This is the prettiest cheesecake. It is also the easiest cheesecake.

June 09, 2020
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I'm a seasoned cake baker, a decent biscuit maker, and my cookie game isn't bad at all. But despite being confident in my baking, cheesecakes still have the power to reduce me to my 5th-grade days of baking sugar cookies in a toaster oven. Baking anything in a water bath intimidates me. Ensuring doneness while avoiding the dreaded cracked surface baffles me (how do you know it's going to crack until it irreparably does?). Pressing a crumb crust that holds together as it's sliced often eludes me. To me, a classic cheesecake is best left to the professionals. I suggest going to the temperature extremes: Either a practically scorched Basque-style cheesecake, or Justin Chapple's no-bake icebox cheesecake that's just right for summer. Here's how it all comes together:

1. Form and Freeze the Graham-Cracker Crust

This recipe starts out with your standard graham-cracker crust combo of crackers blitzed to crumbs in the food processor, melted butter for cohesion and deliciousness, and a bit of salt for balance. Once the crumbs are evenly moistened (they should hold together a bit when you squeeze a handful), dump them into a 9-inch springform pan—no need to butter the pan or prep it in any way. The recipe tells you to press the crumbs evenly across the bottom and about 1 1/2 inches up the sides, and your best bet for doing that quickly and evenly is a 1-cup dry measuring cup, which helps flatten the crumbs against the pan far more evenly than your fingertips ever could. Just remember to taper the edge so it's a little thinner than the rest of the crust, which makes for a prettier cheesecake. Now pop it in the freezer and use that time to whip up your filling.

2. Make a Simple Peach Puree

This icebox cheesecake includes not one, but two layers of peach puree. Start out by peeling your peaches. If the peach skin releases easily from the flesh, you can use a paring knife to pull it off strip by strip—that tool is less likely to smush your peaches than a peeler would. If your peaches are a tad underripe, you might need to blanch the peaches to peel them instead. Just score an "X" at the base of each peach and give them a 20-second dunk in boiling water and a quick rinse under the cold-water tap, and they'll be that much more cooperative. Once your peaches are peeled and sliced, drop them into your cleaned food processor and add agave nectar and salt (no agave? add a few spoonfuls of sugar to taste).

Iain Bagwell; Prop Styling: Mindi Shapiro Levine; Food Styling: Torie Cox

3. Next, Make the Cheesecake Filling

Unlike the classic New York-style cheesecake, this one has a lighter texture and a more delicate dairy flavor thanks to the addition of ricotta cheese. Blend the cream cheese and ricotta in your (you guessed it) food processor with some more agave, plus lemon juice and salt, until smooth. Now you're ready to assemble!

4. Layer and Freeze, Then Repeat Some More

When you're ready to assemble this cheesecake, you'll need to freeze each layer for about 45 minutes before adding the next one to keep the layers distinct and pretty when the finished cheesecake is sliced. Build up two layers of cheesecake filling and peach puree, finishing the cheesecake with a glorious crown of peach puree, smoothing each layer right to the edge of the springform pan. Then freeze the entire cheesecake until solid, about 3 or 4 hours. Top with some pretty unpeeled sliced peaches, and you're golden.