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Cheesecake Nirvana

I am not much of a baker. I like recipes that are more of a suggestion with room for creativity. Baking requires paying attention to details and following directions— not my strongest suits. My Mom is a fantastic baker and excels at sugar cookies, cakes, cinnamon rolls and pies. If it involves flour, sugar and baking powder, she is the master. Clearly, baking skills are not genetic or they skip a generation. Either way, she is the baker in the family and I am the cooker. She sent up a couple dozen of peanut butter cookies a few weeks ago and we were so excited to have Nana's cookies in the house! George was pretty excited too, he ate all of them. I swear he has Special Ops skills when it comes to sourcing his own food.

I made my first cheesecake about 15 years ago for Easter dinner and I was scared. Scared of crevasses across the top and jiggling middles. I had experienced cheesecake nirvana at Cafe Latte many times before and was feeling a little uneasy with my skills. I settled on the recipe from the Joy Of Cooking and forged bravely ahead. Let's just say, at least it tasted good. I made a couple more attempts over the years but eventually decided to leave it to the professionals at Cafe Latte.

Fast forward 10 years, Cafe Latte is 250 miles from Bayfield, I had mascarpone in the refrigerator and I wanted cheesecake. I started my search from scratch for the perfect non-baker's cheesecake. Gourmet magazine had a recipe that fit the bill: vanilla wafer crust (no rolling-pin required), mascarpone and a sour cream topping to hide any and all crevasses. I made a few changes (I like to be creative) and voilà, cheesecake nirvana. I was distracted while baking the crust and it is a little darker than it should be. In the cooking world, we call that caramelized.

Crust 1 box of vanilla wafers, finely ground in a food processor 1 sticks  (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Filling 3 packages of cream cheese, softened 8 oz mascarpone cheese at room temperature (about 1  cup) 3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
Topping 1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 tsp lemon oil
1/8 teaspoon salt
Make crust
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter bottom and  side of a 9-inch springform pan.

Stir together cookie crumbs and butter in a bowl. Reserve 1/4 cup crumb  mixture for sprinkling over cheesecake, then pat remainder onto bottom and 1 1/2  inches up side of springform pan (about 1 inch thick). Put pan in a shallow  baking pan and bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Cool completely on a rack,  about 25 minutes. Leave oven on.

Make filling while crust bakes

Beat cream cheese, mascarpone, and sugar in a large bowl with an electric  mixer at medium high speed until fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time,  beating well after each addition. Add vanilla, lemon juice, lemon zest and salt and mix at low speed until combined. Pour into cooled crust and bake until cake is set and  puffed around edge but still trembles slightly when pan is shaken gently, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool slightly in springform pan on rack, about 20 minutes.  (Cheesecake will continue to set as it cools.) Leave oven  on.

Make topping:

Stir together sour cream, sugar, vanilla extract, lemon oil, and salt in a small  bowl and spoon over cheesecake, spreading gently and evenly, leaving a 1/4-inch  border around edge.

Bake cheesecake until topping is set, about 10 minutes. Run a thin knife  around edge to help prevent cracking. Sprinkle top with reserved crumbs and cool  completely in pan on rack, then chill, loosely covered, at least 8  hours.