As I was checking out of the supermarket with the ingredients for my cheesecake experiments, the cashier noticed the 10 pounds of cream cheese and said wistfully, "You must be making cheesecakes."

She had lived in New York City and went on to describe her favorite cheesecakes from city bakeries. The shoppers in line behind me were listening and began chiming in with their favorites. It was an impromptu sampling, but 100 percent were in the cheesecake lovers group.

Then I mentioned my latest cheesecake idea of dividing one batch of batter and adding different flavors to it to produce multilayered cheesecakes--raspberry with almond, pumpkin with rum or even chocolate cake with vanilla cheesecake. Everyone in line began clamoring for recipes and volunteering to come to my house for a taste test. I decided I'd better make my exit and begin baking.

Despite their fancy reputation, cheesecakes are easy to make. Soften the cream cheese thoroughly because soft cream cheese mixes easily into a smooth batter. If the cream cheese is cold, no matter how long you beat it, little white specks will remain in the batter.

Mixing a cheesecake batter is just a matter of combining ingredients rather than trying to beat air into the mixture. Mix on a low speed, just to the point that each ingredient blends in smoothly.

Baking cheesecakes in a moist, warm environment suits them perfectly. Commercial bakeries create the moisture with steam injection ovens, but for home-baked cheesecakes a water bath works fine. Before filling a springform pan, wrap a large piece of heavy aluminum foil around the outside to make it watertight. Fill the pan with the cheesecake batter, put the filled pan in a larger baking pan and place both in a preheated oven set at 325 degrees. Pour hot water into the larger baking pan to reach about 1 inch up the side of the foil-lined springform pan and bake the cheesecake in its steamy water bath. When done, the cheesecake looks set and may have a few tiny cracks around the edge. These cracks close up as the cheesecake cools.

Cool cheesecakes slowly and protect them from drafts. Let them sit in the water bath at room temperature, loosely covered with a paper towel for the first hour. The paper towel allows steam to escape, preventing any moisture from forming on the cheesecake. After one hour, the cheesecake is firmly set and can be uncovered to finish cooling.

When baking these multilayered cheesecakes, bake each layer until it is firm enough to have another layer poured over it without collapsing. Add additional layers of batter carefully by pouring the batter slowly around the outer edge of the cake. The batter then will flow evenly toward the center and cover the top of the cheesecake.

I put darker colored layers or heavier chocolate ones on the bottom. For example, a strawberry and vanilla combination would have the lighter colored vanilla batter on top. Adding chocolate to cheesecake batter makes a dense mixture that is best baked as the bottom layer, so coffee and toffee layers would bake on top of a chocolate one. Alternating the light and dark colors adds to the striking presentation.

Store cheesecakes in the refrigerator, but let them sit at room temperature for about one hour before serving to bring out the most flavor. If fresh fruit toppings are used, they will be at their best if added when the cheesecake is served.

Strawberry Vanilla Cheesecake

(16 servings)

Soft pink strawberry filling and a creamy white topping sit in a dark chocolate crumb crust in this stunning cheesecake. Frozen unsweetened strawberries make a flavorful year-round choice for the strawberry puree.

For the chocolate-crumb crust:

2 cups chocolate-wafer cookie crumbs

3 ounces ( 3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus additional for the pan

For the cheesecake:

2 cups fresh strawberries or 12 ounces frozen, unsweetened strawberries, defrosted

2 pounds cream cheese, softened

1 1/3 cups sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

4 large eggs, at room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Butter a 9-inch springform pan with a side at least 2 3/4 inches high. Wrap the outside of the pan with a large piece of heavy aluminum foil.

For the chocolate-crumb crust: In a medium bowl, mix together the cookie crumbs and butter. Press the crumb mixture evenly over the bottom and 1 inch up the side of the prepared pan. Bake the crust in the preheated oven for 6 minutes. Set aside to cool.

For the filling: In a food processor or blender, puree the strawberries. Pour the puree into a strainer set over a small bowl; press the solids with the back of a spoon to extract all of the seeds. Discard the seeds. Set aside 3/4 cup of the puree; reserve any remaining puree for another use.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer on low speed, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar and mix until smooth. Stir in the flour. Add the eggs, 2 at a time, mixing until the batter is smooth after each addition. Mix in 1 teaspoon of the vanilla.

Pour 2 cups of the batter into a medium bowl and stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla and the lemon juice; set aside the vanilla batter.

Stir the 3/4 cup strawberry puree into the batter remaining in the large bowl, mixing just until the mixture is pink. Pour the strawberry batter into the prepared pan.

Place the pan inside a larger baking pan with sides at least 2 inches deep. Pour hot water into the larger pan until it reaches 1 inch up the outside of the springform pan. Bake the cheesecake in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes.

Carefully slide the oven rack out several inches from the oven. Pour the reserved batter evenly around the outer edge of the cheesecake. The batter will flow toward the center to cover the top of the cake. Bake until the top of the cheesecake appears firm when the pan is gently shaken, about 20 minutes.

Remove the baking pan from the oven. Cover the cheesecake with a paper towel and cool the cheesecake in the water bath for 1 hour.

Carefully remove the cheesecake from the water bath. Remove the paper towel and cool for 1 hour. The cheesecake should feel cool to the touch. Cover with plastic wrap and chill thoroughly, at least 6 hours or overnight. Serve cold. (Leftover cheesecake can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 week.)

Per serving: 399 calories, 7 gm protein, 31 gm carbohydrates, 28 gm fat, 128 mg cholesterol, 16 gm saturated fat, 277 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Black and White Cheesecake Cake

(16 servings)

Chocolate cake and cheesecake have to be two of the best-loved desserts of all time. Combined they are a match made in dessert heaven. When the vanilla cheesecake bakes on top of the chocolate cake, some of the cheesecake batter sinks into the chocolate cake batter, creating an attractive swirled cake.

The cheesecake batter will be thin, but it firms up as it bakes.

For the chocolate cake:

1 cup all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 ounces ( 3/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for the pan

1/2 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1/3 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup (6 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips

For the cheesecake:

12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

2/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 large eggs, at room temperature

3/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan with a side at least 2 3/4 inches high.

For the chocolate cake: In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and sugar until smooth and lightened in color, about 1 minute. Add the eggs and beat for 2 minutes; the mixture will appear slightly curdled. Reduce the speed to low and add 1/2 of the flour mixture, mixing just until it is incorporated. Stir in the milk and vanilla. Stir in the remaining flour mixture, mixing just until it is incorporated.

Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly over the batter. Set aside.

For the cheesecake layer: In a large bowl with an electric mixer on low speed, beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Mix in the flour. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, mixing until the batter is smooth after each addition. Mix in the heavy cream and vanilla.

Carefully pour the cheesecake batter over the chocolate chips in the pan. Bake until the top of the cheesecake remains firm when the pan is gently shaken, 55 to 70 minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the oven. Cover the cheesecake with a paper towel. Set aside until completely cool, about 2 hours. Cover with plastic wrap and chill thoroughly, at least 6 hours or overnight. For the best flavor, let the cake sit at room temperature for about 1 hour before serving. (Leftover cheesecake can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 week.)

Per serving: 323 calories, 6 gm protein, 29 gm carbohydrates, 21 gm fat, 118 mg cholesterol, 13 gm saturated fat, 151 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Raspberry and Almond Praline Cheesecake

(16 servings)

Any cheesecake is party fare, but raspberries and praline make this cheesecake an especially elegant choice. You may substitute toasted ground almonds for the almond praline, but the resulting cheesecake will have less crunch. Use fresh or frozen unsweetened raspberries for the puree. Serve this exceptionally soft and creamy cheesecake cold.

For the crust:

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup almond praline powder (recipe follows) or finely ground, toasted blanched almonds

4 ounces (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus additional for the pan

For the cheesecake:

2 pounds cream cheese, softened

1 1/3 cups sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

4 large eggs, room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups almond praline powder (recipe follows) or finely ground, toasted blanched almonds

3/4 teaspoon almond extract

2 cups fresh raspberries or 12 ounces frozen, unsweetened raspberries, defrosted

1 cup whole fresh raspberries for serving (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan with a side at least 2 3/4 inches high. Wrap the outside of the pan with a large piece of heavy aluminum foil.

For the crust: In a large bowl with an electric mixer on low speed, mix the flour, sugar, praline powder and butter just until pea-sized crumbs form. The mixture should not form a ball. Press the mixture evenly over the bottom and 1/2-inch up the side of the prepared pan. Bake the crust in the preheated oven until the crust is golden, about 25 minutes. Set aside to cool.

For the cheesecake filling: In a large bowl with an electric mixer on low speed, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar and mix until smooth. Mix in the flour. Add the eggs, 2 at a time, mixing until the batter is smooth. Mix in the vanilla.

Transfer 2 1/2 cups of the batter to a medium bowl and stir in 3/4 cup of the praline powder and the almond extract; set aside the almond batter.

In a food processor or blender, puree the raspberries. Pour the puree into a strainer set over a small bowl; press the solids with the back of a spoon to extract all the seeds. Discard the seeds. Set aside 1/2 cup of the puree; reserve any remaining puree for another use.

Add the raspberry puree to the plain batter in the large bowl, stirring just until the mixture is evenly pink. Pour the raspberry batter into the prepared springform pan.

Place the pan in a larger baking pan with at least 2-inch high sides. Pour hot water into the larger baking pan until it reaches 1 inch up the outside of the springform pan. Bake the cheesecake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes.

Carefully slide the oven rack out several inches from the oven. Pour the reserved almond batter evenly around the outer edge of the cake. The batter will flow toward the center to cover the top of the cake. Bake until the top of the cheesecake remains firm when the pan is gently shaken, about 20 minutes.

Remove the baking pan from the oven. Cover the cheesecake with a paper towel and cool for 1 hour in the water bath.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath. Remove the paper towel and cool for 1 hour. The cheesecake should feel cool to the touch. Cover with plastic wrap and chill thoroughly in the refrigerator, at least 6 hours or overnight.

Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup praline powder over the top of the cheesecake. Serve cold with fresh raspberries, if desired. (Leftover cheesecake can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 week.)

Per serving: 469 calories, 9 gm protein, 40 gm carbohydrates, 31 gm fat, trace cholesterol, 17 gm saturated fat, 185 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber

Almond Praline Powder

(Makes about 2 cups)

Almond praline is made from a mixture of almonds cooked with caramelized sugar. It can be prepared ahead, sealed tightly and frozen to be used as needed.

Vegetable oil for the baking sheet

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup blanched slivered almonds

Lightly oil a metal baking sheet.

In a large, heavy nonstick skillet or medium saucepan over low heat, cook the sugar, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until it begins to dissolve. Increase the heat to medium and cook until the sugar turns light gold. Add the almonds and cook, stirring to coat completely with the caramelized sugar, until dark gold, about 1 minute. Immediately pour the praline onto the prepared baking sheet, spreading it with the wooden spoon. Be careful; the mixture is very, very hot. Set aside to cool until the praline is hard and cool to the touch.

Break the praline into 1- to 2-inch pieces and then crush into small (about 1/2-inch) pieces with a clean hammer, rolling pin or meat pounder. Transfer the crushed praline to a food processor or blender and process just until the praline forms a powder. The praline powder is ready to use the same day or can be frozen for up to 3 months.

Per serving (based on 16): 81 calories, 2 gm protein, 10 gm carbohydrates, 4 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 1 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Spirited Pumpkin Spice and Rum Cheesecake

(16 servings)

Perfect for fall celebrations, the gingersnap crumb crust holds a layer of pumpkin cheesecake that has a rum cheesecake topping.

For the gingersnap crust:

2 cups (about 9 ounces) gingersnap cookie crumbs

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 ounces ( 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus additional for the pan

For the filling:

2 pounds cream cheese, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

4 large eggs, room temperature

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons dark rum

3/4 cup canned solid pack pumpkin

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-inch springform pan with a side at least 2 3/4 inches high. Wrap the outside of the pan with a large piece of heavy aluminum foil.

For the gingersnap crust: In a medium bowl, mix together the cookie crumbs, cinnamon and butter. Press the crumb mixture evenly over the bottom and 1 inch up the side of the prepared pan. Bake the crust in the preheated oven for 6 minutes. Set aside to cool.

For the filling: In a large bowl with an electric mixer on low speed, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar and mix. Mix in the flour. Add the eggs, 2 at a time, mixing until smooth. Mix in 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon along with the ginger, cloves and vanilla.

Pour 2 1/2 cups of the batter into a medium bowl and stir in the rum; set aside the rum batter.

To the batter remaining in the large bowl, add the pumpkin, stirring just until it is incorporated and no white batter shows. Pour the pumpkin batter into the prepared pan.

Place the pan in a larger baking pan with at least 2-inch high sides Pour hot water into the larger baking pan until it reaches 1 inch up the outside of the springform pan. Bake for 35 minutes.

Carefully slide the oven rack out several inches from the oven. Pour the reserved rum batter evenly around the outer edge of the cake. The batter will flow toward the center to cover the top of the cake. Sprinkle the remaining teaspoon of cinnamon evenly over the top. Bake until the top of the cheesecake remains firm when the pan is gently shaken, about 25 minutes.

Remove the baking pan from the oven. Cover the cheesecake with a paper towel and cool in the water bath for 1 hour.

Carefully remove the cheesecake from the water bath. Remove the paper towel and cool for 1 hour. The cheesecake should feel cool to the touch. Cover with plastic wrap and chill thoroughly in the refrigerator, at least 6 hours or overnight. (Leftover cheesecake can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 week.)

Per serving: 404 calories, 7 gm protein, 36 gm carbohydrates, 26 gm fat, 124 mg cholesterol, 15 gm saturated fat, 315 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber

Triple Decker Chocolate, Coffee and Toffee Cheesecake

(16 servings)

The three layers of this unrestrained cheesecake meld into one extravagant mocha toffee blend.

For the chocolate-crumb crust:

2 cups chocolate-wafer cookie crumbs

3 ounces ( 3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus additional for the pan

For the filling:

2 pounds cream cheese, softened

1 1/3 cups sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

4 large eggs, room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 tablespoons heavy (whipping) cream

2 teaspoons instant coffee dissolved in 1 tablespoon heavy (whipping) cream

2/3 cup (two 1.4-ounce bars, such as Skor or Heath Bars), coarsely crushed toffee candy

6 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Butter a 9-inch springform pan with a side at least 2 3/4 inches high. Wrap the outside of the pan with a large piece of heavy aluminum foil.

For the chocolate-crumb crust: In a medium bowl, mix together the cookie crumbs and butter. Press the crumb mixture evenly over the bottom and 1 inch up the side of the prepared pan. Bake the crust in the preheated oven for 6 minutes. Set aside to cool.

For the filling: In a large bowl with an electric mixer on low speed, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar and mix until smooth. Mix in the flour. Add the eggs, 2 at a time, mixing until the batter is smooth after each addition. Mix in the vanilla and heavy cream. Put 2 cups of the batter into each of 2 medium bowls. Leave the remaining batter in the large bowl.

Stir the dissolved coffee into the batter in 1 of the medium bowls; set aside the coffee batter.

Mix the crushed toffee into the batter in the second medium bowl; set aside the toffee batter.

Mix the melted chocolate into the batter remaining in the large bowl, stirring just until the chocolate is incorporated and no white batter remains. Pour the chocolate batter into the crust in the prepared pan.

Place the pan in a larger baking pan with at least 2-inch high sides. Pour hot water into the larger baking pan until it reaches 1 inch up the outside of the springform pan. Bake for 20 minutes.

Carefully slide the oven rack out several inches from the oven. Pour the reserved coffee batter evenly around the outer edge of the cake. The batter will flow toward the center to cover the top of the cake. Bake for another 20 minutes.

Carefully slide the oven rack out several inches from the oven again. Pour the reserved toffee batter evenly around the outside edge of the cake. The batter will flow toward the center to cover the top of the cake. Bake until the top remains firm when the pan is gently shaken, about 20 minutes longer.

Remove the baking pan from the oven. Cover the cheesecake with a paper towel and cool for 1 hour in the water bath.

Carefully remove the cheesecake from the water bath. Remove the paper towel and cool for 1 hour. The cheesecake should feel cool to the touch. Cover with plastic wrap and chill thoroughly, at least 6 hours or overnight. (Leftover cheesecake can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 week.)

Per serving: 478 calories, 8 gm protein, 40 gm carbohydrates, 33 gm fat, 133 mg cholesterol, 20 gm saturated fat, 292 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Elinor Klivans's latest book is "125 Cookies to Bake, Nibble, and Savor" (Broadway Books, 1998).

TIPS ON MAKING CHEESECAKE

Springform pans are perfect for baking cheesecakes. They are deep and have sides that release easily. If baking the cheesecake in a water bath, wrap the pans with aluminum foil to make them watertight.

Soften the cream cheese thoroughly. If you press the cream cheese with your finger, it should feel soft and not cold. Putting the wrapped packages of cream cheese in a sunny window for 30 minutes to an hour speeds softening. On a hot summer day watch the cream cheese carefully.

I prefer full-fat cream cheese rather than reduced-fat cream cheese for these cheesecakes. It has less water and yields a firmer-textured cheesecake.

Most cheesecakes can be frozen for up to one month. Cool them thoroughly and refrigerate overnight. Remove the cold cheesecake from the pan and slide it onto a cardboard circle or serving platter. Wrap it tightly with plastic wrap, then heavy aluminum foil. Label with date and contents. Defrost the wrapped cheesecake overnight in the refrigerator. Any moisture that forms during defrosting, forms on the wrapping, not on the cheesecake.

Cut cheesecakes with a large sharp knife and wipe the knife clean after each slice is cut.

Although cheesecakes are soft when warm and freshly baked, they become firm as they cool and even firmer after being refrigerated.