Say Cheese(cake): Low-fat New York Cheesecake

When asked what she would like for her birthday cake this year, my grandma requested a cheesecake. I'd never made cheesecake before so I started with a little research, as usual.

First came the recipe selection. Lately, I've been doing less low-fat baking than I had in the past. I just find that "full-fat" recipes yield tastier baked goods. This time I had to make an exception though. Most of the recipes out there for great cheesecakes contain extremely decadent ingredient lists including some combination of: several blocks of full-fat cream cheese, whipping cream, sour cream, and multiple whole eggs. 

I wouldn't feel great serving something quite that heavy to my family so luckily I found this recipe for a low-fat cheesecake. Even better, it doesn't require any "weird" ingredients like tofu and cottage cheese. While it doesn't quite have the silkiness you can only get with all the rich ingredients of a typical cheesecake, it was still deliciously creamy and light thanks to the meringue. A pretty decent trade-off, if you ask me.  

It seems like every experienced cheesecake baker has their secret to the perfect cake. Most of the tips and tricks I read were aimed at preventing the number one cheesecake-ruining culprit: cracking. Some recommended using the cream cheese straight from the fridge, while others said to wait for the cheese to come to room temperature. Many recipes called for baking the cheesecake in a waterbath or placing a pan of hot water in the oven. There were various ways of cooling cheesecake as well: in the oven, on the counter under a bowl etc. etc...

I used cold cream cheese, baked the cake with a pan of water in the oven and cooled the cake gradually in the oven for about 30 minutes before removing it to a cooling rack. I also found it helpful to line the bottom and sides of the pan with parchment paper so the cheesecake could shrink upon cooling without resistance from the sides. I breathed a sigh of relief when the cake was finished, crack free. It left a nice smooth surface for some personalization, too! 

Recipe after the jump!

Low-fat New York Cheesecake

Serves 12
Note: Neufchatel cheese is the same thing as Philadelphia Light cream cheese (the kind with 38% less fat in Canada); don't use non-fat cream cheese.

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (from 9 full-sized crackers)
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted

4 large egg whites at room temperature
1 cup sugar
12 ounces (1.5 bricks) Neufchatel cheese, cold
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Topping (I omitted this)
1 1/2 cups reduced-fat sour cream
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Position a rack in the upper third of the oven. Preheat to 350 F. Lightly spray a 9-inch nonstick springform pan with oil. Line the bottom and sides of the pan with parchment paper.
  2. Stir together cracker crumbs, sugar and butter until well combined. Press mixture into the bottom of the pan. Use a measuring cup to help form the crust. Set the crust in the refrigerator.
  3. In a clean bowl, beat egg whites until foamy. Increase the speed to high and beat until soft peaks form. Beat in the sugar and whip until stiff, shiny peaks form.
  4. In another bowl, beath the cheese and vanilla on medium speed until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add egg whites and beat on low speed until combined. Do not overmix--it should take no longer than 10 seconds. If you have trouble combining the cold cream cheese mixture with the egg whites, vigorously whip them together with a whisk, just until combined. A few small lumps are ok.
  5. Turn into prepared pan, smooth the top. Bake until edges are slightly puffed and very lightly browned, about 25 minutes. The center will seem somewhat unset. Remove the cake to a wire cooling rack. Increase the oven to 475 F.
  6. To make the topping: mix the sour cream, sugar and vanilla in a small bowl. Spread the topping over the hot cheesecake. Return the cake to the oven and cook until the topping looks set around the edges, about 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature in the pan on a wire rack. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Recipe adapted from the Healthy Oven Baking Book

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