Cheesecake has confused and intimidated many a baker. Why did it crack? Why is it grainy? And do I really need that special pan? (Answer: yes.) Turns out the secret to perfect cheesecake is all in the details. And it's all spelled out right here!
10 tips for cheesecake success
1. Always use room temp cream cheese
Just about every cheesecake recipe calls for "softened" cream cheese — and that's no accident. Softened cream cheese is creamier when mixed, and it blends better with the other ingredients in the recipe. If the cream cheese is too cold, your mix will be lumpy, and so will your finished cake. No thank you.
If you really don't have time to wait for the cream cheese to soften at room temperature, here's an alternative: Put your cream cheese bricks (out of the foil wrapping) in a microwave-safe bowl and heat in 20-second blasts until soft, but not too warm.
2. Add a little flour or cornstarch
The best cheesecake recipes call for a small amount of flour or cornstarch (like as little as one tablespoon). This tiny addition really makes a difference! The starch interacts with the egg proteins and prevents them from over-coagulating. This means a creamier texture and less risk of cracks.
3. Spring for the springform pan
A springform pan — that's a pan with a spring to hold the sides of the pan in place — is pretty essential for cheesecakes. They're delicate and custard-like once baked, so inverting them on a cooling rack to remove from the pan just won't work. The removable sides of a springform solve this problem. Remember to grease the bottom and sides of your springform pan to help with a smooth release.
4. Don't over-mix your batter
Mixing your cheesecake batter is a delicate balance. You have to mix the cream cheese enough to remove any lumps, but incorporating too much air into the mix can cause the cake to rise too rapidly in the oven, then fall, then crack. Since eggs are the part of the mix that really holds air, a good guideline is to mix thoroughly at first, when you're combining cream cheese and sugar, but blend more gently once the eggs are added. Also, scrape, scrape and scrape again while mixing to make sure no lumps are clinging to the sides of the bowl.
5. Remember the water bath
A water bath — or bain-marie if you're feeling fancy — is the technique of putting your cake pan in a container of water while baking. The water helps the heat disperse evenly, resulting in an evenly baked cake without those dreaded cracks.
Here's how: Wrap the bottom and sides of your springform pan with aluminum foil (the foil goes outside the pan), then fill the pan with your batter. Place your filled springform pan in a large roasting pan and fill the pan with hot water (enough to come about halfway up the sides of the pan), then and put it all in the oven.
6. Avoid over-baking!
Your cheesecake is done when the edges and top look mostly set, but there's still a jolly little jiggle in the middle of the pan — look for that in the 3-4 inches in the very center of the cake. Remove the cake from the oven when it still has this jiggle. It'll continue to cook internally for a while, then "set" as it cools.
7. Let it cool gradually
Resist the temptation to pop that delicious cheesecake right into the fridge after it comes out of the oven. Instead, let it reach room temperature on a wire rack. (This can take a couple hours, so plan accordingly.) Why the delay?
- Putting a hot cheesecake in the fridge can make it "sweat" with condensation, and that makes for blotches and gluey texture on top.
- The cake tends to "set" heavier if it's put in the fridge too soon.
- The shock of the temperature change can cause cracks in the top of your cake.
8. Great news: cracks can be fixed
Even when you do everything perfectly, you might still get cracks. If this does happen, take action - but not until the cake is completely chilled. Run a knife under very hot water. Towel it dry, then run the knife gently over the crack. It should close the seam a bit, if not totally erase the crack.
PS: If the sealed-off crack looks more like a scar on top of your cake, no problem. That's your invitation to pour on the caramel or chocolate ganache .
9. Slice with dental floss
This one's weird, but it makes sense. Just like how a wire is used to cut clay, floss can cleanly cut cheesecake, and it leaves nice edges on your slice.
Hold the floss taut between your fingers with enough length to cover the cake. Then use a gentle sawing motion to draw it down through the cake. True story: mint floss will leave a minty taste, so go for the plain kind.
10. Store it properly
If you don't eat the whole cake in one go, wrap the leftovers well and store them in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Keep them away from strong-smelling foods to make sure tomorrow's slice is just as scrumptious as today's.
If you're looking to bake in advance, cheesecakes freeze really well. Just let it cool to room temperature, then put it in the freezer, uncovered, for 30 minutes to an hour, depending how big your cake is. Once it's firm enough to remove from the springform pan, place it on a plate or cardboard serving circle and wrap it tightly with plastic wrap, then put it back in the freezer. Thaw for a few hours (or overnight) in the fridge before serving, and only apply toppings once you're ready to serve.