese and goat cheese blend, I spike the mix with a trio of aromatics: orange flower water, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. Again, the goal isn’t to make a cheesecake that’s perfumy, or lemony, or even vanilla-y. Here, a small amount of each aromatic ingredient creates a blend that’s floral and fresh, but a little earthy, underscoring the innate qualities of the cream cheese itself.
To make the cheesecake, I combine the cheeses and aromatics in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mixing on low speed to get things started, then increasing to medium until no lumps remain. Only then will I add the sugar.
Mixing the cheeses together without sugar limits how much air they can take on, so I don’t have to worry about big bubbles or pockets forming in the batter. Once I add the sugar, everything’s already smooth, so I only need to mix until it can be absorbed.
From there, I take the bowl off the stand mixer to add the eggs by whisking them through a fine mesh sieve. It’s an unusual step, and a little time consuming, but it ensures total homogenization of the white and yolks while removing the lumps of chalazae, creating a silken consistency in the cheesecake itself.
Meanwhile, I bring a little pot of cream to a boil. Once the eggs have passed through the sieve, I resume mixing on low and add the hot cream all at once. It’s not hot or abundant enough to curdle the eggs, but it will substantially warm the batter, making it runny and thin—too loose-bodied to retain any substantial air bubbles.
Even so, I like to bounce a spoon over the surface of the cheesecake to help draw up any small bubbles that may have yet formed. If you don’t see any little bubbles rising to the top at this stage, you’re in good shape! If you do, keep bouncing the spoon here and there until they’re gone.
Baking the Cheesecake
My recipe differs from most other cheesecakes in that I put the cheesecake onto a half sheet pan to bake at 450°F (yes, you read that right) for the initial 20 minutes. This burst of high heat causes the cheesecake to puff, for a bit of aeration that gently opens its crumb. We’re not talking about the giant, fluffy cheesecakes of Japan, but rather a very subtle souffle.
Because this burst of heat is so brief, the internal temperature of the cheesecake never has the chance to climb dangerously high, so it’s not as risky a maneuver as one would think.
Still, when I’m done with this step, I shut off the heat altogether and leave the oven door ajar for 10 minutes to vent, before resuming my bake at 250°F. This low temperature obviates the need for a water bath (i.e., a giant pan filled with scalding hot water just begging to slosh around, or at least give you a steam burn).
Water baths work by insulating a cheesecake from the oven’s heat, fixing its maximum temperature exposure to 212°F, thus minimizing the risks of overheating. In this case, that risk can’t be eliminated by a water bath, however, as cheesecakes can still over-bake at internal temperatures as low as 165°F (the exact temp will depend on the recipe and degree of carryover cooking experienced out of the oven).
Water baths are particularly useful in commercial kitchens, where bakers may need to maintain higher oven temperatures while working on other, simultaneous projects (and where perforated rubber mats make sloshing hot water less of a hazard on the floor).
But in a home kitchen, the easiest way to avoid overheating a cheesecake is, well, to turn down the dang heat! Because air is a relatively poor conductor, a temperature of 250°F will provide enough heat to bake the cheesecake at a steady pace, but without fear of launching it past the danger zone in the blink of an eye.
The exact time required to bake the cheesecake will vary depending on the batter temperature, as well as the specifics of the pan (not to mention the accuracy of a given oven), and the physical cues can be a bit subjective to say the least.
For that reason, an instant-read digital thermometer is the easiest and most reliable way to test a cheesecake. Insert the probe into the very center of the cheesecake, to a depth of about two inches, and hold the thermometer as steady as you can while giving the readout time to stabilize. This cheesecake is done when it hits an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C), as carryover cooking will push it about 10° higher as it sits.
Testing the cheesecake with a thermometer won’t cause it to crack, and the tiny belly button that’s left behind will be easily covered by whatever toppings you later choose. What causes a cheesecake to crack? Over-baking, and nothing more. So please bear in mind that the times listed in any recipe are only a guideline (hence the word “about”) and keep a close eye on the cheesecake as it bakes, checking its temperature as needed to keep it safe.
After baking, let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes, then slide an offset spatula around the edges of the cheesecake (this helps it settle more evenly). Continue letting it cool at room temperature for at least an hour (or up to four) before covering it to refrigerate overnight.
That last bit is important. There’s no fast way to cool a cheesecake, all the more so for one as thick as this, so don’t rush the process. It will need at least 12 hours to cool and set; never plan on making and serving a cheesecake in a single day. If you need something faster, try myno-bake cheesecake instead.
Because traditional cheesecakes require so long to cool and keep so well in the fridge, they’re phenomenal make-ahead desserts, so use that trait to your advantage. It’s not possible—or desirable—to serve a “freshly baked” cheesecake, so if you’ve got a special occasion coming up, make that cheesecake ahead of time and lighten up your schedule for the big event. So long as the cheesecake is stored airtight, you can count on it holding up for over a week in the fridge (and, with a non-reactive pan like this, prolonged contact with the cheesecake in the fridge is no problem at all).
When it comes time to serve, loosen the sides of the cheesecake from the pan, and place it on something tall and wide, like a large can of tomatoes. With both hands on the sides of the pan, pull down firmly and voila! The sides will slip right off.
For me, this is the beauty of the loose bottom pan, as this downward motion sweeps the sides of the cheesecake into a smooth finish, without any outward pressure, as I’ve experienced with springform pans.
Transfer the cheesecake to a flat work surface, then slide an offset spatula under the cheesecake, and transfer to a serving plate. When properly baked and cooled, it will be sturdy enough to tote in one hand.
Serve the cheesecake plain, or piled high with your favorite fresh fruit—whether pitted cherries, sliced peaches, blueberries, or some fun jumble of everything that sounds best. Make a coordinating sauce by melting up a bit of your favorite jam, or try our fruit syrup for ice cream. It makes a wonderfully thick and glossy sauce for cheesecake, and works with any number of juicy fruits.
From the specialized equipment to the potential for a homemade crust, and the unusual elements in the filling, I’ll be the first to admit this cheesecake isn’t the simplest or easiest recipe around. But it’s one of the recipes I’m proudest of. And, for what it’s worth, I’m not the only one a little obsessed with this recipe; Zingerman’s Bakehouse borrowed it this spring for a limited edition Father’s Day cheesecake.
Every bite is rich and creamy, but not cloying, with a fresh and tangy flavor that seems like pure cream cheese (even though it’s not). With the subtle floral qualities of orange flower water and vanilla, and a hint of lemon for balance, it’s beautifully aromatic too, and ready to pair with whatever fresh fruit you have on hand.
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