Since I’ve been teaching bakery for the last five weeks, I thought it would be nice to share a dish we worked on recently: cheesecake. Let me start by saying there are plenty of ways you can make cheesecake that are different than this one and I’m sure most of them are delicious. However, this is how we teach professionals to do it and these procedures will undoubtedly yield the best possible results if they’re followed properly.Note: This is a professional formula so it is measured entirely by weight. For more on that, visit my post on Weight vs Volume.
Why “New York Style”?
I chose to feature this particular style of cheesecake for several reasons but it kind of boils down to one major reason… it’s my favorite. New York style cheesecakes utilize both cream cheese and sour cream so they’re tangier than other versions, which I find delicious. This one also uses a little heavy cream for added richness… yum. They’re also much taller and look more impressive when served and since we teach you to engage your eaters with their eyes as well as their taste buds, this was a no-brainer.
Other options would be a cheesecake that uses mascarpone or one that doesn’t include sour cream. Both are very good but, personally, I like the tanginess of the New York style. Some people choose to bake cheesecakes in pie tins instead of cake pans. That’s perfectly acceptable, especially if you’re trying it for the first time and feel a little intimidated, but there’s no doubt the tall, smooth New York style cheesecake is more eye-catching. And food tastes better when it’s pretty, right? Okay, not always, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
How to Bake a Perfect Cheesecake
Baking a good cheesecake is challenging if you don’t know the rules so let’s go over them now.
1. Use Room Temperature Butter and Cream Cheese
This takes forward thinking but it’s an absolutely necessary step. Either set your butter and cream cheese out at room temperature overnight OR cut them into small cubes and separate them (so they’re not touching) on a half sheet pan or two for at least an hour before you begin.
Or you could just heat them up for a few seconds in the microwave, right? WRONG!! Microwaves heat food from the inside out so you could easily melt your butter on the inside before it is softened on the outside. If your butter is melted going into your cream cheese, it will not give you the results you’re looking for.
2. Don’t Overmix
Once your eggs go into the batter, mix until just incorporated. Hand mixers aren’t good for this because even the lowest setting mixes too quickly. If you’re using a stand mixer, add the eggs, one at time, at a “1” and scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition. If you’re using a hand mixer, put down the machine and mix by hand when you’re ready to add the eggs. This is important because if you whip air into the batter with your eggs, your cheesecake will rise as it cooks then fall as it cools, leaving a giant crack on the top. Not impressive (but still delicious).
3. You Don’t Need A Springform Pan
If you’re not already aware of my disdain for single-use equipment, let me tell you about it now. I HATE kitchen equipment with only one use when there’s multi-use equipment that will do the job. There’s no sense in spending money on specialty equipment you’ll use twice a year. And there’s no sense in cluttering your kitchen with stuff you use infrequently so don’t even bother. I bake my cheesecakes in good ol’ cake pans. This formula makes a nice 9-inch cheesecake but you could also make two shorter 8-inch cheesecakes or two tall 6-inchers.
4. Beat It Into Submission
Once your pan is filled with cheesecake batter, you will pound them on the counter to get all the air bubbles out. And it will help you release some built-up aggression.
5. Bake In A Water Bath
A water bath will prevent the cheesecake from cooking too quickly inside, keeping it a perfect, creamy consistency. Here’s how to do it: I bake my cheesecake in a 9-inch pan so I have a 12-inch round pan ready, as well (you can use any size pan as long as it’s bigger than your cheesecake pan). Place your filled cheesecake pan inside the empty larger pan and carry them to the oven. Open the oven, pull out the middle rack, and place the pans on it. Fill the empty 12-inch pan with hot tap water (I use my 1-quart measuring cup, for ease) so that the water is about 3/4 of the way up the filled cheesecake pan. Push in the rack and close the oven. Monitor the water level and add more while baking, if necessary.
Once the cheesecake is cooked, you can remove both pans together and allow them to cool to room temperature (if you have the patience). If you don’t have patience, you can try and carefully remove the hot cheesecake pan without burning yourself in the hot water.
Also, if you’re utilizing a springform pan (I’m not judging, I promise), it’s a good idea to place that pan on a large piece of aluminum foil and pull the foil up around the sides, pressing against the side of the pan before surrounding it with water. If not, the water could sneak into your cheesecake (I’ve seen it happen). Just make sure the foil goes up higher than the water (sounds obvious but…).
6. Know When to Pull Your Cheesecake
This is probably the trickiest part of the process. I’ll give you a typical baking time in the recipe but every oven is different so it’s more important to know what your cheesecake should look like instead of just relying on the cook time. Because a cheesecake sets up as it cools, people often cook them too long, thinking they’re not yet done when they really are. Your cheesecake needs to continue cooking if you jiggle it and it moves like a liquid, sort of making waves. Your cheesecakes is ready to pull if you jiggle it and it still moves a little but it all holds together. This may sound confusing when reading it but it’ll make more sense when you actually do it.
7. Allow Cheesecakes to Cool Completely Before Removing From Pan
This usually involves refrigerating for at least 6 hours and up to overnight so plan ahead. If you’re not that patient or if you didn’t plan ahead, you may need to waste your money on a springform pan. :)
To Crust or Not to Crust
Some people want their cheesecake crust to go up the side of the cheesecake and some want the crust just on the bottom. It’s a personal preference and either way works but if you choose to line the side of your pan, make sure the top of the crust is at least 1/4-inch below the top of the cheesecake filling. A couple of my students didn’t listen to me when I instructed them to remove some of the crust that was already lining their pans before they added the filling and they regretted it in the end. Why? Because they had loose crust hanging out above the filling and when they pounded their cheesecakes on their work benches to remove the air bubbles, the crust crumbled all over the top of the filling. There was no way to remove it so they had to bake it with the extra graham crackers scattered over the top. Other than the crazy graham cracker ring around the outside, they had perfect cheesecakes. Too bad.
To make sure you don’t end up with a weird ring of graham crackers on top of your cheesecake, I recommend your crust be no higher than 1-inch up the sides of your pan.
Cheesecakes Gone Wrong
I’ve seen some pretty shameful examples of cheesecakes. I thought I should share one as a cautionary tale of what could happen if you don’t follow the proper procedures. The author of the one pictured (who shall remain nameless because I otherwise adore her blog) called in a friend for reinforcement when her cheesecake cracked. Her friend told her, “homemade cheesecakes are supposed to crack, that’s how you know it’s not storebought!” That’s sweet, but no… that’s how you know the baker has no idea how to make a cheesecake. I bet it’s still delicious but it’s definitely no beauty. I can tell by looking at it that it was overmixed and it wasn’t baked in a water bath. And it’s overcooked. Then I read the recipe and saw that it contained flour (huh?!). No amount of fruit and sauce could disguise what’s going wrong here.
And speaking of fruit sauce… please don’t drown the top of your cheesecake in it (unless your cheesecake is cracked, in that case it’s perfectly acceptable). If you took great care in baking a cheesecake, you should be proud of that beautiful, seamless top and serve the sauce on the side or lightly drizzled over part of the top.
Your cheesecake certainly could crack, a few of my students’ have cracked. However, most of them follow the steps and heed the warnings and they turn out just about every time. This one baked by John is the best example from my current class. It’s a big class and we were short on 9-inch pans so he baked a couple 6-inch cheesecakes. They were both nearly perfect. You can see it had a couple air bubbles that he didn’t pound out and it looks like his water bath wasn’t quite deep enough (notice the consistency changes about 1/3 of the way down from the top of the cake) but it’s still a lovely slice of cheesecake.
You can use the same formula to make mini cheesecakes and you have two options to do it: you can bake mini cheesecakes in tiny cake pans or in ring molds OR bake off a big square rectangular cheesecake and cut into bite-size squares (like the salted caramel cheesecake bites pictured). For best-looking results, clean the blade of your knife with a warm, wet towel after each slice.
A perfect cheesecake takes some attention but it’s really a very easy process when you know the rules. And for the price of a single slice (maybe two) at a ridiculously overpriced national chain (you know who I’m talking about), you can have an entire cheesecake at home.
Now that we’ve nailed a perfect New York Style Cheesecake, we can start experimenting with some other flavors. Stay tuned for more. :)