The Secret Way to Step Up Your Graham-Cracker Crust

A graham-cracker crust is simply delicious, yes, but why settle for normal when you can amp it up? The crust can be more than a delivery system for the cheesecake; it can get raves all on its own.

lemon cheesecakePhoto: Taste of Home

The meal was done, the guests had gone, and the reviews were in—everyone loved my lemon cheesecake! But while I was obviously pleased to accept the kudos (and happily point them to the recipe), I was surprised at how many people singled out one aspect of the dessert for praise. The humble, traditional, so-often-overlooked graham-cracker crust. Everyone loved the cheesecake, but everyone raved over the crust!

To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with a traditional graham-cracker crust. The combination of graham-cracker crumbs, sugar and butter is a classic for a reason. Some of our highest-rated recipes, from the simple—the top-rated Cheesecake with Berry Sauce—to elaborate special-occasion wonders—like our Strawberries and Champagne Cheesecake—have a classic crust as their base.

And yet… an unexpected variation had everyone talking. All it took was a generous dose of ground cinnamon—a full 3 teaspoons—to spice up the crust.

It seems a no-brainer, but when I started searching through cheesecake recipes, I found that the vast majority didn’t make any additions to the classic crust. And I do understand. A cheesecake’s glory is in its rich, decadent, mouth-soothing filling. The last thing you want is for the crust to clash with—or, worst-case scenario overwhelm—the often subtle flavors of the creamy filling. So there are some things to keep in mind.

Take the Spice Route

When adding spices, choose one that complements the main flavor of the dessert. For the Lovely Lemon Cheesecake, it’s cinnamon, and lots of it. Other cheesecakes, such as Family-Favorite Cheesecake, Hoka Cheesecake and Very Vanilla Slow Cooker Cheesecake also use cinnamon, but scale it back to a more subtle 1/2 teaspoon. If you’re experimenting with a recipe, start subtle and then build with future tries until you find the balance that works for you. For a chocolate cheesecake, try some cocoa powder.  If you’re working with pumpkin, you can go with pumpkin pie spice. Grated citrus peel? Why not? That turns up in both our Pink Grapefruit Cheesecake and our Vanilla Bean Cheesecake with Chocolate Ganache.

Go a Little Nuts!

Another way to dress up your crust is with nuts—either finely chopped or ground, so that you get the flavor but the nuts don’t interfere with the texture. Again, choose a nut to complement the dessert’s main flavor, as in the pecans used for the Butter Pecan Cheesecake, the walnuts for the Maple-Nut Cheesecake, and the almonds for the Almond-Topped Pumpkin Cheesecake. Also remember that the best way to bring out the flavor of nuts is to toast them, so it’s worth taking the extra time to do so before adding them to your crust.

The secret to spicing up your crust is literally spices (and maybe some nuts). Start by making any of the recipes here to see what the different crusts add to the dessert, use them as suggestions, or just start raid your own spice rack for inspiration. An eggnog-flavored cheesecake with nutmeg in the crust? Or maybe a touch of cardamom? Don’t mind if I do!

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Hazel Wheaton
Hazel is a writer and editor who has worked in the publishing industry for over 25 years in the fields of travel, jewelry arts and food. As the editor of the Taste of Home Christmas Annual (among other titles), she's in the holiday spirit all year round. An enthusiastic baker, she's known for her cookies, cakes and other baked goods. And she still wishes she could cook like her mother.