Cheesecake Hints and Tips

 

You don’t have to wait to order a slice of cheesecake from a restaurant pastry chef. Cheesecake is simple to make at home. But how do you bake the perfect cheesecake? Here are a few hints for making perfect creamy cheesecakes and secrets to prevent the cheesecake from cracking.

cheesecakeThere is something almost sinful in the richness of a perfect cheesecake. Cheesecake is really a custard but with the milk or cream being replaced with cream cheese, ricotta or similar cheese. The texture is velvety smooth and creamy, yet firm enough to hold its shape when chilled and cut. Cheesecake is sometimes dense, sometimes light, almost always unabashedly rich, and normally high in calories.

There are two main types of cheesecake, New York style and Italian style. New York style cheesecakes are typically made with cream cheese and are rich, velvety smooth, and creamy. Italian style is normally made with ricotta or cottage cheese and lighter in texture. Either way, cheesecake is a delicious and decadent dessert.

There are probably more flavors of cheesecake than crumbs in a cookie crust, with the types of crust ranging from graham cracker, gingersnap, cookie, nut, chocolate to pastry, or cake, or no crust at all.

Click here for Cheesecake Recipes

 

 

Cheesecake Hints

Pans:  Prepare a cheesecake pan by buttering the sides and bottom. Buttering the pan prevents sticking when the cake is removed and allows the cake to rise and release evenly from the sides, helping to prevent cracks from forming.

Springform Pan: A springform pan with 3-inch sides may be used for most cheesecakes. A springform springform panpan is a 2-piece pan that is deeper than a regular cake pan. Springform pans are normally round, with expandable sides that are secured with a clamp and have a removable bottom. When the clamp is opened, the sides of the pan expand and release the bottom. This allows you to remove the finished cake without having to turn it upside down which would damage a delicate cheesecake. The drawback to a springform pan is the raised edge around the bottom of the pan which makes it difficult to remove the cake without marring the cheesecake edges. Shop for springform pans

One-Piece Cheesecake Pan:  A cheesecake pan is a 3-inch deep, one-piece pan. This is a good pan to use when baking in a water bath, since there is no chance of leaking. Soufflé dishes with deep sides may also be used.

Two-Piece Cheesecake Pan:  A two-piece cheesecake pan with 3-inch sides and either a removable bottom or expandable sides secured with a clamp is probably the best and easiest pan to use for preparing cheesecakes. The bottom piece has a flat surface and no raised edge allowing the cheesecake to be easily removed from the bottom without marring the cheesecake edges. My favorite pans to use for making cheesecakes are the Fat Daddio’s Springform pans. Shop for Fat Daddio’s springform pans.

 

Ingredients:  All cheesecake ingredients should be fresh, and ingredients should be at room temperature unless the recipe states otherwise. It is helpful to gather all your ingredients together and have everything pre-measured before you begin.

Cheese:  The heart and main ingredient of any cheesecake is cheese. The cheeses most commonly used are cream cheese, Neufchatel, cottage cheese, farmer cheese, mascarpone, and ricotta. For best results, use regular cheese, not reduced-fat or fat-free.

Cream:  Most cheesecake recipes use either a sweet cream, such as heavy whipping cream or half and half, or a sour cream. The cream breaks up the heaviness of the cream cheese, giving the cake a smooth and creamy texture. For best results, use regular creams, not reduced-fat or fat-free.

Sweetener:  Dessert cheesecakes require a sweetener; typically granulated sugar, brown sugar, confectioners’ sugar, or honey is used.

Eggs:  Eggs help to bind the cheesecake and give it structure. They also help to give extra richness and create a smooth and creamy texture.

Flavorings:  The different flavors of a cheesecake may start with varying the basic ingredients of cheese, cream, sweetener, and eggs. But adding extra flavors such as fruit, nuts, spices, flavorings and chocolate are what make each cheesecake unique.

 

Making Crust or Pastry:  A classic and favorite cheesecake crust is made with graham cracker crumbs mixed with melted butter. You may also add 1 or 2 spoonfuls of sugar to sweeten, and possibly a little spice such as cinnamon, or a few chopped nuts for added crunch. For flavor variations try crushed gingersnap cookies or chocolate wafers in place of graham crackers.

After the crumb mixture is blended, pour into the buttered pan. Using the back of a large spoon or the flat bottom of a measuring cup or drinking glass, press the crumb mixture firmly and evenly across the bottom of the pan. If you want the crust to extend up the sides of the pan use your fingertips to move it into place.

It is not necessary to pre-bake the crust, but pre-baking helps to keep the crust intact and gives the crust a crisp texture to complement the smooth custard filling. If the crust is pre-baked, be sure to let it cool before pouring in the filling.

A shortbread crust is similar to a Scottish shortbread, with a predominantly butter flavor. The crust is normally pre-baked in the pan and cooled before adding the filling.

Pie or sweet tart pastry is another common crust used with cheesecakes. The pastry is normally pre-baked in the pan and cooled before adding the filling.

Sponge cake makes a nice base for cheesecakes. The cake is prebaked in a regular cake pan up to 1 day ahead, and then cut to fit into the bottom of the springform or cheesecake pan before adding the filling.

 

Cheesecake Filling:

  • The cheese should be softened and at room temperature to avoid lumps. Remove the cheese for your recipe from the refrigerator and let it sit on your counter. Generally 20 to 30 minutes before using is sufficient time to achieve the correct softness; however the time may vary depending on the warmth in your kitchen.
  • The eggs should be at room temperature to properly act as an emulsifier. If the eggs are cold, the previously blended butter and sugar will tend to break apart or curdle.
  • Remove the eggs for your recipe from the refrigerator and let it sit on your counter 20 to 30 minutes to warm to room temperature. To speed up the time, place the eggs in a bowl of warm water for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Blend the sugar into the cheese before adding other ingredients to help smooth the cheese and remove any lumps. Use a wire whisk or electric mixer on low to medium-low speed. Make sure the batter is completely smooth and free of lumps before adding the eggs.
  • Add the eggs, one or two at a time, to the cheese and sugar and blend by hand or mix on low to medium-low speed with an electric mixer just until blended. Add the creams or liquids next and blend well, then mix in any flavorings. Additional ingredients such as nuts or fruits are added last and should be gently folded in by hand.
  • Do not over beat the cheesecake batter. Blend the ingredients quickly to add as few air bubbles as possible. The ingredients must be well blended, but excessive beating creates too many air pockets which can cause the cheesecake to puff up too much during baking, and then crack during the cooling process.
  • Using a food processor to make the filling allows for an exception to room temperature ingredients; you can use ingredients cold from the refrigerator. A food processor incorporates less air than a mixer and blends the mixture into a smooth and creamy mass.
  • Process the cheese and sugar until the mixture is very smooth and there are no lumps, otherwise once the additional ingredients are added the extra liquids will prevent any lumps from dissolving. Add the eggs one at a time, fully incorporating each egg before adding the next. Add creams or liquids next and blend well, then mix in any flavorings. Additional ingredients such as nuts or fruits are added last and should be gently folded in by hand.

Bake the Cheesecake:

  • Pour the filling into the cooled crust, and set the pan on a baking sheet with ½ inch sides to catch any possible leakage. Place in the center of the oven for baking.
  • Before baking, run the point of a sharp knife between the cheesecake and the side of the pan about ½ inches down. This will help prevent cracks as the cake bakes and cools.
  • Baking the cheesecake in a water bath, or bain-marie, makes a creamier and moister cake as the water bath keeps the surface of the custard moist. A crustless cheesecake or cookie crumb crust is preferred with a bain-marie; a pastry crust may become soggy.
  • Wrap the springform pan in 2 layers of heavy duty aluminum foil to prevent any water from seeping into the cheesecake through the pan seams. Place the springform pan into a larger pan that contains enough water to rise one inch up the sides of the springform pan.
  • Cheesecakes are normally baked in a “slow” oven, 325 or 350 degrees F. After baking for the desired time the cake can be partially cooled by turning the oven off and leaving the cake in the oven an additional hour. After this additional hour remove from the oven and finish cooling on a wire cooling rack.
  • Cheesecakes don’t take kindly to sudden changes in temperature. Open the oven door as little as possible while baking, especially during the first 30 minutes. Drafts can cause a cheesecake to crack.
  • A cheesecake is creamier if it is not over baked. Cheesecakes continue to bake during the cooling process. Over baking can also cause the cheesecake to crack.

Test for Doneness:

  • The best test of when a cheesecake is done is by its appearance. Cheesecake is done when the edges are set but the center 2 to 3 inches are still a pool of liquid batter. The cake should look as though it has puffed a little and just barely beginning to brown. The center will still be soft and jiggly when the pan is lightly jarred or tapped with a spoon. The retained heat will continue to cook the center while the cheesecake is cooling, and once the cheesecake is cooled and chilled the center will be firm and perfect.
  • Every time you open the oven door to check for doneness, much of the oven heat is lost; when you close the door the oven has to re-heat. Therefore, allow at least 10 minutes between each test for doneness so that your oven can retain enough heat to finish baking the cheesecake.
  • The baking times given in a recipe are only a guideline. Use visual clues to determine doneness.
  • Do not use a knife or toothpick to check for doneness as this may cause the cheesecake to crack.

Cool and Chill:

  • After removing from the oven, immediately run a thin knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cheesecake. This allows the cake to contract away from the sides of the pan as it cools, helping to prevent cracks.
  • Place the pan on a wire cooling rack to cool the cake completely to room temperature. It will take from 1 to 3 hours to completely cool the cheesecake.
  • Allow plenty of time for the cheesecake to cool. Always plan on making your cheesecake at least 1 day ahead of serving. If a warm cheesecake is rushed into the refrigerator, the cake will contract dramatically, causing cracks.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 12 to 24 hours before serving. Refrigerating allows the cake to mature and help the flavors blend together. In addition, the long chill further firms the cake.

Un-mold from the Pan:

  • To unmold the cake from a springform pan, first run a thin bladed knife around the edge to loosen the crust from the sides of the pan. Open the clamp and expand the sides of the pan and release the bottom. Carefully slip the tip of a sharp knife between the crust and pan bottom, slip the cake off the pan bottom and onto a serving plate.
  • To unmold the cake from a cheesecake pan, the pan needs to be slightly heated to release the cake. First run a thin bladed knife around the edge to loosen the crust from the sides of the pan. Dip the pan into a bowl or sink of very hot water that reaches about ¾ of the way to the rim, and hold in place for 10 to 15 seconds. Dry the pan with a towel, and then invert it onto a plate that is covered with plastic wrap. If the cake doesn’t come out, dip and try again. Or, instead of dipping in hot water, place the pan over a stovetop burner at medium heat and rotate the pan so that the entire bottom becomes slightly heated, taking about 5 to 10 seconds. Once it drops out of the pan, quickly invert the cake onto a clean serving plate, right side up.

Slicing Cheesecake:

  • Cheesecake can be difficult to slice because the creamy filling sticks to the knife. Dental floss is one of the best-kept secrets in a cheesecake kitchen. Take a long strand of unflavored dental floss, either waxed or unwaxed, stretch it taut, and gently press it through the cake. Don’t pull the floss back up through the cut you have made, instead pull it out when you reach the bottom. If the floss does not cut through the crust, finish cutting with a thin, sharp knife.
  • If using a knife instead of dental floss to slice the cake, use a sharp straight-edge knife. To make clean slices, warm the blade in hot water, dry and slice. Clean and dry the knife after each cut. As you cut, pull the knife out from the bottom of the cake to keep the surface smooth.

Serving and Toppings:

  • If the top of your cheesecake does form a crack, just cover it up! Top the cheesecake with a fruit topping, sour cream topping, or jam.
  • For a pretty presentation, cover the top of the cheese cake with fresh fruit such as raspberries, ate raspberry cheesecakestrawberries, blackberries, or blueberries, and then make the berries glisten by brushing on a bit of warmed jam or jelly. Add fruit toppings shortly before serving.
  • A classic topping is a thin layer of sour cream spread over the top. Wait about 1 hour after the baked cheesecake has cooled on a wire rack. Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. In a small bowl, combine 1½ cups sour cream with 2 tablespoons granulated sugar. Spread it evenly over the surface of the cheesecake and bake for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the cake cool completely to room temperature, then cover and chill in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.
  • Cheesecake tastes best at room temperature. Remove the cake from the refrigerator about 1 hour before serving and slicing. Or, slice the cheesecake while it’s still cold from the refrigerator, then let slices stand at room temperature 15 to 30 minutes before serving.

Storing Cheesecake:

  • Leftovers should be refrigerated to retain the cheesecakes’ freshness and moisture. Cover with plastic wrap or foil to keep the cake from drying out. If it is difficult to wrap the cake without marring the surface, return the cake to the pan and cover the pan with plastic wrap or foil. Refrigerate, covered, for up to 1 week.
  • Most cheesecakes can be kept in the freezer 1 to 2 months and later thawed before serving. To freeze, cool the cake completely to room temperature, place on a baking sheet and freeze until firm. Then remove the cake from the freezer and double wrap with heavy-duty aluminum foil or heavy-duty plastic wrap and place in a freezer bag. Freeze for up to 2 months. To thaw, loosen the covering slightly then let sit in its wrapping in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours or at room temperature 4 to 6 hours. Thaw individual pieces at room temperature about 30 minutes.

 

 

Hints to Prevent Cheesecake from Cracking

  • Do not over beat the cheesecake batter. Incorporate as little air into the batter as possible. The ingredients must be well blended, but excessive beating creates too many air bubbles which cause the cheesecake to puff up too much during baking, and then crack as the cheesecake settles when cooling.
  • Let the filling rest about 5 minutes before pouring into the pan to allow air bubbles to rise to the surface.
  • Before baking, run the point of a sharp knife between the cheesecake and the side of the pan about ½ inches down. This will help prevent cracks as the cake bakes and cools.
  • Open the oven door as little as possible while baking, especially during the first 30 minutes. Drafts can cause a cheesecake to crack.
  • Bake in a slow oven. 325 degrees F is ideal, and no higher than 350 degrees F. If the oven temperature is too high the surface of the cheese cake will dry out, forming cracks.
  • Do not over bake. Cheesecakes continue to bake during the cooling process. Over baking can cause the cheesecake to crack.
  • Do not use a knife or toothpick to check for doneness as this may cause the cheesecake to crack.
  • After removing from the oven run a thin knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cheesecake. This allows the cake to contract away from the sides of the pan as it cools, helping to prevent cracks.
  • Allow plenty of time for the cheesecake to cool. Plan on making cheesecake at least 1 day ahead of serving. If a warm cheesecake is rushed into the refrigerator, the cake will contract dramatically, causing cracks. Allow the cake to cool completely to room temperature, and then chill in the refrigerator at least 12 to 24 hour.