Family Classics: Nonna’s Classic Cheesecake

An irresistibly simple, decadent dessert: classic cheesecake. This is my nonna’s recipe…a rich, fluffy cheesecake flavored simply with pure vanilla, surrounded by a thick, buttery walnut cookie crust. It’s a family classic that I know everyone will love!

Nonna's Classic Cheesecake

Continuing my “family classics” series today with a quintessential dessert. This has been such a fun series so far. I’m loving bringing you some of the recipes that have been passed down in my family and that I’ve grown up on. Most of them can be described in two words: simple and comforting.

First up I shared dad’s lemon chicken, then busia’s sour cream cucumbers, and now we’re on to nonna’s classic cheesecake! If there’s one cheesecake you want to have in your back pocket, this is it!

Nonna's Classic Cheesecake

nonna’s classic cheesecake – the details

Nonna is my dad’s mom, and as you can guess, she’s Italian. She’s a funny, strong-willed little lady who is very special to me…always helping me in the kitchen and cooking holiday meals with my dad and I. Down the road I’ll be sharing some of her Italian classics (like the stuffing meatballs we make every year for thanksgiving), but I wanted to start with her cheesecake. She used to serve this at my dad’s very first Nancy’s Pizzeria. It was a 300-seat restaurant right outside of Chicago, and nonna would be in the back with her sleeves rolled up making batch after batch of cheesecake. To this day my dad raves about her cheesecake, telling us how fast it would sell in the restaurant. And trust me, I see why.

While it has a creamy texture, I’d actually say this cheesecake is on the lighter side than most. It’s fluffy, with a texture that almost melts in your mouth. The filling is easy as can be to make. The key is to use completely softened, room-temperature cream cheese and room temperature eggs. This will create a smooth batter, compared to a lumpy one that’s unevenly mixed.

cheesecake slice

Nonna's Classic Cheesecake

What makes this classic cheesecake so special? The walnut cookie crust. I love this crust SO much more than your typical graham cracker crust. It’s a mixture of brown sugar, butter, flour, and chopped walnuts. When pressed into the pan, it forms a nice thick crust that bakes up perfectly…crisp on the edges and buttery in the center. It’s the perfect counterpart to the vanilla-flavored cheesecake.

You can top this cheesecake with really anything you’d like – the typical topping at Nancy’s was some sort of cooked fruit topping. I’ve kept it simple with some fresh strawberries and a drizzle of honey.

My hope with sharing these family classics is that you and your family adopt them as staples in your own kitchens, and find just as much joy in them as my family has. And I think nonna’s cheesecake will definitely be one you’ll love!

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Nonna’s Classic Cheesecake

Nonna's Classic Cheesecake

nonna’s classic cheesecake with a walnut cookie crust 

yield: 1 (9”) cheesecake

Ingredients

Scale
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup finely chopped walnuts 
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 sticks (½ lb) butter, cold + cubed 
  • 24 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. 
  2. Combine the flour, chopped walnuts, and brown sugar in a mixing bowl and toss to combine. Use your fingers or a pastry cutter to “cut” in the butter, working it until the flour is absorbed and the mixture holds its shape when you press firmly. 
  3. Pack the mixture into the bottom of a 9” springform pan, pressing it about 1 ½” inches up the sides. Press firmly to create an even crust. Chill the crust while you make the batter. 
  4. Add the softened cream cheese to the bowl of a stand mixer. Using a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar and combine. Mix in the eggs one at a time. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the vanilla. Mix again until fully incorporated. 
  5. Pour the batter into the crust. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 45 minutes, or until the center is set and the top is golden brown. Allow the cheesecake to cool for about 45 minutes at room temperature. Transfer it to the refrigerator and chill for a couple of hours until completely cold. 
  6. Remove the cheesecake from the springform pan and cut into slices. Serve with any topping you’d like (fresh fruit, a cooked & cooled fruit topping, honey, etc.).

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Nonna's Classic Cheesecake

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