Over the years I have been writing this column, one of the most common question from readers all year through is: "What is the smoothest, creamiest basic, baked cheesecake recipe you use?" I have received five such correspondences in the past month, so I am sharing that recipe with you today.

I also want to remind you that you can customize plain, classic baked cheesecake by topping it with ingredients such as thin slices of lime or lemon, or thin shavings of chocolate or small bits of chopped caramel, or thin slices of well-drained fruit of any kind – mango, kiwi, strawberry, star fruit, blueberries, peaches. Too, when you make a basic dessert of almost any kind (plain cheesecake, pound cake, etc.), you may prepare several toppings in individual glass bowls, serve each guest a slice of dessert, and allow guests to choose their favorite toppings.

Basic cheesecake

Crust

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup margarine, softened

Filling

Three 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, softened

1-1/4 cups sugar

3 eggs, room temperature

1 cup sour cream

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. In a small bowl, stir together crust ingredients. Press firmly onto bottom and halfway up sides of a 9-inch springform pan.

Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating at low speed until blended. Add sour cream and vanilla, beating at low speed until well combined. Pour mixture into crust.

Bake at 300 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes. Cheesecake is done when it springs back when lightly touched in the center (cheesecake will shake slightly when moved). Remove the cake from the oven and run a knife around the inside edge of the pan. Cool cheesecake on a wire rack at room temperature for one hour. Cover pan with foil, then chill overnight. Remove from refrigerator and release spring to separate sides of pan from the bottom. This recipe serves 12 to 18.

Chocolate chip cheesecake

Crust

2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs

1 cup flaked coconut, toasted

1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

1/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons baking cocoa

1/3 cup butter, melted

Filling

Four 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, softened

1 cup sugar

4 teaspoons cornstarch

4 eggs

1/3 cup whipping cream

3 teaspoons vanilla extract

1-1/2 cups miniature semisweet chocolate chips

Topping

Three 1-ounce squares of semisweet chocolate, melted

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/4 cup whipping cream

Toasted coconut, walnuts and maraschino cherries, optional

In a bowl, combine the first five ingredients. Stir in butter. Press onto the bottom and one inch up the sides of a 10-inch springform pan. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Combine sugar and cornstarch. Beat into the cream cheese. Add eggs and beat on low speed just until combined. Add the cream, vanilla and chocolate chips. Pour into prepared crust.

Place the pan on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 60 to 65 minutes or until the center is nearly set. Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Carefully run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen. Cool one hour longer (Cheesecake top may crack, but the topping will cover any cracks.)

For the topping, combine chocolate, butter and sugar in a mixing bowl. Slowly beat in cream until the mixture achieves a spreading consistency. Spread over the cheesecake. Refrigerate overnight. Remove the sides of the pan. Garnish the cheesecake with coconut, walnuts and cherries if desired. Refrigerate leftovers. This recipe makes 16 to 18 servings.

Contact the writer at tgmhatchell@yahoo.com.

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