How to Make a Cheesecake

Cheesecake is a type of dessert that consists of a pastry shell surrounding a rich custard-like filling. Often the crust is made of graham crackers, but other types of cookies are also used.

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When mixing the batter, it is important to use a low speed and not over-mix. This will prevent adding air into the batter that can cause it to crack during baking.

Origins

The history of cheesecake dates back a long way. Physical anthropologists have found cheesecake molds on the island of Samos dating to 2000 B.C. The earliest recipes were far simpler than today’s versions. They consisted of a mixture of pounded cheese, wheat flour and honey that were shaped into cakes and baked on an earthenware griddle. These rudimentary recipes were used as energy foods for Greek Olympians. It was also customary for the Greek bride to bake and serve a cheesecake to her new husband’s family and friends at their wedding.

By 1929, a New York restaurateur named Arnold Reuben claimed to have developed the first cream cheese cheesecake recipe. He based it on a cheese pie he had been served in a private home. Later bakers experimented with using a crust made from finely crushed graham crackers instead of the traditional pastry. And they began to remove the yeast from the recipe, which lent it an overpowering tang that clashed with the creamy cheese. Today, cheesecakes are enjoyed around the world in a wide variety of styles. In Japan, cheesecake custard is constructed from a slurry of cornstarch and egg whites; in Italy, it’s ricotta cheese; and in St. Louis, a thick custard sandwiched by butter-ladened cake.

Ingredients

If you want to make a cheesecake that looks as impressive as it tastes, you’ll need high-quality ingredients. Start with butter for the crust, which should be melted and mixed with finely ground graham crackers to form a tight, dense crust.

Cream cheese is the star of a classic New York style cheesecake, and you’ll need full-fat variety for the best flavor and texture. It should come to room temperature before you use it, which will help prevent lumps. Eggs and sour cream are added to provide structure and give the cheesecake its classic smooth and rich texture. Flour might seem out of place, but a little starch helps prevent the cake from cracking during baking.

You’ll also need a roasting pan to use as the water bath, and you’ll need enough hot water to reach about halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake the cheesecake for about an hour, or until the edges are firm and the center jiggles like Jell-O. Allow the cheesecake to cool completely, then refrigerate it until chilled and ready to serve.

Preparation

Mary is a long-time contributor to DelightedCooking and loves cooking and baking with her family. She holds a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and enjoys exploring the world around her.

The key to a successful cheesecake is good preparation. Make sure your cream cheese, sour cream, and eggs are all at room temperature before mixing. Over-mixing or using cold ingredients will cause the batter to crack.

It is also important to use a springform pan that is leakproof (see this tip for a simple trick). Also, use parchment paper to line the bottom and sides of your pan.

Cheesecake is often baked in a water bath. This simply means placing the springform pan into a larger pan with hot water. This helps the cake bake slowly and evenly, and reduces the chance of cracking on the top.

When baked, a cheesecake should be firm around the edges but still jiggle a bit in the center (like Jell-O). Once cool, top with your choice of toppings. Typical choices include fruit preserves, fresh berries, canned pie filling, caramel sauce, chocolate syrup, or whipped cream.

Baking

In addition to making sure the ingredients are at room temperature, it’s a good idea to use a high-quality cheesecake pan and bake in a water bath (sometimes called a bain marie) to help prevent cracks. The water provides gentle, consistent heat and a humid environment which helps the cake cook more evenly. It’s also a good way to avoid overcooking the cake by limiting its exposure to dry oven air as it cools.

Bake the cheesecake for about an hour and then check to see if it’s done by putting a toothpick in the center. If the edges are firm and the middle jiggles a little like jelly, it’s ready to come out of the oven. After taking it out of the oven, leave it to cool slowly in its water bath until it is at room temperature. To make the cheesecake easier to slice, dip a long, thin knife in hot water for a moment and then wipe it dry before cutting each slice. This allows the blade to cut through the cheesecake without damaging it as it cools.

Cooling

While many recipes suggest placing a cheesecake directly into the fridge, the rapid shift from hot to cold can cause a cheesecake to crack. Allowing a cheesecake to cool at room temperature first gives the structure a chance to absorb the heat more evenly and thereby prevents cracking.

A cheesecake should be placed on a wire rack to let it air out and cool down. This method also helps to avoid the build-up of condensation on the underside of the cake, which can drip and make the surface slimy – not a very appetizing texture.

You can speed up the cooling process by using an ice bath, or bain marie. To do this, simply wrap the outside of your springform pan in several layers of plastic wrap and place it in a bowl filled with ice water.

Then, use a long carving knife to slice the cheesecake into pieces. A warm, clean knife will cut through the chilled cheesecake more easily. Then, just as if the cheesecake had been refrigerated, serve it up! Even a cheesecake with minor cracks is still delicious.