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Got cheesecake? Now is the time for it

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We had a big discussion of cheesecake at home last week, after I made the pumpkin cheesecake for Thanksgiving. As I mentioned at the time, I rather regretted making it rather than a pumpkin pie. But New Year's Eve is a wonderful time for cheesecake, rich as it is. The actual cheesecake recipe is usually simple, relying on the ingredients for taste.

If you want to do the New York thing you can prepare some sweetened sour cream while the cheesecake is in the oven, and then pour it over the cooled cheesecake before you take off the rim of the spring form pan that it bakes in (chill it for an hour after that so it firms up). Other choices for a cheesecake topping are any sweetened coulis of fresh fruit and even chocolate sauce, although I don't like the combination much. But chocolate and cheesecake are mingled quite often, as you will notice if you look at them in a store.

I shop frequently at Costco in Tucson, and they have some excellent baked goods there for sale. You can get the sampler-type of cheesecake, which is an assortment of slices put together like a single cheesecake. The flavors frequently include fruits, chocolate and decorative garnishes. You might want to have one on hand for a crowd in which there is a variety of likes and dislikes.

But I still don't think you can go wrong if you make a plain, delicious cream cheesecake. Here is a recipe, but one thing to note is that you do not absolutely have to make a graham-cracker crust. Any plain cookie will do, from zwieback wafers to gingersnaps to butter cookies. My mother used to use the zwieback slices because she didn't want the crust to be extremely sweet, so there's that.

If I were to make this recipe I would substitute the 8-ounce packages of Tofutti cream cheese substitute, which I used for the pumpkin cheesecake. I promise you that you can make a lovely dairy-free cheesecake with it, and top it perhaps with a strawberry sauce, which is what I would be inclined to do. I am thinking that next time I want to do a cheesecake dessert I will make one of each--dairy and dairy free--and perhaps my guests can taste test. Could be fun. Just sayin'.

CLASSIC CREAM CHEESECAKE

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups cookie crumbs
3 Tablespoons organic granulated sugar
1/3 cup melted organic butter
4 packages (8 oz. each) organic cream cheese at room temperature
1 cup organic sugar
1 teaspoon organic vanilla extract
4 large organic eggs at room temperature

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

Combine the graham cracker crumbs, 3 Tablespoons sugar and the melted butter; press into the bottom and about one inch up the sides of 9-inch spring form pan.

Beat the cream cheese, 1 cup of sugar and the vanilla with an electric mixer until well blended. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing on low speed after each just until blended. Pour the filling over the crust.

Bake the cheesecake for 55 minutes or until the center is set. Turn off the oven and open the oven door. Leave the cheesecake in the oven for 30 minutes while it cools without cracking.

Remove the cheesecake from the oven and place it on a wire rack. Loosen the rim of the pan. Leave the cheesecake alone until it has cooled completely.

Transfer the cheesecake to the refrigerator and chill it for at least 4 hours. Slice it from the bottom of the spring form pan to dessert plates, taking care not to scratch the pan bottom if it is nonstick.

If you are doing the dairy/non-dairy comparison thing, and if you have the equipment, you can bake both the cheesecakes in the oven at the same time if the oven itself has space. Both recipes take the same amount of time, but be prepared for a little extra prep time. After they get in the oven you are really on your game!

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