Vanilla Bean Cheesecake

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Last week my students and I took a break from our regular academic program to participate in what we call Intersessions: a weeklong immersion into a new skill or area of curiosity. A colleague and I have worked together for the last few years to host Kitchen Nightmares (apologies to Gordon Ramsay), an Intersession during which kids ask, “How do you find and make great recipes?”

The students started the week making provided recipes, learning about kitchen safety, and discovering the magic of mise-en-place. After this first run with training wheels, they built independence in the kitchen by choosing their own recipes. One group learned the hard way to read recipes all the way through before choosing. It turns out their biscuit recipe was made to be cooked over hot coals!

Their recipe adaptation skillz and creativity were challenged in a middle school favorite: Cupcake Wars! They chose filling, frostings, and toppings to dress up cupcakes. We ended up with Lemon Colada, Strawberry Choco-Cheesecake, and Orange Delight cupcake flavors. Finally, we ended the week with a true test of their proficiency in the kitchen: CHOPPED. They could use anything in the kitchen to make . . . well, anything! Judges were treated to fried chicken with a side of cabbage salad, lemon mousse profiteroles, and cookies and creme whoopie pies. All of it was cooked to perfection, and talk about an impressive difficulty level! It’s so gratifying to watch them bloom from kids who aren’t sure about the difference between a tablespoon and a teaspoon to little master chefs. It’s also something that just teaching and demos really can’t do — to learn, they have to get in the kitchen and rise and fall on their own.

Vanilla Bean Cheesecake
Vanilla Bean Cheesecake


Macadamia Nut Crust Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups raw macadamia nuts
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted

Vanilla Bean Cheesecake Ingredients:

  • 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
  • 2 eggs, room temperature

Vanilla Bean Sour Cream Topping Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream
  • seeds scraped from 1/4 vanilla bean
  • 1/4 cup sugar

Vanilla Bean Whipped Cream Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon cold water
  • 1 teaspoon gelatin
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • seeds scraped from 3/4 of a vanilla bean
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar


  1. Make the macadamia nut crust: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with a foil sling. Pulse the macadamia nuts, powdered sugar, and salt together until the macadamia nuts are finely ground. Add the melted butter and pulse to mix. Press the mixture into the prepared baking pan with the flat bottom of a glass or small dish. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until very lightly browning. Leave the oven preheated.
  2. Make the cheesecake: While the crust bakes, make the cheesecake. Beat 1 package of cream cheese, half the sugar, and the cornstarch together on low speed for 3 minutes until creamy. Add the other package of the cream cheese and mix to combine. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat in the rest of the sugar and the vanilla bean seeds. Add in the eggs one at a time, beating until well combined after each. Pour the cheesecake over your prepared crust. Situate the pan down into a larger pan and fill the outer pan with hot water to a depth halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. Bake for 28-30 minutes or until the cheesecake filling barely jiggles, indicating that it’s set up. Remove to a wire rack for 5 minutes.

You can find complete recipes of this Vanilla Bean Cheesecake in

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