Lesson 19 – The perfect cheesecake

In lesson 19 we tackled cheesecakes. Prior to class, these cakes had always seemed pretty daunting to me. Recipes always talk about having to bake them in a water bath and so often you take them out of the oven while they’re beautiful and when you return 5 minutes later, there is a huge crater in center. So needless to say, I was pretty excited to take these on in class.

Cheesecakes come in 2 varieties:

  1. American-style which are usually made with cream cheese and have a bottom crust made from pastry dough or a crumb mixture which is baked before the batter is added. These cheesecakes should always be cooked in a water bath and they have a dense, creamy texture.
  2. European-style which are usually made from a curd cheese (ricotta or farmers cheese) and are surrounded by a sweet crust (sometimes they even have a top-crust too). These cheesecakes do not need to be cooked in a water bath because the surrounding crust acts as an insulator and keeps the filling from over-baking.

Turns out, making the perfect cheesecake is easy if you just know the proper techniques:

  1. Have you ingredients at room temperature before you begin. If your ingredients are cold they will take longer to mix and may result in over beating the batter, which can lead to a fallen center. Since cold ingredients can also lump during mixing, your batter may be less smooth.
  2. Mix only until your ingredients are smooth. If you over mix the batter, you have beaten air into the mixture which will make the batter rise during baking. When it cools, the risen center will collapse and you’ll wind up with a crater.
  3. Don’t over bake! Make sure you take your cheesecake out just when it’s done. Your cheesecake will continue to cook a little after being removed from the oven, so if it is just a little liquid when you remove it from the oven, it is ok. Also, cheesecake only firms up after cooling, so if your cheesecake is solid in the oven, it is overdone.
  4. Always bake American-style cheesecake in a water bath, or a pan covered with water, to diffuse the bottom heat. Make sure you place the cheesecake in your middle rack.
  5. After your cheesecake is set (about 5 minutes after you pull it from the oven) loosen it from the sides of the pan with a paring knife. As your cheesecake cools, it will contract and if you do not loosen the sides, you will wind up with cracks on the surface as the cheesecake tries to contract, but the sides are stuck to the pan.
  6. Cool cheesecake at room temperature.
  7. Since cheesecake is a custard and needs to set, it is generally better the next day.

There you have it. Now you too can conquer the cheesecake!

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