Rise to the cheesecake challenge with our extensive baker’s guide to the rich, creamy classic!
From pressing in the crust to pouring the filling, here’s how to get an ideal cheesecake from mixer to oven.
Use the bottom of a glass or metal measuring cup to smooth and tamp down your crumb crust in the springform pan. It should be a tight fit, with no loose crumbs lingering. Prebaking your crust will help create a sealed barrier between crust and filling, sidestepping the soggy bottom issue.
For the smoothest batter, make sure your ingredients are room temperature before starting. Also, scrape the sides of the bowl periodically throughout mixing. If you skip these steps, pieces of cream cheese and other dairy will remain unincorporated and stick around as little globs in your otherwise perfectly smooth filling.
Before pouring your filling onto the prebaked crust, wrap your springform pan in a double layer of heavy-duty foil and then place it in a large oven bag, tucking the ends so the bag is flush with the top edge of the pan. The foil will protect your cheesecake from uneven amounts of heat while the oven bag should act as an added barrier between the water bath and the springform pan.
The Magic Water Bath
Master the secret to a perfectly baked cheesecake: the water bath.
WHY WE DO IT: Think of cheesecake as a custard-based dish like crème brûlée. Heavy on eggs and dairy, the cheesecake filling needs a humid bake to keep the egg proteins from drying out or overcooking. Enter the water bath, a homemade humidifier that’ll help you create the most luxuriously textured cheesecake.
HOW WE DO IT: After wrapping the springform pan and adding your filling, place the springform pan in a large roasting pan (a disposable one works fine). Then place your roasting pan into the preheated oven. Using a large measuring cup, pour hot water into roasting pan to 1 inch up the sides of the springform pan.
Cracking the Case
The reasons why cheesecake cracks—and how best to avoid them
THE CAUSE: Overmixing the batter. When making your filling, overmixing can lead to incorporating too much air into the batter. Once baked, the air bubbles will burst, and the cheesecake will fall and crack.
THE FIX: The number one reason why you’d overbeat your batter is because you’re having dificulty incorporating cold ingredients. Bring your ingredients to room temperature beforehand so the batter will need minimum mixing.
THE CAUSE: Overbaking. Perhaps the jiggly center made you nervous or you accidentally forgot to set the timer, but no matter what, if you overbake your cheesecake, the egg proteins will overcook and cause cracks.
THE FIX: Using a water bath (see opposite page for our water bath tutorial) helps the cheesecake bake at a gentle, steady temperature. Plus, you can use an instant-read thermometer to see when your cheesecake is truly ready (when it registers 150°F [66°C] to 155°F [68°C]).
THE CAUSE: Cheesecake sticking to the sides of the springform pan. As the cheesecake cools, the filling shrinks slightly, creating a tug-of-war between the filling stuck to the sides of the pan and the cheesecake center.
THE FIX: Make sure you’ve properly greased or sprayed your springform pan before pouring in the filling. This will keep your cheesecake from sticking to the sides.
THE CAUSE: Drastic temperature changes. You might have opened the oven door too soon, letting in a cold draft. Or once you removed your cheesecake from the oven, you were tempted to rush it into the refrigerator for the overnight chill. Either way, the shock of cold to a still-warm cheesecake causes cracks.
THE FIX: Resist opening your oven door until your cheesecake is close to completing its baking time. Then let your cheesecake cool completely at room temperature before putting it into the refrigerator to chill overnight.
CRACKS HAPPEN. Perhaps your kitchen is colder because of weather or your oven has a hot spot. For whatever reason, the cheesecake has cracked despite your best efforts. Remember, your cheesecake is still delicious, so instead of calling it a failed experiment, cover the crack with a delicious topping, like a sour cream coat.