Every time I make this cheesecake, I am reminded of two things: to be grateful for time spent with family and of the “The Italian Place” in San Jose, California.
There were no red and white checked tablecloths, emblematic of most Italian American cafes in the United States. There were no waiters, rather a self-serve counter with a steady line that formed during the lunch hour.
Men in pin-striped suits, construction workers and locals of all sizes and shapes lined up for their favorite, reasonably priced, noon-time meal.
The menu consisted of Italian hero sandwiches, long loaves of Italian bread stuffed with various fillings. Sausage, peppers and onions, hot pastrami heros and slices of beef and cheese (think Philly cheese-steak) were the three most requested sandwiches.
Also, available were salads, soft drinks and my cheesecake.
The Italian Place has a special spot in my heart because my brother worked in the kitchen. I worked there too … sort of. My unofficial and self appointed position was to make the cheesecakes, (which I did at home) bring them to the cafe and serve them to the customers. Now here’s the weird part, neither Larry nor I remember me getting compensated for this act of generous delicious dessert giving.
He would tell you I did this just to be able to hang out with him. I say I just loved to bake and share my food. Larry received a paycheck, I did not, but I would do it again in a heartbeat to spend more time with him. Soon after our time together, working, laughing, teasing and “hanging out” at The Italian Place, my brother shipped out with the United States Navy. The moral of my story, “Carpe Diem” (seize the day!)
- 1 cup graham-cracker crumbs (9 whole crackers)
- 1 tablespoon + 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 cup butter, melted
- 16 ounces cream cheese, softened (whole milk not fat-free)
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon +1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- In a small bowl, combine the graham-cracker crumbs, 1 tablespoon sugar and the melted butter.
- Press the crumb mixture into the bottom and partially up the sides of a 9-inch spring-form pan.
- Combine the softened cream cheese, eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1/2 cup sugar, beating until smooth and creamy. Pour into crumb-lined spring-form pan.
- Bake in a 375* oven for 35-40 minutes (filling will be firm).
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the sour cream with 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Set aside on counter.
- When the cheesecake is done, remove from oven, gently pour sour cream mixture on top, spreading evenly not quite to the edge.
- Turn the oven up to 450* and bake the cheesecake 5 minutes longer. Remove from oven and let rest until room temperature. This will keep the cake from cracking.
- Chill well.
- To serve, remove from refrigerator and let stand 10-15 minutes.
Tip: To serve clean, neat slices, wipe off knife after each and every cut.