Whenever I visit my parents I try to make my mother something that is gluten-free. Usually we are up there for a holiday or a party – so it tends to be some kind of dessert. She has celiac so she can't eat anything with gluten in it without being very, very sick. Celiac tends to run in the family so my brother and my niece have it too. Celiac (in case you haven't heard) is an autoimmune disorder involving intolerance to gluten, so they can't eat a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It makes family get-togethers very interesting, to say the least.
My mother recently came to visit me here in NYC and she can't resist a good piece of cheesecake. She bought a piece at a local bakery that she had eaten successfully at before. Unfortunately they had changed their recipe since the last time she was there and she got sick. Yeah, some cheesecakes have flour in them or there is flour in the crust. It's hard to know and sometimes the people who work there either don't understand what you are asking or they flat out don't know. (Yes, I know that they should know – but I have not found people to be reliable in relation to food allergies. Better safe than sorry).
I felt bad so I vowed to make her a cheesecake she could eat the next time we came up. Lucky for me, cheesecakes are fairly easy to make gluten-free and when it comes to gluten-free baking, easy is what I look for. (My daughter decided to help as well).
Baking gluten-free is almost a separate skill set and I find I do best with recipes that have little to no flour in them to begin with. I know I am successful when the non-celiac afflicted members of my family gobble up whatever I’ve made. With this cheesecake, all they left were crumbs.
A couple of important things to keep in mind when making this cheesecake: first off, it takes time. The cheesecake is best made the day before you want to serve it. Also, it bakes for a little more than two hours and then cools for around four hours before going into the fridge, so it's probably not something you want to start after the kids go to bed. Second, it is critical that all of the various ingredients are at room temperature. Texture of a cheesecake is key and cold butter or cream cheese can make it lumpy or be uneven in texture.
I added a crust this time, mostly because I like them and they make a pretty presentation, but the crust is certainly optional. I found this crust a little soft but still quite tasty. The almond meal doesn't hold together as well as a graham cracker crust would, but that is pretty par for the course with gluten-free baking I've found.
In the end, I'm marking down this one as an unmitigated success and I will definitely make another gluten-free cheesecake in the future.
Gluten-free Cheesecake with Almond Crust
Dense NY Cheesecake with an almond crust. Creamy, wonderful and absolutely gluten-free.
- 2 1/2 cups (250g) Almond meal (or flour)
- 1/2 cup (100g) sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 6 tablespoons (84g) unsalted butter (melted and cooled slightly)
- 1/2 tablespoon (or so) butter for the pan
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened)
- 32 ounces (4 packages) cream cheese
- 1 1/2 cups (300g) sugar
- 1/8 teaspoons salt
- 5 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 cups sour cream
- Hot water
For the crust:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Prep a 10” spring-form pan. Take a piece of parchment paper and place on the bottom and then clip the sides on so the parchment is only on the bottom of the pan. Leave a little extra parchment so that you can more easily slide the cake out of the pan later. Butter the parchment and the sides of the pan. Set aside.
2. Mix together all the ingredients with your hands or a spatula until it is evenly combined. It should have a crumbly texture.
3. Press the crust into the prepared pan. There is enough crust to cover both the sides and the bottom. Press the crust evenly into about a 1/8” to 1/4” layer. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the crust is golden brown at the edges. Allow the crust to cool completely on a rack.
For the cake:
1. Begin with all ingredients at room temperature. This cannot be stressed enough, it aids in creating a smooth texture to the finished cheesecake. Prep a roasting pan or similar large pan that the cheesecake pan can sit in a water bath without the pan touching the sides of the roasting pan. Set aside. Once the spring-form pan is completely cool, wrap the bottom and sides of the outside of the pan with a double layer of aluminum foil to create as close to a watertight seal as possible. Set aside. Move the rack to the middle of the oven and preheat to 300°.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and the cream cheese and beat until smooth. Add the sugar and the salt. Beat well.
3. Add the eggs one at a time, scrapping down the bowl as necessary. In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. Mix with a fork and then sprinkle the mixture into the cream cheese mixture. Add the lemon zest and the 2 cups sour cream. Beat on medium until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined and it has a smooth texture.
4. Pour the mixture into the prepared crust. Give the pan a bit of a wiggle to help settle the mixture evenly in the pan.
5. Have the hot water close by. Place the cheesecake pan into the roasting pan and set in the oven. Fill the roasting pan with the hot water until the water reaches about halfway up the sides of the cheesecake pan, being careful not to splash the water into the cheesecake. Bake for 2 hours and 15 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
6. Very carefully remove the entire set up (roasting pan with water and cheesecake inside) and place on a trivet or similar burn proof surface. Carefully lift the cheesecake out of the water and carefully remove the aluminum foil from the bottom (careful, there might be trapped water inside). Let it cool on a wire rack until it is completely cool, about 4 hours. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (or at least until the cheesecake is well chilled, but overnight is best).
7. Once the cheesecake is very cold, prepare to remove from the pan. Run a spatula around the edge. If the cheesecake doesn’t separate easily or appears stuck – you can lightly wrap the outside of the pan with a moist, hot towel for a minute or so to loosen it. Pop the sides and carefully lift away. The bottom was lined with parchment so you should now be able to carefully grasp the edges of the parchment and slide the cheesecake into the serving plate. At this point you could carefully peal the parchment away – or trim it and leave it under the cake. It is certainly easier to just leave it (but I have been known to carefully shimmy it out from under the cake before). Top with fresh fruit and serve.