I've made many awesome cheesecakes in my life, but I've also made enough that failed spectacularly enough that they taught me a few things - Like baking cheesecakes in water baths is fussy nonsense and I have no patience for them. These are my tried and true tips for a perfect cheesecake, no water bath needed.
7 tips for a perfect cheesecake every time
- Make sure your ingredients have come to room temperature before you even think of combining any of them. This includes not only the cream cheese, but also any sour cream, juice, and eggs you intend to use in the recipe. I don't advocate for leaving them out for more than 2 hours - because food safety - but long enough that they've lost their chill and are easily combined, smoothly. This helps prevent lumps in your batter and prevents the need to overbeat, which has it's own consequences.
- Do not overbeat the batter. Overbeating creates air in the batter, which will lead to a cheesecake that rises in the oven and falls as it cools. Do you ever wonder how professional bakers get flat cheesecake tops, while yours look more like a crater with a big dip in the middle? It's because they're careful not to overbeat their batter.
- Add your eggs in last, one at a time. Eggs are notorious for adding air when overbeaten, so add them in last so they don't spend any more time getting mixed than absolutely necessary. Eggs provide structure to the cheesecake but I find that most cheesecakes need 2-3 eggs max, so when I see a recipe calling for 5 or more I am always a little dubious.
- Do not open the oven door to check on the progress. I know this is a cardinal rule for most baking, but it's especially important when baking cheesecakes. The fluctuation in temperature from opening the oven and letting air in during the baking process is too much stress to put on your cheesecake and a surefire way to inhibit even baking and promote cracking. I know you may be tempted to check on the progress, but it's not a good idea to open the oven door.
- Do not overbake. Overbaking your cheesecake is an excellent way to make sure it cracks. Your cheesecake should look set on the outside and slightly jiggly in the center when you turn the oven off. It will continue to cook slightly as it cools down. I have overbaked countless cheesecakes because I was wary that the inside wasn't completely set and every single one of them cracked.
- Be patient through the cool-down process. I know when the timer goes off you might want to whip that gorgeous cheesecake out and pop it directly on the counter to cool. Afterall, you patiently waited for it to bake without opening the oven to check on it (didn't you?). So, why do you have to wait for it to cool in the oven? Try to resist taking the cheesecake out of the oven right away because you will likely impede the rest of the cooking process and end up cracking your cheesecake because the change in temperature is too jarring. After the initial bake, your cheesecake will continue to cook slightly while it's still hot. I like to turn the oven off and allow the oven temperature to drop naturally for 10 minutes, then crack the oven open slightly to vent for 30 additional minutes before finally pulling it out to continue cooling on the counter. Once it has completed the gradual cool-down process, you can wrap your cheesecake and store it in the fridge to set. I like to refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours for a properly firm cheesecake.
- Wipe your knife between cuts for picture perfect slices. I like to run my knife under hot water briefly, then dry it before I make my first cut. Prior to each subsequent cut, I like to carefully wipe the blade down on each side. This helps prevent the inevitable crumb coating from ending up on the edges of each slice you make.
If your cheesecake DOES crack or the middle falls, don't stress - That's what topping was made for. Top your cheesecake with whipped cream, fresh preserves, or sweetened sour cream (like this Blood Orange Cheesecake) and no one will be the wiser. If all else fails, as long as it's delicious I consider that a win!
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