(With tips from experts)
Slow-baking, jiggle testing, careful cooling, adding structure, and 150 degrees— these are just a few principles to making the perfect cheesecake.
Along with knowing how long to bake a cheesecake and understanding that it is not a cake, there are several key principles to keep in mind every time you bake a cheesecake. We think it should be just as enjoyable to make a cheesecake as it is to eat one. In this article, we’ll tell you how to make delicious cheesecakes that are picture-perfect without too much trouble.
If you understand the principles, you can create your own recipes. If you understand and practice these principles, chances are you will make perfect cheesecakes. You can find our favorite cheesecake recipe here.
Principle #1: A Cheesecake Is Not Cake
Cheesecake is a custard, not a cake. As a custard, the perfect 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 begin to coagulate at 150 degrees. If it over-bakes, the custard becomes dry.
Principle #2: Slow Bake Your Cheesecake
A long, slow bake allows for a more uniform internal temperature to make a perfect cheesecake. Never bake your cheesecake over 350 degrees. We prefer a dark pan to uniformly absorb heat, not a reflective pan.
Principle #3: Use the Jiggle Test to Avoid Over-baking Your Cheesecake
Don’t over-bake your cheesecake. Most cheesecakes are over baked and they tend to be dry, not creamy. An over baked cheesecake tends to crack. The target temperature is 150 degrees. The perfect cheesecake is baked 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. If the top is doing anything but just starting to blush a golden color, 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 precipitate a crack. Sticking a thermometer probe into the cheesecake is reliable but it may start a crack.
Principle #4: Prepare the Cream Cheese to be Soft and Smooth
Slowly beat the cream cheese until it is soft and smooth. It’s easier to make a smooth mixture of the cream cheese if you start with softened cream cheese. Take the cream cheese from the refrigerator at least an hour before mixing. If using a stand-type mixer beat the cheese with the paddle attachment, not the whip.
Principle #5: Do Not Whip the Cheesecake Filling
Mix the ingredients into the cream cheese; don’t whip the ingredients. If too much air is incorporated into the filling, the cheesecake will puff when baked and sink as it cools. With too much air incorporated into the filling, cracks are likely to develop.
Principle #6: Give Your Cheesecake More Structure
Custards tend to be soft and may weep. To give your cheesecake more structure, consider adding one to two tablespoons of cornstarch or flour. For a creamier cheesecake, leave the starch out.
Principle #7: The Eggs Matter
Cheesecakes primarily rely on eggs for the structure. Not only does the egg mixture have to reach a temperature 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, sour cream, or cream is about right.
Principle #8: Remove Your Cheesecake with Care
Cheesecakes are easier to remove from a pan after they have cooled slightly. For a picture-perfect cheesecake, let the cheesecake cool for ten minutes and then with a spatula or thin-bladed knife, run the blade between the cake and the pan.
If you let the cheesecake cool for any longer than that, it may start to contract and, with the cake stuck to the pan, crack. A nonstick pan not only makes the release easier but may help keep the cheesecake from cracking.
It’s much easier to remove the flexible ring of a silicone pan.
Tips From Experts
- A cooler oven is better than a warmer oven. Most recipes call for 325 degrees.
- Consider baking the cheesecake in a water bath for more even heat. Place your cheesecake pan inside a larger pan and then add water to about the depth of the batter. You will need a leak-proof pan or aluminum foil molded around the pan to protect the cheesecake from water intruding.
- Baked to 150 degrees, your cheesecake will be soft and smooth. It will firm as it chills. If you would like it less moist, add a tablespoon of cornstarch or two tablespoons of flour.
- A slow cool down after baking is best. Some bakers turn the oven off just before the cheesecake is baked and set the oven door ajar to cool more slowly.
- Do not put a warm cheesecake in the freezer or refrigerator to cool. It should cool slowly, and a warm cheesecake is likely to sweat in the refrigerator.
- Once the cake has cooled to room temperature, chill in the refrigerator, preferably overnight.
- Before serving, remove the cheesecake to the counter and let it warm until it is barely cool, just above room temperature. Return leftovers to the refrigerator. Place bowl or cake cover over the cheesecake. Since the cheesecake is high in fats, it is prone to absorb food odors in the refrigerator.