Lemon Curd Cheesecake – Bake Ahead Holiday Dessert

Outside the windchill is frigid. Inside, there is a cheesecake in the oven, the house feels toasty warm, and the Christmas tree is up and decorated. As of yet, there are only a few gifts beneath it, so it’s still open for viewing – from the bottom up.

I lie under the tree with the room lights off and the tree lights fully illuminated and breathe in. The scent of pine floats over, and the soft white light causes the whole tree to glow.

This view of the tree became a tradition in our house when our girls were little. One of them was rolling on the floor close to the tree having a tantrum when she suddenly stopped cold. She’d looked up and become absorbed by how the light hit the branches and reflected off of the ornaments in rainbow prisms and sparkles. All vestiges of the tantrum evaporated in a single moment of distraction. We got down on the floor with her, wanting to reward her new, calm behavior. And we became absorbed too.

The girls are older now, but we’ve carried on the tradition. Today, whoever is needing a moment of calm and peace simply squeezes under the tree to absorb the glow and the scent. Most of our holiday traditions are that way – simple.

I find that if I can remember that one word, “simple,” my holidays nourish the soul. If not, well, you’ve been there too.

So I wish you simple this season – in all things, including cheesecake recipes.

Lemon Curd Cheesecake

These two recipes highlight two different ways of easing a cheesecake in and out of baking – slowly raising and lowering the temperature of the batter – to prevent it from drying out or cracking. One uses steam, the other a water bath or, to use the technical term, a bain marie.

Cheesecakes are easily frozen and thawed, should you want to get ahead of the holiday craziness and make it ahead of time. Remove the cheesecake from its springform pan and place it on a cardboard round, then either wrap well or place in a large plastic container with a lid and freeze. It will thaw in several hours at room temperature, then keep it in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve it.

The tricks to making a successful cheesecake are simple.  They also make sense when you understand the reason behind them.

Eggs, a major component of cheesecakes, don’t like to be heated quickly or subject to high heat.  Instead they like to be handled gently and with a little tender loving care.  They freak out when the heat is too fast or too high, curdling or puffing up, both of which we don’t want in a cheesecake.  This is why having all ingredients at room temperature to begin with helps.  Another trick is some sort of water – either in the form of steam or a water bath, to mitigate the formation of a crust and to gentle the heat.  Lastly, letting the cheesecake cool down in the oven helps gentle the change in heat and prevents those craters we don’t want to see in our cheesecakes.

Vanilla Cheesecake
Adapted from a recipe given to me by Ed Quinn. Leave the cream cheese on the counter for 1 hour to reach room temperature.

Serves 12

1 1/4 cups finely crushed vanilla wafers
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus a little extra for the pan

3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
5 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup vanilla-flavored liqueur, such as homemade bourbon vanilla or French Vanilla Kahlua
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Lightly grease a 10-inch springform pan. To make the crust, mix the wafers and butter together in a small bowl. Press the crumb mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan.

To make the cheesecake, place a large pan on the lowest rack of your oven and fill it with water to produce steam as the cheesecake bakes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the cream cheese in the large bowl of an electric mixer. Gradually add the sugar and cornstarch. Add the cream and mix well. The mixture will resemble whipped cream. Add the whole eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the egg yolk, liqueur and vanilla and mix well. Pour the batter over the crust. Bake for 15 minutes, then lower oven temperature to 200 degrees F and bake for 60 to 70 minutes. When the cheesecake is done, the center should no longer look wet or shiny but should still be jiggly. Turn the oven off and keep the oven door closed. Let the cake cool in the oven for 2 hours, then remove, cover and refrigerate at least 3 to 4 hours.

When you are ready to serve it, release the cake from the pan by running a thin knife around its edge. To make clean cuts, dip the knife in hot water after each slice.

Lemon Curd Cheesecake
I’m afraid I’ve forgotten who gave me this recipe, but whoever you are – thank you! Leave the cream cheese on the counter for 1 hour to reach room temperature.

Serves 12

2 whole graham crackers, finely ground
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

3 (8-ounce packages) cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Lemon curd:
2 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
6 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons lemon zest
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup crème fraîche
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

To make the cheesecake, preheat the oven to 275 degrees F. Brush the inside of a 10-inch springform pan with butter and sprinkle with graham cracker crumbs, tilting and tapping the pan to coat evenly. Place the pan over two layers of aluminum foil and pull up the sides. This is to prevent water from the water bath from leaking into your pan. Place both the pan and the foil in a large roasting pan and bring a pot of water to boil.

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese with a mixer until smooth. Gradually add the sugar and then the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.

Pour the batter into the springform pan. Move the roasting pan into the oven, then pour boiling water into it to come at least halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

Bake the cheesecake 60 to 70 minutes or until the cheesecake is set but the center is still jiggly. Turn the oven off, keep the oven door closed and cool the cheesecake in the oven for 2 hours. Remove the cake and the water bath from the oven.

Prepare the lemon curd about 1 hour before the cheesecake is ready.

In a medium saucepan over low heat, whisk the yolks, eggs, sugar, lemon zest and juice. Heat, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens to a mound, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat and add the crème fraîche. Stir in the butter, one-third at a time.

Strain the curd through a fine-meshed sieve to remove any egg you inadvertently scrambled, then spread it on top of the cooled cheesecake. Refrigerate the cheesecake 3 to 4 hours.

When you are ready to serve it, release the cake from the pan by running a thin knife around its edge. To make clean cuts, dip the knife in hot water after each slice.

2 thoughts on “Lemon Curd Cheesecake – Bake Ahead Holiday Dessert

  1. Question on the lemon curd cheesecake (which I’m hoping to make this weekend): for the crush, is that supposed to be 2 packages of graham crackers, finely ground? Just 2 crackers doesn’t seem like quite enough…

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