Cooking can be scary if you don’t know how to do it. There’s always the worry that you’re going to burn something, or undercook something, or add too much salt, or not enough salt. But in general, cooking is a pretty forgiving process for the beginner. You can taste, stir, poke at, and generally manage something simmering on the stove until it comes out sort of all right.
Baking is a scarier endeavor still. You’ve got to get your ratios just right and you’ve got to do it on the first try. There’s no taste-testing halfway through.
And then there are all the ingredients you need for baking. All different shades of sugar, and which kind of flour is best? And what’s the difference between baking soda and baking powder, anyway?
If these are the things that stand between you and homemade baked goods, read on. I’ve been very slowly becoming a decent cook for a few years now, and I’ve gotten pretty pretentious about it. That person in the dairy aisle of Whole Foods asking the department manager to explain the difference in brands of organic Greek Yogurt? Yeah, that’s me. But to this day the single most important piece of information I’ve acquired is this are-you-kidding-ly simple recipe for cheesecake that I stumbled across five years ago.
To make a crowd-pleasing (and I mean CROWD PLEASING) cheesecake, you really only need four things:
16 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
Crust. You can get fancy with the crust if you want, but a quick, cheap, super-easy, and very tasty cheesecake can be made with one of those graham cracker or Oreo crusts you find in the grocery store that come in their own disposable pan and everything. (If the store tries to complicate things and give you two size options, you want the bigger one.)
OK you also need a bowl, a spoon, and an oven. But that’s honestly it; I swear. Anyone who told you tales of spring form pans and water baths was just trying to scare you into finishing your homework before bedtime.
Step 1: Leave the cream cheese out for a few hours so that it melts and is easy to work with, or, if you can’t get it together for that much forward thinking, just buy whipped cream cheese and leave it in the fridge until you’re ready to bake. Preheat the oven to 350.
Step 2: Stir up your cream cheese, eggs, and sugar in a large bowl (or use a mixer if that’s what you’re into, but those things take up counter space and can be complicated to clean. We’re going for real simple here.) until everything is well blended and has about the consistency of cake batter.
Step 3: Pour your mixture into the crust and bake at 350 for about half an hour, or until a skewer/knife/piece of dry spaghetti inserted into the cheesecake comes out clean. The edges should be starting to turn golden brown, and the top may split in the middle like a loaf of bread.
Step 4: Let it cool and enjoy it! It will keep well in the fridge for…well…I’ve never really kept one around long enough for it to go bad, so I’m not sure, but at least a few days.
Now, this simple version of cheesecake will be an instant hit, and boost the confidence of any beginning baker. If your new-found cheesecake mastery makes you wonder what other things you can do, the possibilities for adapting this recipe are endless, and relatively risk-free. My favorites include:
-As soon as you take your cheesecake out of the oven, put strawberries on top.
-Heat up your favorite dark chocolate until it liquefies, and pour it into the center of your cheesecake just before putting it in the oven. Then make a swirly pattern with a knife.
If you want to ruin a perfectly good, easy recipe by turning it into an all-day project, feel free to up your game by making your own graham cracker crust, or even your own graham crackers. The more you make your ingredients from scratch, the better you can avoid GMOs, allergens, or whatever your own personal taboo food product might be.
What’s your favorite way to eat cheesecake?
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