Antonis Achilleos
Active Time
25 MIN
Total Time
10 HR 10 MIN
Yield
Serves : 8

Growing up, I didn’t realize how unique it was to live on the border of the United States and Mexico. It wasn’t until I started doing interviews with the press that I actually began to appreciate just how cool it was that I would cross the international border every single day from Tijuana into San Diego to go to school. I’d spend half the day doing all of the normal things American schoolgirls did, and then it was back to Mexico to eat enchiladas and speak Spanish and live the life of a regular Mexican girl. There’s a particular quality that those of us who live on the border share; we can switch from being Mexican to being American in an instant just by scanning our surroundings. Not everybody has this superpower; it takes a very specific kind of upbringing to instill a deep pride in two very different cultures.

Most folks feel forced to choose one identity or the other—like they’re being unpatriotic by embracing their duality. I’m one of the switchers; nobody can force me to choose! This particular quality has helped me create some of my most popular recipes, including this cheesecake. I take a traditional American recipe and add something like dulce de leche (caramelized cow’s milk, our Mexican version of caramel) to create a dish that’s appealing to Americans but also feels familiar to folks like me who have deeply rooted Mexican and Latin American traditions.

The cheesecake itself is very straightforward—cream cheese, sugar, a graham cracker crust, and a water bath to ensure gentle heat; you know the drill. What’s fun here is the dulce de leche marbling. Earthy and less cloying than caramel, dulce de leche finds a gorgeous home in this creamy classic. It’s no-frills, but I’m a no-frills kinda gal. It’s simple perfection with a nod to my Mexican upbringing, a cheesecake that would be just as happily eaten on a deck overlooking the ocean in Coronado as at my dad’s house in Tijuana. It's fully comfortable in its own skin and on either side of the border. Just like me.

How to Make It

Step 1    

Preheat oven to 350°F. Wrap 3 layers of aluminum foil around the outside of a 9-inch springform pan with 3-inch-high sides. Grease pan with butter. Combine graham crackers, 1/4 cup sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse until crumbly. Add melted butter, and pulse until moistened. Press crumb mixture evenly onto bottom and 1 1/2 inches up sides of prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven just until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let cool completely. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F.

Step 2    

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese on medium speed until fluffy. Add vanilla and remaining 1 1/4 cups sugar, and beat until combined. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating until well combined after each addition. Add sour cream, and beat until smooth, about 35 seconds. Measure 1 cup filling, and place in a medium bowl. Add dulce de leche to filling in bowl; whisk until dulce de leche is fully incorporated into filling. Pour plain cheesecake filling into cooled crust. Drizzle dulce de leche filling over top. Using a knife, swirl to create a marbled effect.

Step 3    

Set cheesecake in a large baking pan. Add hot water to baking pan to come 1 inch up side of springform pan. Bake until almost set (the center will move slightly when the pan is gently shaken) but not puffed, about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Step 4    

Let cheesecake cool at room temperature 2 hours. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until completely cooled, at least 6 hours or preferably overnight. Garnish with sea salt, if desired.

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