10 to 12 servings
1/2 cup pecan halves, plus more, chopped, for garnish
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs ( room temperature)
1 1/2 cups shredded carrot (2 to 3 medium carrots)
Three 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened (room temperature)
2/3 cup sour cream ( room temperature)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs (room temperature)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon lemon zest plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Sour Cream Topping:
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons sour cream (room temperature)
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch kosher salt
For the carrot cake: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 350 degrees F. Spread 1/2 cup of the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until golden and toasted, 10 to 12 minutes. Allow to cool, and then finely chop.
Combine the pecans, flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Whisk together the oil, sugar and eggs in a separate bowl. Stir the carrots into the egg mixture. Fold the carrot-egg mixture into the flour mixture until just combined. Pour into an ungreased 9-inch spring form cake pan and tap it on the counter to even out the batter. Bake until the cake bounces back when pressed and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool completely. The cake can be made a day ahead and stored in the pan.
For the cheesecake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the cream cheese, sour cream and granulated sugar in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until smooth and creamy, about 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the flour, lemon zest and juice and vanilla, about 1 minute.
Pour the cheesecake mixture over the carrot cake. Wrap the bottom and sides of the pan with a large piece of foil. Put in a roasting pan or a large baking dish and fill halfway up the sides of the cake pan with boiling water. Bake at 325 for 1 ½ hours or until the cheesecake is pale yellow and just jiggles slightly in the center, about 1 hour. Turn off the oven and let the cheesecake rest in the hot oven for 30 minutes. Remove, run a sharp knife around the edge and let cool completely on a rack. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.
For the sour cream topping: Whisk together the confectioners' sugar, sour cream, vanilla and salt. Spread on top of the cheesecake; garnish with chopped pecans. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving. Cut into slices and serve.
IMPORTANT CHEESECAKE INFORMATION
To start with:
Don't use cream cheese that comes in one of those plastic tubs. Only use solid, rectangular blocks of cream cheese. The stuff in tubs has air whipped into it and it won't work out the same way. Also, full-fat cream cheese (and sour cream) works best.
Room Temperature: Make sure all ingredients — the cream cheese, sour cream, eggs and even the sugar — are at room temperature. This will allow the ingredients to blend together better, giving you a smoother cheesecake.
Don't Overbeat: Overbeating can cause the cheesecake to crack when you bake it. So, when you're combining the sugar, cream cheese, eggs and other ingredients, do it on a medium-low speed. The paddle attachment (as opposed to the whip attachment) of a stand mixer is best so that you don't beat too much air into the batter.
Use a Springform Pan: The best pan for baking a cheesecake is a springform pan. Make sure the bottom is greased when you press the graham cracker crumbs into the bottom,
and also make sure the sides of the pan are well-greased when you pour in the batter. Melted butter is great for greasing the pan, but you can just rub it with butter or even spray it with cooking spray. They make springform pans with a nonstick coating, but grease it anyway.
Keep it Moist: A dry cheesecake will also crack. To prevent this, we bake a cheesecake with a pan of water in the oven. A steamy oven will prevent the cheesecake from drying out. But when we bake a cheesecake, we don't put the springform pan in the water, because it might leak. Just put the roasting pan of water on the lower rack and bake the cheesecake on the upper rack.
No Peeking: Don't open the oven while baking! You don't want to let all that steamy air out. Also, changes in temperature during baking can cause the cheesecake to crack or sink in the middle.
Also, No Poking: Don't poke anything into the center of a cheesecake to see if it's done. You'll just make a hole in it. That goes for instant-read thermometers. It so happens that when the center of a cheesecake hits 150°F, it's done. But the only way to know that is to poke it with a thermometer. Don't do it. Instead, just give it a jiggle. If it's firm at the edges and still wobbles a little in the center, it's done.