How to make perfect cheesecake five ways

Photo: Ronnie Fein

By Ronnie Fein, The Nosher Via JTA

You know Shavuot is coming when you begin to see cheesecakes everywhere. Countless variations in the bakeries and supermarkets. Endless numbers of recipes in the media. Cheesecake is the iconic Shavuot dessert, as sacrosanct as a Hanukkah latke or Passover matzah ball.

Unfortunately, cheesecake is one of those deceptively simple recipes, the kind that requires some tips and techniques to get right. Also, not everyone agrees on what makes a cheesecake perfect. Some like it dense; others, fluffier. Purists say it should be simple, but lots of people prefer it fancy, with flavors and toppings.

Long ago I created a basic batter that works for almost any type of cheesecake you can imagine. In our family we prefer a dense, rich, creamy version, so I use all cream cheese. But sometimes I make a slight change to lighten it up (I use 1 cup of ricotta cheese to replace 8 ounces of the cream cheese in my recipe). We like it slightly tangy too, so I usually include sour cream or unflavored Greek yogurt. But if I don’t have either of those in my fridge I substitute with an additional ½ cup of cream and add a tablespoon of flour to better bind the batter together.

This basic batter is amazingly versatile. You can use it to concoct all sorts of fabulous variations — strawberry-topped or chocolate or pumpkin and even elaborate versions such as “turtle” cheesecake. Here are some of my favorite adaptations:

Chocolate Cheesecake: add 10 ounces melted, cooled semisweet chocolate to the batter.

Half-and-Half Cheesecake: add 5 ounces melted chocolate to half the batter, spoon the chocolate batter into the pan, then carefully spoon the vanilla batter on top.

Pumpkin Cheesecake: replace white sugar with brown sugar; omit the sour cream and replace with ¾ cup mashed pumpkin (canned is fine); stir in 1½ tsp. ground cinnamon, 1 tsp. grated nutmeg, one tsp. ground ginger and one tsp .grated orange peel to the batter.

Berry-topped Cheesecake: place whole berries on top of cooled cake, brush with melted apricot preserves or currant jam.

“Turtle” Cheesecake: omit the graham cracker coating for the pan. Instead, make a bottom crust by combining 1 cup crushed graham crackers with ¼ cup brown sugar, then work in 4 tbsp butter until crumbly. Press into the pan and bake (no need for the second pan yet) for 10-12 minutes. Spoon in the basic batter and bake as in the basic recipe. Let the cake cool.

For the top: heat ¼ cup cream until hot, add 3 ounces chopped chocolate and stir until melted. Let cool slightly and spread over cool cake. Scatter 2 tbsp. chopped nuts on top. Optional: pour caramel sauce on top of cut slices of cake.

Ronnie Fein is a freelance food and lifestyle writer. Over the years she has written for the food sections of various newspapers and is the author of four cookbooks: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cooking Basics, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to American Cooking, Hip Kosher, and The Modern Kosher Kitchen.  The Nosher food blog offers a dazzling array of new and classic Jewish recipes and food news, from Europe to Yemen, from challah to shakshuka and beyond. Check it out at