You may be wondering why that cheesecake batter before your eyes is so unhappy. Well, let me tell you why. It’s a very sad story.
You see, she was misled. She was told that she would be as good if she were made in a pressure cooker, as if she were baked in the oven. She even read that she could be better!
Don’t get me wrong. You can produce something with a nice flavor in this manner. It might even remind you of cheesecake. BUT IT IS NOT CHEESECAKE. At least not the kind that has the keys to my heart: a rich and creamy concoction, resting gently atop a mildly crispy crust that is an equal partner in this flavor duet. I’ve come to believe this is simply not possible in the pressure cooker. And I tried. Oh, how I tried.
This isn’t easy to admit, because I love the pressure cooker. I mean, I love it so much that I did two television segments about it on Indy Style last week. I think the pressure cooker is poised for a comeback of epic proportions, and could really transform mealtime for busy families. In fact, if you only buy one thing for your kitchen this year, make it a pressure cooker.
The beef stew? I die.
The risotto? Heaven on a plate.
The pot roast? Melt in your mouth.
The cheesecake? Not so much.
If you aren’t familiar with pressure cookers, here’s the scoop in a nutshell:
There are two kinds: electric versions, which look similar to a rice cooker or crock pot, and can function as all three (rice cooker, slow cooker, pressure cooker). The others are stovetop pressure cookers, which look very similar to a regular pot or pan. The lid has a rubber gasket on the inside, enabling you to cook your food in a semi-sealed vessel. When the food comes to a boil, the steam is trapped inside, creating pressure of up to 15 pounds per square inch (PSI). The pressure raises the temperature higher than is possible in a regular pot (250 degrees in a pressure cooker, versus 212 degrees in a standard pot with lid), and that has a domino effect:
- Food cooks up to 70% faster
- Flavors meld faster and are more intense, since the sealed vessel keeps everything inside the pot, instead of allowing it to escape in the steam
- Water-soluble vitamins, which can also be lost in evaporation, are kept inside the pressure cooker (and, consequently, in your food)
- Shorter cooking times mean less energy consumed
- Less energy consumed means more dollars saved on your utility bill
This is just a short list of all that is awesome about pressure cookers. Unfortunately, they have a bad rap because of stories about exploding pea soup ending up on ceilings, and the collateral damage that results. But those stories inevitably trace back to old pressure cookers that were no longer in safe working condition, or were used improperly. As background, pressure cooker popularity peaked right after World War II. But the sudden interest resulted in a rush to market, and safety mechanisms were removed in order to reduce the price. The pressure cookers you buy today all have multiple safety features in place, and can be used at home without incident.
I could write pages and pages about the topic (which I reserve the right to do at some point), but in the meantime, you can hear me rave a little bit more, and get a yummy risotto recipe, if you watch this Indy Style segment.
If you want more information right away about the topic, Lorna Sass is your gal. She’s been writing about pressure cooking for more than twenty years, and has two really great books on the topic: Cooking Under Pressure, and Pressure Perfect. (Note: these are not Amazon affiliate links, and I receive no compensation if you buy the books.)
But back to the cheesecake.
If you do any research about pressure cookers, you’ll inevitably run across the statement ‘And you can even make cheesecake!’ I was so excited about the possibility that I shouted from the (virtual) rooftop, before I even had a chance to taste the results. When I finally did taste it and was disappointed, I figured I must have done something wrong. So I tried it again. And again. And tweaked it. And then did more research. And tried another recipe. And another. And another. I’ve made and tasted so many cheesecakes in the last ten days that I will surely need to spend the next month in my big-girl-pants, while I increase the cardio and binge on celery sticks, just to undo some of the damage.
Most of the cheesecakes were OK. Perfectly fine, even. But none were great. And it all came down to the crust. No crispiness… all sogginess. Which, in hindsight, seems the only logical outcome in a hot, steamy environment. The version I liked the most was this lemon one from Lorna Sass, but even then, I would recommend putting the crust only on the bottom of the pan, and not up the sides. If it’s contained on the bottom, you aren’t hit with the visual cue that it’s not a traditional cheesecake crust. That mental trick does help a little.
I tried to think of any way to get a crispier crust. I wondered if finishing the cheesecake in a convection oven, even very briefly on high heat, might help. But I’m not food-science smart enough to know if that would work (paging Alton Brown!). And even if it did, doesn’t that defeat the purpose of simplifying things in a pressure cooker?
Early on in my experimentation process it dawned on me that I was trying to achieve a very difficult (if not impossible) task. I knew that America’s Test Kitchen was coming out with a new book on pressure cooking soon. Although I have not seen an advance copy, I did see a list of recipes that will be included, and cheesecake isn’t on it. That was my first clue. Christopher Kimball, the famously discerning man at the helm of the America’s Test Kitchen empire, knows how to pick ‘em. And if there was a way to achieve a satisfying pressure cooker version of a traditional cheesecake (crispy crust and all), his team of food wizards would have figured it out and included it in the book. I’m certain of it.
I know there are people who disagree. (Let ‘er rip!) And I would love to hear if those people have any words of wisdom on achieving a crispier crust in the pressure cooker. Because I concede that you can achieve a creamy cheesecake filling this way. But for me, it’s about the whole package. And for this particular task, the oven beats the pressure cooker. Handily.
In the meantime, I’ll focus on the positive. Since I didn’t end up with a worthy piece of cheesecake, I don’t have to fret over getting a perfect picture of it to post on this blog. (That will be a rant for another day… You know, how everyone with a website that has anything to do with food is also expected to have Annie-Liebovitz-skillz behind a camera. Sheesh! Can someone explain to me how this happened?)
Anyway– no need to dress these babies up. Do you think the photo to the left will end up on foodgawker? Unlikely.
In my own defense, I did make cheesecakes (full size and in jars) that were prettier than this. But the taste wasn’t up to snuff, so I didn’t take any pictures. I figured I’d pull out the camera when I landed on the right recipe. That never happened, so I finally documented my last hurrah, which ended up being the absolute worst of the bunch. (But take a minute to poke around the site for recipes that didn’t go horribly wrong.)
So, thank you for taking the time to read my lengthy Dear John letter to pressure cooker cheesecake. Now that it’s behind me (literally and figuratively), it’s time to move on. To a spin class or something.
Then I can make some pressure cooker risotto.