A water bath, also known as a bain marie, is the baker’s secret to perfect, creamy cheesecake perfection. It’s also a wonderful way to bake custard or bread pudding, too! All you need is a deep roasting pan and some foil.

Water being poured into a pan to make a water bath for a cheesecake.

Why use a water bath, anyways?

Moist heat:

Because cheesecake batter is basically a rich custard, it needs to be treated delicately. Without the moist heat of a bain marie, custard can take on a rubbery texture, so using a water bath is a way to prevent this.

Even heat:

With cheesecake, your primary goal is to bake it slowly and evenly without browning the top. When you bake in a water bath, the water surrounding the pan will never get hotter than 212 degrees, no matter how hot the oven is.

This gives the center of the cheesecake time to cook without overcooking the outside.  Uneven cooking can cause a cheesecake to puff up, sink, or crack.

Browning:

Baking cheesecake in a dry oven browns the surface, which isn’t always what you want. A water bath keeps the cheesecake from browning dramatically.

But…do you have to use one? From one dessert lover to another, it’s worth the extra step to get the picture-perfect masterpiece with a dreamy, cloud-like texture.

Step-by-Step Instructions:

  1. First, you’ll need two pans: the round springform pan, and a larger pan that the cheesecake pan will fit into. Look for one with high sides, so that the water can rise up a couple inches without overflowing. For example, a deep turkey roaster or casserole with straight sides.
  2. Next, line the bottom of the roasting pan with a clean dishtowel. This keeps the cake from sliding around and sloshing all that hot water everywhere.
    A roasting pan lined with a kitchen towel.
  3. Meanwhile, on the stove, heat a tea kettle full of water. I prefer a kettle because the spout makes pouring the hot water a little easier (and safer!) and reduces splashing.
  4. After you’ve made and par-baked the crust, wrap the outside of the pan in a double layer of heavy-duty foil, covering the underside and coming up the edges. Why? Your beautiful cheesecake crust keeps the filling from leaking out, but the foil helps protect against the water leaking into the cake.
    A water bath for a cheesecake with foil wrapped around it.
  5. Set the wrapped pan in the roasting pan, on the towel, and pour the boiling water into the pan around the cheesecake—to a depth of 1 to 2 inches, or as far as halfway up the sides of cheesecake pan, depending on how high you went with the foil.
    Water being poured into a pan to make a water bath for a cheesecake.
  6. Carefully transfer the pans to a preheated oven and bake according to your recipe.

Tips to ensure your water bath is leak-proof:

Nothing, and I mean nothing, is worse than a soggy cheesecake, after all your hard work and expensive ingredients go into making dessert. Unfortunately every springform pan is different, and many of them leak to some degree.

To prevent water from leaking in during the critical baking period, there are a few ways to ensure a fail-proof experience, every time.

  • Make sure you have a tight-fitting springform pan.
  • Double (or triple) wrap your cheesecake pan with heavy duty foil, going up even higher than 2 inches.
  • No foil? Use a heat-safe, (and totally genius) plastic slow cooker liner to safeguard against water leaks.  Carefully place the cheesecake inside the liner, then twist the extra plastic and knot it up tightly just under the top rim of the springform pan.

Slice of cheese cake with whipped cream on a white plate with a silver fork.

Knowing when it’s done:

Never bake a cheesecake until it’s “done.” It’s really common for cooks to over bake, because they still wobble and jiggle and seem loose by the time the recipe says they should be done.

But that’s the thing! They should be taken out of the oven when the center is still jiggly. The outer 2 to 3 inches should not move, but the middle should wiggle ever so slightly, like Jell-O. If you have one, you could use a thermometer to measure the internal temperature—it should reach 150 degrees at the center.

Once you pull it out, the retained heat in the batter will finish baking the cheesecake gently—and perfectly. Don’t worry–the cake may not set completely until it is cool or even chilled.

Remove the cheesecake from the oven and allow it to cool for 45 minutes in the hot water before moving it to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Letting it cool:

This takes a little patience–letting the cheesecake cool slowly is key.

  1. When you take it out of the oven, let it stand in the hot water for 45 minus.
  2. Afterwards, remove from the water and cool on a rack until barely warm, about 2 ½ to 3 hours longer. Run a knife around the inside edge of the springform pan about once per hour to loosen the cake.
  3. Only once the cake is cool, wrap the pan tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, about 3 hours.
  4. To un-mold, wrap a kitchen towel wet with hot water around the cake pan for 1 minute. This loosens any butter or chilled fat that could keep the crust from loosening even more. Then remove the sides of the pan and carefully slide your masterpiece onto a cake platter.
  5. Let the chilled cheesecake sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving to let the flavors soften.

Troubleshooting divots, cracks, and crevices:

  • Excess heat: An oven that runs hot or too high of a cooking temperature could be the culprit.
  • Over beating: Simply over beating your batter might lead to cracks, because all that extra air inside puffs up and settles once cooled.
  • Over cooking: I cannot stress this enough! Knowing when to take a cheesecake out of the oven is so important. Look for firm edges and a jiggly, swaying center. The cake finishes setting up as it cools.
  • Time to cool: Don’t rush the cooling stage. Keep the cheesecake away from drafts, and give it time to cool slowly. Once it’s completely cool, then you can chill it.

Slices of cheesecake on a wire rack, cooling.

Serving and slicing up the prettiest pieces:

It’s easy to cut any flour-based cake, but when it comes to something this rich, you need to take some extra steps. Here’s what I do to slice it up so that every slice is smooth perfection:

  • A warm clean knife cuts through a chilled cheesecake better than anything. Dip a long, thin knife in hot water for a few moments, (running hot tap water is fine) then wipe the blade dry with a towel. Make your first slice.
  • Then repeat the dip-dry-slice method with each slice.

Finishing touches for your gorgeous masterpiece:

Did you try this technique? Leave a rating in the comments below!

Water being poured into a pan to make a water bath for a cheesecake.

Water Bath for Cheesecake

Your search for the silkiest, most perfect cheesecake recipe is over; when you use a water bath for cheesecake, all your favorite cheesecake recipes will sparkle and impress like never before. 
5 from 15 votes
Cook Time 1 hr 50 mins
Cooling Time 7 hrs 45 mins
Total Time 9 hrs 35 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Calories 1

Ingredients 

  • 1 roasting pan, large enough to contain cheesecake pan such as a turkey roaster
  • 1 springform pan
  • heavy-duty aluminum foil

Instructions 

How to Make a Water Bath for Cheesecake:

  • Bake the crust you're using until beginning to brown and fragrant, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. 
  • Once cool, wrap the outside of the pan with 2 sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil and set in a large roasting pan lined with a dish towel. Bring a kettle of water to boil.
  • Set the roasting pan, with the cheesecake, on an oven rack and pour boiling water into the roasting pan until it reaches about halfway up the sides of the pan.
  • Bake according to the recipe instructions or until the cheesecake reaches 150 degrees at the center when tested with an internal thermometer, about 1 ½ hours. Remove from oven.
  • Let cheesecake cool in the roasting pan for 45 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and cool until barely warm, about 2 ½ to 3 hours longer. Run a knife around the inside edge of the springform pan about once per hour to loosen the cake.
  • Wrap the pan tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, about 3 hours.
  • To unmold the cheesecake, wrap a kitchen towel wet with hot water around the cake pan for 1 minute. Remove the sides of the pan and carefully slide the cake onto a cake platter. Let the cheesecake sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

Recipe Video

Notes

Here’s what I do to slice cheesecake up so that every slice is smooth perfection:
  • A warm clean knife cuts through a chilled cheesecake better than anything. Dip a long, thin knife in hot water for a few moments, (running hot tap water is fine) then wipe the blade dry with a towel. Make your first slice.
  • Then repeat the dip-dry-slice method with each slice.

Nutrition

Calories: 1kcal
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Meggan Hill

I’m the Executive Chef and head of the Culinary Hill Test Kitchen. Every recipe is developed, tested, and approved just for you.

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Comments

  1. I have made many cheesecakes in my life. But I never did it quite the way you explained it. It is in the oven now. I will follow all the cooling instructions too. Thanks so much for your detailed instructions, and the reasons why each step is important5 stars

    1. Hi Valerie, thanks! So glad this method worked out for you, hope you enjoy! – Meggan

  2. I use the silicone lids to wrap around the pan. it worked! Silicone lids to use for the cheesecake waterbath and to wrap my food in. perfect!

    1. Hi Robert, that’s a good question! I’ve always done it with the rack in the middle. It might have more to do with whatever your specific cheesecake recipe says, but I know it works for the middle rack. Thanks! -Meggan

  3. I don’t use foil for the water bath, I simply put a 9inch springform pan into an 11 inch round cake pan. Then I put both pans into a roasting pan. I add 4 cups of boiling water to the roasting pan. It works no leaks, no cracks. I bake at 300 degrees for 70 min, turnoff the oven and let it sit in the oven for 60 min . Take springform pan out of water, run my knife around the cheesecake. Once cool goes into the refrigerator wrapped in plastic wrap. Cool for 8 hours.

    1. Hi Lisa, that’s SUCH a great idea! The foil just helps if the springform pan doesn’t have a perfectly tight seal. Sounds like yours doesn’t have an issue. But I love it. Thanks! -Meggan

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