If prompted—and sometimes when not—I can carry on with a long diatribe enumerating what and why I don't like about certain edibles. However, there are items that get a free pass from me, even when their quality is questionable. Pizza is at the top of that list, followed by spaghetti and red sauce, and, in the dessert category, cheesecake. Even when cardboard-crusted, bloated from overcooking, or dense and cloying, I will eat pizza, spaghetti, and cheesecake with gusto.
All this being admitted, I do prefer the best iteration of anything I eat. Though no-bake cheesecakes and frozen cheesecake bars will appease my cravings for that dessert, nothing tastes as luxurious as a homemade cheesecake, particularly this one. This is an infamous recipe that I've written about before: it was appropriated by my grandmother in a furtive way long ago, but in our family cookbooks it lives, and there it shall remain. A few changes to the original recipe have been made here and there during the course of the years, but in general, it remains intact—if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
This cheesecake is creamy but light and airy, getting its cloud-like texture from the addition of egg whites beaten to stiff peaks to the batter. The base is room temperature cream cheese—remember to always use softened cream cheese when baking, otherwise there will be bits of cheese popping up here and there like pimples in your desserts!—the aforementioned egg whites, egg yolks, sugar, heavy cream, and in this version, vanilla bean seeds that dot the filling's creamy palette.
Rich but delicate, this recipe is takes well to a number of additions. In keeping with the season, I was inspired by my summer cravings for sweet, juicy peaches and icy cocktails made with smoky Bourbon and threw them both into the cheesecake. Peaches are tossed with butter, dark brown sugar, and Bourbon, then roasted until they become tender and intensely heady and sweet, while the Bourbon mixture turns thick and syrupy. A portion of the peaches are folded into the batter, and the rest are spooned on top for a can't-take-my-eyes-off-of-you effect.
I can't stand the over-the-top "mmmmm"s and "ohhh"s which are trademark for TV hosts, because really, who stands in their kitchen cooking and doing all that sexy exhaling? But I have a confession to make: when I finished shooting this slice of cheesecake I sat on my dining room table, feet dangling over the edge, with my plate on my lap. One bite and I did sink fully in, eyes closed, ridiculous "mmm" sounds humming from my lips. It really is that good.