My sister recently started making NY cheesecakes (Baked) according to an online recipe she found. I assisted her in doing so, and every time I mentioned any kind of change we could make in the recipe she refused to even think about that stating "you should be loyal to the recipe" and "don't make comments about things you don't know".

So I'm wondering: how much can I change a recipe for a different result?
Can I swap "petit beurre" biscuits with "digestive" biscuits?
Can I use any other kind of starch instead of corn starch?
In general, is it wrong to make drastic changes in a recipe?

P.S.: I am the kind of a person that tries different things to find the right way to do things, more of a trial and error kind but with the recent spike in the prices in my country and the economy we have I can't afford trying and failing no more, so I have to ask about everything beforehand, even the simplest things.

  • 1
    For the specific example of "petit beurre biscuits" vs. "digestive biscuits", a true New York style cheesecake doesn't have the faintest clue what either of those things are. Recipes will variously have graham crackers, Nilla wafers, no crust at all, or sometimes even a pre-baked shortbread crust, but a search for "digestive biscuits" in most New York grocery stores will come up totally blank. IOW, if the recipe you're using suggests "petit beurre biscuits" (whatever that means), it has already been translated/modified, so your sister is starting off on entirely the wrong foot.
    – Marti
    Dec 2, 2019 at 18:09
  • @Marti yeah i get what you say , since we don't have access to those kind of biscuits here i wrote what we used as an example , and i think the petit beurre is kind of a french shortbread or something originally , we have it here manufactured locally, google.com/…
    – Hitman2847
    Dec 2, 2019 at 22:05

2 Answers 2


Many beginners in the kitchen get advice along the lines of “you can play around with cooking, but baking recipes shouldn’t be changed or you risk failure” or something similar. This is only partially true.

Whenever you consider substitutions, you need to consider what the purpose of the given ingredient is. This will help in finding the answer to the “can I substitute” question. A few examples:

  • Corn starch thickens - potato starch will do the same, plain flour will usually work, but may affect the mouthfeel and flavor a bit.
  • Substituting one kind of dry biscuit for another will be no problem texture-wise, as the crumbs are bound together with the butter, but of course each kind will give a different flavor - and if you use a recipe that adds sugar to the crumbs you want to compensate the difference in sweetness between the chosen biscuits. Still, crumb crusts are quite forgiving.
  • Dairy is tricky - especially if it’s the main ingredient. Using a low-fat softer type instead of the rather firm “bricks” of cream cheese in US recipes can backfire badly. Here the different water content must be compensated, which means you need to adjust other binding ingredients. And the flavor will be different.

If in doubt, it’s always a good idea to check lots of recipes for the same dish. The common denominators should become clear as well as the range of variations.

  • 7
    It's important to note that even when substituting a product that "does the same thing" will likely require a different amount of that product, and if you're not experienced, then it may be nontrivial to guess what the appropriate changes in amount (and other ingredients - the "compensation" mentioned in this answer) should be to ensure proper proportions for the expected result. Properly substituting a key ingredient might require baking "the true recipe" once for comparison purposes followed by 2-3 iterations of "your variation" until you can get it just right.
    – Peteris
    Dec 1, 2019 at 16:30
  • These decisions you list are all more or less obvious for an experienced baker, but much less so for an inexperienced one (not to mention the quantity issue), which is precisely why this advice exists. So I don’t agree that the advice, given to beginners, is only “partially true”. In fact, it’s pretty good advice because as people learn what substitutes work they will automatically learn to strategically disregard the advice. A.k.a “rules can be broken when you understand why they exist”. Dec 2, 2019 at 18:10
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    @KonradRudolph I think it took me a quarter century to dare to switch from given recipes to ratios in baking. And a whole world opened up. Just saying.
    – Stephie
    Dec 2, 2019 at 18:20
  • @Peteris I Will definitely cook the original recipe once at least anyway , just as i said we already did the recipe , in fact we baked it three times , once without the sour cream and twice with the sour cream.
    – Hitman2847
    Dec 3, 2019 at 17:25

Maybe not an answer.

I'd try to collect as much NY Cheesecake recipes as possible and see what are the common parts and what variations there are between them.

In one of your example, recipes I've looked at are quite liberal in what can be used as crust.

For example, this recipe suggests "...graham cracker, digestive biscuits, or vanilla wafer crumbs..."

in general is it wrong to make drastic changes in a recipe?

I would say yes, drastic change will change the recipe; especially, IMO, in baked goods like cakes and cheesecakes and stuff like that.

There is a general understanding that a NY cheesecake should be; and if you change the recipe and it results in something different, then it not a NY cheesecake anymore.

  • 1
    well i might have written it wrong , by drastic i don't mean to change 5 of the 7 ingredient , but rather changing one or two of them , but i do understand what you are saying , just for the sake of a couple more answers i won't choose yours for a day or two
    – Hitman2847
    Nov 30, 2019 at 23:05
  • 1
    +1 especially for the last paragraph. Also, I would add that if "don't make comments about things you don't know" was accurate and OP really does not have experience in NY cheesecake, it is probably too early to diverge from the recipe. It is fine to change things to your taste (even if you no longer can call it NY cheesecake or whatever) but it is next to impossible to predict results of a change i you don't know how the base recipe plays out. Add to this pat about "I can't afford trying and failing" and you have a firm no.
    – Mołot
    Dec 2, 2019 at 12:05
  • You mean if I substitute a tomato broth for a cream broth in my New England clam chowder it might not be New England clam chowder? Dec 2, 2019 at 14:59

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