Okay, I don't know if this is the "ultimate" cheesecake. I'm only using that title because it's what this cheesecake is called on Mel's Kitchen Cafe, where I originally found this recipe. But if it's not the ultimate cheesecake, this is certainly a cut above many of the cheesecakes I've tried. And as an added bonus, it's pretty easy to make--no water baths, etc. If you like a creamy cheesecake, this recipe is for you. I made this (slightly adapted) to rave reviews for a family Easter celebration today. I topped each piece of cheesecake with sliced fresh strawberries.
2 3/4 cups finely ground graham crackers (about 18 whole graham crackers)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest from one lemon, finely grated (I also added the zest from an orange)
1 pint sour cream
In a mixing bowl, combine the crust ingredients together with a fork until evenly moistened. Lightly coat the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan (I use an 8 1/2-inch springform pan because it is all I have, and it works fine) with non-stick cooking spray. Firmly press the mixture over the bottom and about an inch or so up the sides on the pan, use your fingers or the smooth bottom of a glass. Refrigerate the crust while preparing the filling.
In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese on LOW speed for 1 minute, just until smooth and free of any lumps. Gradually add the sugar and beat until creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Periodically scrape down the sides of the bowl and the beaters. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and continue to slowly beat until combined. Stir in the vanilla and lemon zest. Blend in the sour cream. The batter should be well mixed but not overbeaten. Overbeating incorporates too much air and will cause the cake to puff when baking, then fall and crack when cooling. Pour filling into the crust-lined pan and smooth the top with a spatula.
Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 50-55 minutes (because I used a smaller pan than the one called for, the cheesecake required more time to cook; I'd say that I added about 15 to 20 minutes of extra cooking time). The cheesecake should still jiggle slightly; it will firm up after chilling. Be careful not to overcook! Do not do a toothpick test in the cake’s center; this will make a crack. Loosen the cheesecake from the sides of the pan by running a thin metal spatula around the inside rim. Let cool in the pan for 30 minutes. Chill in the refrigerator, loosely covered, for at least 4 hours to set up. Demold and transfer to a cake plate. Slice the cheesecake with a thin, nonserrated knife that has been dipped in hot water and wiped dry after each cut.