Growing up, my sister, my mother and I always had the same cake for our birthdays–a chocolate layer cake with a hint of coffee in the cake and a splash Tia Maria in the icing. I think the recipe originally came from my aunt Carolyn, and it deserves a whole post of it’s own (stay tuned!). It’s a family favorite, and I still make it for my mom every year. The one deviator from this birthday tradition was my father, who didn’t have much of a chocolate sweet tooth (then, at least–I think he’s amended his ways). Instead, his birthday treat of choice was a lemony cheesecake with a graham cracker crust. It’s creamy, both lightly sweet and slightly sour, and entirely tasty. And though I don’t often make it home for his birthday, this cake still always makes me think of celebrating my dad.
In my mother’s words (as written in the “Jenny and Jeff Happily Ever After Cookbook,” something she created for my cousin Jenny’s wedding in 2000–more to come on this one someday, too), this cheesecake is “pretty easy and very tasty.” As usual, my mom is right. The recipe does come together really easily–especially if you cheat a little and buy a pre-made crust, as I did this time around–with just a little measuring and mixing. The trickiest part, if you’re not organized enough to make it the night before, if figuring out how many hours ahead you need to get started to let it chill in the fridge long enough to set.
One other planning note–after the cheesecake base has baked for 35 minutes, you pull it back out and pour on a sweetened sour cream topping, then put the cake back in the (now turned off) oven to set for five minutes. As I was pouring the base ingredients into the pie crust I started to think I wasn’t going to have room for the topping, so I spooned a bit back out (wishing I had bought the teeny pre-made graham cracker crusts I saw in the grocery store. Next time for sure), and I think I made the right choice. I would suggest not filling the pie crust all the way to the top edge, to avoid topping spilling out. It’s something you’ll have to eyeball a bit, and either way it won’t impact the taste, just the aesthetics.
According to my mom, the recipe came from a Washington Post food page of long, long ago, with the heading “Cliff Read’s Lemon Cheesecake” and the following commentary, “Adapted from a recipe Read saw on television years ago, this cheesecake recipe has a tartness that cuts the sweet blandness of most cheesecakes, but not the calories.” Sadly, a quick google didn’t turn up any intel on who Cliff Read may have been or what television show inspired his recipe.
I like the cheesecake plain, but my mom also recommends either topping it with slightly sweetened berries (whatever kind you like) or serving it with a simple raspberry sauce–defrost a package of raspberries frozen in syrup, run them through a blender, and then put through a sieve to remove the seeds. Fancy and delicious. But this cheesecake is also great all on it’s own, and especially lovely when topped with birthday candles. Your call.
1 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 9 double crackers)
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tsp cinnamon
12 oz cream cheese, room temp
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tbs lemon juice
grated rind of 2 lemons (or just one for milder taste)
1 cup sour cream
2 tbs sugar
1 tbs lemon juice
Crush the graham crackers in a ziplock bag using a rolling pin. Mix crumbs well with butter and cinnamon. Spread mixture with your fingers in the bottom of a 9 inch pie pan and part was up the sides. Refrigerate ten minutes.
Mix all filling ingredients until smooth. Add to pie shell and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 35 minutes. Mix ingredients for topping, pour over cheesecake base. Turn the oven off, then place the cheesecake back in for 5 minutes for the topping to set. Refrigerate cheesecake for several hours (at least 3-4) or overnight.