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.
I’m sure you agree: with all the rich cheesecake ingredients out there, there’s no excuse for one to be dry, rubbery, or anything but smooth and spectacular. But how do you avoid cracks in a cheesecake, sunken cheesecake, and why is cheesecake dry?
A water bath, also known as a bain marie, is the baker’s secret to cheesecake perfection. Not only is a bain marie a useful technique for any custard, bread pudding, and cheesecake, it is easy to master with some basic equipment and a few tips.
With this post, hopefully all your cheesecake trouble will be a thing of the past. Once you get your system in place, I bet you’ll be baking up cheesecakes to rival any cheesecake shop on a weekly basis.
Why bake cheesecake in a water bath, anyways?
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.
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 will never get hotter than 212 degrees, no matter how hot the oven is. The hot water insulates the outer ring of the springform pan and keeps the oven moist.
This gives the center of the cheesecake time to cook, because the outer edge of your cheesecake won’t bake faster than the center. Uneven cooking can cause a cheesecake to puff up, sink, or crack.
If your cheesecakes were always thrown into a dry oven only to come out brown, you know how frustrating it can be. A water bath keeps the cheesecake from browning dramatically, which isn’t always a desired thing when it comes to delicate cheesecakes.
Do you have to bake a cheesecake in a water bath?
If you’re still wondering: cheesecake in water bath or not? keep reading.
While it’s not always absolutely mandatory to use a water bath when making cheesecake, without one, a cheesecake will brown around the edges, be a little drier, fall in the center while cooling, and might crack. No one wants that!
From one cheesecake lover to another, it’s worth the extra step to get the picture-perfect masterpiece with a dreamy, cloud-like texture.
Here’s how to bake cheesecake in a water bath:
First, you’ll need two pans: the springform pan, and a larger pan that the cheesecake pan can fit into. Hopefully it will have high sides, so that the water can come halfway up the side of the springform pan without reaching the top of the larger pan. For a larger cheesecake, a turkey roaster may be your best bet.
Line the roasting pan with a clean dishtowel or a rack that fits inside. A dish towel placed in the bottom keeps the cheesecake pan from sliding around and sloshing all that hot water around.
Next, heat a tea kettle full of water. A kettle’s spout makes pouring the hot water a little easier (and safer!) and reduces splashing. When it’s time to bake, you’ll be pouring the hot water into the larger pan once the cheesecake is placed inside.
Once you’ve made and par-baked the crust, it’s time to get the springform pan ready. Wrap outside of pan in a double layer of heavy-duty foil, covering the underside and coming all the way to the top.
Although a good, solid cheesecake crust keeps the filling from leaking out, foil helps protect against the water leaking into the cake.
Set the wrapped pan in the roasting pan, on the towel, and pour hot water into the pan—to a depth of 2 inches or about halfway up the sides of cheesecake pan.
Carefully transfer the pans to a preheated oven and bake according to your recipe, until center jiggles when you bump the pan from the side. The outer 2 to 3 inches should not move, but the middle should wiggle ever so slightly, like Jell-O. Alternately, you could use a thermometer to measure the internal temperature—it should reach 150 degrees at the center.
How do you keep a cheesecake water bath from leaking?
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 water bath for your cheesecake, every time.
- Make sure you have a tight-fitting springform pan.
- Double (or triple) wrap your cheesecake pan with heavy duty foil.
- Before you wrap in foil, you could use a heat-safe, (and totally genius)plastic slow cooker liner to safeguard against water seeping inside the cheesecake. 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.
- Now that you’ve taken every precaution, you’re good to go!
How long do I bake cheesecake?
Never bake a cheesecake until “done.” It’s common for cooks to over bake cheesecakes because, while they might look underdone, It’s difficult to know exactly when to take out a cheesecake. They should be taken out of the oven when the center is still jiggly. At this stage, the retained heat in the batter will finish baking the cheesecake gently—and perfectly. (The cake may not set completely until it is cool or even chilled.)
When you’re ready, remove the cheesecake from the oven and allow it to cool on a rack, or simply leave the door of the oven closed, turn off the heat and let the cheesecake cool for at least an hour. This helps prevent the cheesecake from sinking in the center.
How long do I cool a cheesecake?
Once out of the oven, cool until barely warm, about 2 1/2 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 un-mold 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.
How to I keep a cheesecake from cracking?
Several factors contribute to cracks and crevices in your cheesecake:
Excess heat: An oven that runs hot or too high of a cooking temperature could be the culprit.
Over beating: Over beating your batter might lead to cracks, 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.
Now that you’ve learned what to do, may I recommend my recipe for Pumpkin Cheesecake, just begging to be made?
How to slice cheesecake
There’s a simple way to cut any cake, but especially cheesecake, which gives smooth, professional results every time. Here’s what I do to slice it up:
- Dip a long, thin knife in hot water for a few moments, then wipe the blade dry with a towel. Make your first slice.
- Because a warm clean knife cuts through a chilled cheesecake better than anything, repeat the dip-dry-slice method with each slice.
Water Bath for Cheesecake
- 1 roasting pan, large enough to contain cheesecake pan such as a turkey roaster
- 1 springform pan
- heavy-duty aluminum foil
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 1/2 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 1/2 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.