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When I was in my early twenties (just a few years back...sort of), weekend nights with my hometown buds were built on Fuzzy Navels, White Russians, and throwing down some sweet moves at a club called Let's Dance in Poughkeepsie, NY. After hours of drinking and sweating it out, some serious munchies were in order. We'd hit up one of the few spots in the area that was still serving. We'd sometimes land at Denny's, where I'd slide a greasy Grand Slam Breakfast down my pie hole and sip burnt Bunn-o-matic coffee from the thick ceramic mugs. If there was too much of a line, we'd head over to the 84 Diner, set off a highway and a popular spot with the truckers. The atlas-sized menu spanned the cuisine of the world, but I only had eyes for one thing: the bright red cherry cheesecake that was spinning around in the revolving pastry case. The massive slice of sweet cream cheese, canned-cherry-topped, graham cracker-y goodness hit the spot and readied me right for bed.
This weekend we had company at our house, so I had the perfect excuse to bake one of these luscious babies. I don't normally bake whole cheesecakes when I'm alone because I lack all self control when it comes to anything with cheese. Morning, noon, and night I'd be in heaven till it was devoured...Then I'd start popping buttons around my waist. When it comes to making cheesecake, the more people I have to share it with, the better.
To put my chocoholic spin on the diner version, I fold a heaping dose of melted white chocolate into the batter. White chocolate has an unequivocal creaminess, which perfectly balances the tangy cream cheese, sour cream, and hint of lemon. The buttery crushed graham cracker crust is pre-baked to help keep it crunchy, and baking the cheesecake in a water batch gently cooks the filling to keep it smooth, creamy, and sliceable. For the topping, say what you will, but nothing says diner cheesecake to me more than canned cherry pie filling, and it's still got me hooked even after all these years.
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About the Author: Yvonne Ruperti is a food writer, recipe developer, former bakery owner, and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Easy Artisan Bread. You can also watch her culinary stylings on the America's Test Kitchen television show. She presently lives in Singapore and is currently at work constructing her new blog, "ShopHouseCook".