Cheesecakes have been around for centuries (as in since ancient times!). From the days of the Olympics as a simple honey-sweetened treat for the athletes to today’s decadent desserts and unique savory dishes, cheesecake has evolved into one of the most versatile items we make! As much as we all love cheesecake, it is a labor of love and can be quite temperamental. One little mistake and you have a cheesecake that is cracking and separating all over your plate! Here, we will discuss the most important principles to baking the perfect cheesecake.
Here, I’ll cover the eight key principles to baking that perfect cheesecake — no matter the flavor! Once you understand and can practice these principles, you are on your way to creating your own recipes and making wonderfully delicious cheesecakes!
First, you need to understand what cheesecake is. A cheesecake is a custard, not a cake as we know it in the traditional sense. As a custard, the cheesecake should be thick, rich and creamy. As with any custard, a cheesecake relies on the proteins in the eggs to give it structure. The proteins coagulate as the temperature approaches 160 degrees. If the cheesecake overbakes, the custard becomes dry.
Don’t use high temperatures or shiny pans. Low and slow is the motto you should adopt when baking a cheesecake. A long, slow bake allows for a more uniform internal temperature, which can improve your chances of not cracking the cake! 🙂 The type of pan you use is important too. A springform pan is best, and it should be dark in color. The darker the better! If your pan is a pretty, shiny silver (reflective)…..hold off on the cheesecake until you get the right pan.
Get the cheese right! No matter the type of cheese you are using (cream, ricotta, cottage, etc) it needs to be SMOOTH. No lumps. Lumps will not bake out like they do in a normal cake. Beat or process the cheese until it is soft and smooth. It’s easier to make a smooth mixture of the cream cheeses if you start with softened cream cheese. Take the cream cheese from the refrigerator at least an hour before mixing. Beat the cheese with the paddle attachment, not the whip. You want to be careful to avoid putting too much air into the cheese….. Air leads to puffing and falling and cracking. Not good.
Mix, don’t whip! If you got the cheese beaten correctly, you should be able to gently stir the ingredients into it. As in Principal #4, air is the enemy.
A custard will “weep” after a bit, (the liquid tends to separate, not at all appetizing). this is where a tablespoon or two of either all-purpose flour or cornstarch comes into play. Before adding the eggs into the cheese mixture, stir in the flour or cornstarch. This will give the cheesecake a little more structure, but it will also reduce the creaminess. Just remember, less is more. If you aren’t sure whether to add the flour or cornstarch, use this rule: if you are adding fruit — add the flour/cornstarch. Fruits tend to breakdown in the baking process, providing more liquid. If you are just using vanilla or chocolate, leave the flour out. 🙂
Eggs — stirred, not shaken. This really should have been the first principle. Getting the eggs wrong is the number one issue for cracked cheesecakes. Too many, not enough, over beaten eggs will crack, rise, fall a cheesecake worse than anything else! How many should you use? For each eight ounces of cheese, use one large egg. Mix the eggs in a separate bowl, just until they are completely mixed. DO NOT WHIP the eggs with a mixer. Do this the old-fashioned way — by hand. Then, gently fold them into the cheesecake mixture. Once again, air is the enemy. Cheesecakes rely primarily on eggs for the structure. Not only does the egg mixture have to reach 160 to 170 degrees to coagulate, but the filling must have enough eggs. In our experience, one egg per eight-ounce package of cream cheese plus a little milk or cream is about right.
Don’t overbake the cheesecake. An over-baked cheesecake will be dry, cracked, and not taste right. Who wants an icky-tasting cheesecake? So, how do you know when it’s done baking? It is done when it is still jiggly but not soupy. The top of the cheesecake will jiggle as a whole and the center two inches will look softer and the top is just starting to blush a golden color. If you don’t see those things, you have probably over baked the cheesecake. Do not stick a knife or a toothpick in the center. It is not a reliable test and it may start a crack. The maximum temp/time you should be baking a cheesecake is 325 degrees Fahrenheit for at least an hour and a half.
When the cheesecake is done baking, DO NOT put it in a cool area. Cooling too quickly results in cracking. Place the cheesecake on top of the stove, and turn the oven off. Allow the cheesecake to sit about 10-15 minutes. Using a thin spatula or knife, run around the edge of the cake, run the blade between the cake and the pan. Other ways to get the cheesecake out of the pan — line it with parchment paper. Spray non-stick food spray on the spring form pan. Be sure to cut a circle of parchment paper for the bottom of the pan and a ring to go around the inside of the pan. Remove the ring of the springform pan and let the cheesecake cool for about an hour. Finally, you should be able to move the cake to a serving platter. Now, let the cheesecake get to room temperature BEFORE you place it in the refrigerator. Cooling too quickly will crack the cake.
Now that you know the principals for baking the perfect cheesecake, you are ready to venture out on your own! If you need an idea for what kind of cheesecake to bake, stick around here and browse the recipes. I’d love to hear from you about any tips you have or stories about your cheesecake baking ventures!
Save the world! It’s the only one with cheesecake! Tell me below your cheesecake stories! I’d love to hear about your successes, failures and hilarity in the kitchen!