Quit while you’re ahead. Go out on top. If there’s any truth at all in those sayings, then I should hang up my apron and put the springform pan away for good. I have reached the peak of cheesecake perfection, and I don’t think it’s getting better than this.
Creme brulee cheesecake. Creamy, rich cheesecake, flecked with beautiful vanilla beans and topped with torched sugar. I mean, really, what MORE could you possibly want? (Oh, a chocolate cheesecake? Or a Bailey’s cheesecake? Raspberry swirl cheesecake? OK, fine. No early retirement for my springform.)
I first made this cheesecake as a going-away treat for some friends who moved to Iowa. I had heard a rumor that creme brulee was one of their favorite desserts, and so I began looking for a way to make creme brulee a more feasible dessert option for a large group. (You know, since Andy wasn’t on board with me getting ramekins for 10. This was before I received those super cute red ramekins for Christmas.) I thought the richness of cheesecake would be an ideal vehicle for caramelized sugar and vanilla, but when several Google searches came up empty, I just decided to wing it. It turned out so well that I decided to make it for a dessert for a baby shower for another friend a few months later!
I tweaked things a little the second time around, and what I ended up with was a rich, creamy, smooth, delicious cheesecake, dotted with vanilla bean. It baked perfectly and cooled without cracking. I could barely bring myself to set it on fire. And when I worried that it was “almost too pretty to eat,” several friends rose to the occasion and said that they’d be more than willing to take the plunge and dig in. (How thoughtful, right?)
Creme Brulee Cheesecake
24 ounces of cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
3/4 cup plus 6 tablespoons of sugar, divided
1 vanilla bean
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla
pinch of salt
2 cups of graham cracker crumbs
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
brown sugar, for topping
Preheat the oven to 325. Wrap a 9″ springform pan in aluminum foil and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, 6 tablespoons of sugar and the butter. Mix together with a fork and then press into the springform pan, being sure to press the crumbs up the sides of the pan as well. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 5-7 minutes, or until the crust is lightly browned and set. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Meanwhile, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until it is smooth and fluffy. Add in the sugar and beat until well combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Stir in the vanilla and scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the cream cheese mixture. Mix in the sour cream and salt. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Place the springform pan in a large roasting pan and add hot water to the roasting pan, stopping when the water is about halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Place the roasting pan in the preheated oven. Bake for 55-60 minutes, or until the center of the cheesecake is just set.
When the cheesecake is done, turn off the oven and crack the door open about 4 inches. Let the cheesecake cool in the oven about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack. Let the cheesecake cool another 10 to 15 minutes on the rack before removing the wire ring. (Run a knife along the inside of the ring before removing if necessary.) Let cool completely before covering and refrigerating.
Just before serving, sprinkle the top of the cheesecake with brown sugar. Using a kitchen torch, carefully melt the sugar, letting it melt and caramelize. (This could probably be achieved under the broiler as well, but it’s so much more fun to torch things!) Serve immediately.
Leftovers (if you’re lucky enough to have them!) store well in the fridge, although the burnt sugar topping will soften overnight.
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