In the season of holiday parties, it’s nice to have a crowd-pleasing, simple, versatile dessert recipe at the ready. Cheesecake is ideal because it freezes well and pairs beautifully with many different sauces. And what’s even better, you can bake your cheesecakes perfectly every time with proper temperature control. We have the thermal tips you need for the best homemade cheesecake.
We have two different baking methods that yield very different textures. Which method should you choose? It depends on whether you want a traditional cheesecake that’s creamy and silky-smooth or a contemporary one with a more substantial texture. Or make one of each! Keep reading to find out which best suits your preferences.
5 Thermal Tips for Cheesecake From Start to Finish:
There are five critical thermal points to be mindful of before the cake ever goes into the oven.
1. All the ingredients need to be room temperature (70–75°F [21–24°C]) for a smooth batter.
Cold cream cheese is firm and will create a lumpy batter. If the batter is lumpy the finished cheesecake will not be smooth, but gritty. Softened cream cheese mixes easily with the other ingredients.
The eggs and sour cream must also be room temperature. If they’re added to the batter cold they will chill the cream cheese, causing it to solidify and make the batter lumpy even if it started out completely smooth.
2. Bake the graham cracker crust first before pouring the batter into the pan.
This step stabilizes the crust and gives it a toasty flavor. If you didn’t pre-bake the graham cracker crust it will be crumbly and fall apart when the finished cheesecake is served.
3. Baking temperature determines the texture.
Cheesecake is a custard, and custards can easily overcook. Overbaked cheesecake will crack and the texture will be dry and gritty. Egg protein becomes quite firm when cooked quickly at a high temperature, but can be silky-smooth and creamy when cooked gently at a low temperature. We have two different baking methods that each yield completely different results. Both are very good, and which to use depends on your personal preference.
4. Doneness Temperature
Bake until the egg protein is perfectly set, and not a degree longer. The longer the cheesecake remains in the oven after it has reached its pull temperature, the more firm the egg protein will become, and the greater the likelihood of it cracking.
No matter which method you pick, pull the cheesecake from the oven when the internal temperature reaches 150–155°F (66–68°C) as verified with an instant-read thermometer like the Thermapen® Mk4. Start checking the internal temperature about 10 minutes before the baking time is up to be sure you don’t overbake.
A super-fast instant-read thermometer like the Themapen Mk4 makes it easy to perform multiple quick checks without leaving the oven door open too long.
➤ Inaccurate methods of testing for cheesecake doneness
This inaccurate method of tapping the side of the pan to see if the side of the custard is set while the center is still slightly jiggly does not test against a reliable standard—it’s far too subjective and will vary from person to person.
Some wait until the top of the cheesecake cracks as a cue to its doneness. But by the time the cheesecake cracks, it’s already overdone. Testing the internal temperature is the best method to know exactly when to pull the cheesecake from the oven so as not to overcook the delicate egg protein.
5. Chill well before slicing and serving
When the cheesecake is removed from the oven at an internal temperature of 150–155°F (66–68°C), it’s still a bit jiggly. It will experience some carryover cooking as it rests. As soon as the cheesecake cools to room temperature, it should be covered and refrigerated for at least 8 hours—overnight is even better. If you plan ahead, freezing the cheesecake is even better. The firmer the cheesecake is, the cleaner the slices will be when served.
➤ Thermal Tip: Cheesecake can be stored in the freezer for 2–3 months. Keep a few of these handy in the freezer all season long for a quick dessert anytime!
Mix gently. Don’t be tempted to mix ingredients at a high speed or to use a whisk attachment instead of a paddle attachment in an effort to get rid of lumps. This aerates the batter and can cause the finished cake to be fluffy rather than dense. Starting with softened cream cheese and being patient while mixing on low speed is the best way to ensure a smooth filling.
Scrape down the bowl after mixing in each ingredient. When mixing the ingredients together the consistency starts off quite thick with the cream cheese and thins out with the addition of each ingredient. The batter that sticks to the sides of the bowl needs to be scraped down completely so it combines with the addition of each new ingredient for everything to incorporate evenly. If the bowl isn’t scraped consistently the batter will be lumpy.
New York-Style Cheesecake
Yield: 12 to 16 servings
- 8 whole graham crackers (about 1-1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Filling (all ingredients must be room temperature)
- 2-1/2 pounds cream cheese, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1-1/2 cups sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup sour cream
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 6 large eggs plus 2 large yolks
- Optional: Add 1 cup each chopped white chocolate and crushed peppermint candies. A great holiday flavor variation!
—Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C)
*Crust and filling instructions are the same regardless of the final baking method used.
Prepare the Crust
- Process graham crackers in food processor to fine crumbs. Transfer to a bowl and add sugar. Add melted butter and toss with a fork until the mixture is evenly moistened.
- Press the crumbs into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan. Use a ramekin or measuring cup to press the crumbs firmly. Bake the crust until it begins to smell nutty and toasty, about 10–13 minutes. Set the baked crust aside to cool.
☼ Did You Know? You can use a 9-inch cake pan with 3-inch high sides (non-springform pan) to bake a cheesecake if it is frozen after baking and cooling. A frozen-solid cheesecake will easily release from a cake pan. If you don’t have a springform pan don’t let that stop you from making cheesecake! See unmolding instructions below.
Prepare the Filling
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the softened cream cheese on medium-low speed until broken up and smooth—about 1 minute.
➤ Gentle Mixing: Mixing the batter slowly is important to prevent the incorporation of too much air. Too much aeration will create a light, fluffy cheesecake rather than one that is dense and creamy.
- Scrape down the bowl and add half the sugar. Mix on medium-low speed for another minute.
- Scrape down the bowl and add the remaining sugar, and mix for another minute.
- Scrape down the bowl, add sour cream, lemon juice, and vanilla. Mix on low speed for one minute until combined.
- Add the eggs and yolks one at a time, scraping after each addition, and mixing until combined.
- Optional: Fold in chopped white chocolate and crushed peppermint candies.
- Pour finished batter into pan with cooled, pre-baked graham cracker crust.
Two Different Baking Methods
Which baking method should you choose? It depends on whether you want a cheesecake that’s creamy and silky-smooth or one with a more substantial texture. Or make one of each!
Baking Method One Baking Method Two
➤ Baking Method One: Silky-Smooth
- Low Oven Temperature with a Waterbath—silky-smooth texture with little to no browning
—Set oven to 300°F (149°C)
This method is very traditional to encourage slow, gentle and even cooking. The temperature of the water bath will never exceed the boiling point and transfers the heat around the cake pan efficiently.
Egg protein sets up soft and silky when cooked at low temperatures and doesn’t rise as much as it does at higher temperatures. The lower oven temperature combined with the water bath makes a cheesecake with a creamy, dense and silky texture. There will be very little to no browning on the top and no crust or skin formed.
- Place cheesecake onto a rimmed baking sheet into the oven on a middle rack. Pour water into the baking sheet to create a water bath around the cheesecake.
- Bake at 300°F (149°C) until the internal temperature reaches 150-155°F (66–68°C)—about 1-1/2 hours. Use an instant-read thermometer like a Thermapen Mk4 to spot-check the internal temperature.
➤ Baking Method Two: Golden Brown with Substantial Texture
- Initial High Oven Temperature, Secondary Low Oven Temperature, No Waterbath—substantial texture with a golden brown skin
—Set oven to 500°F (260°C)
The very high initial oven temperature (500°F [260°C]) causes the egg proteins to rise rapidly and it sets up quite firm. A skin forms on the top of the cheesecake and browns significantly (don’t be alarmed by the browning). This first part of the baking process sets the structure of the cheesecake and develops its firmer texture.
The second low-temperature (200°F [93°C]) part of the bake creates an environment that will gently cook the cheesecake all the way through without causing it to overbake. The resulting cheesecake is taller than one baked in a water bath at a lower temperature, and the texture feels a bit drier and slightly rough. Some say a cheesecake baked with this method is the authentic New York cheesecake texture they’re after.
- Brush the sides of the cooled springform pan with melted butter. Pour in the batter and bake the cheesecake at 500°F (260°C) for 10 minutes.
—Reduce oven temperature to 200°F (93°C)
- Bake cheesecake until its internal temperature reaches 150–155°F (66–68°C)—about 2-1/2 hours. Use an instant-read thermometer like a Thermapen Mk4 to spot-check the internal temperature.
- Once you have verified the internal temperature of your cheesecake with a Thermapen Mk4, remove it from the oven and allow to cool at room temperature for about 2 hours.
- Leave the cheesecake in the pan, wrap well and refrigerate for at least 4 hours—overnight is best.
- Freezing the cheesecake overnight will make it easier to unmold and it will slice more cleanly.
- To unmold a refrigerated cheesecake, run a thin knife along the outside edge of the springform pan. Release the sides of the springform pan and use a long thin knife or spatula to remove the crust from the bottom of the pan. Place onto a cutting board.
- To unmold a frozen cheesecake, lightly torch the outside of the metal sides to release the cake and remove the sides. Torch the bottom of the pan and remove the bottom of the pan from the cheesecake.
- If you don’t have a torch, dip the bottom and sides of the cheesecake into simmering water and hold for about 5 seconds. Dry off the outside of the pan and release the sides of the springform pan.
Slice and Serve
Have you ever wondered how slices of cheesecake at restaurants are always so perfectly and cleanly sliced? The secret is to slice cheesecake frozen.
- Start with an unmolded, still-frozen cheesecake on a cutting board.
- To slice, dip a long carving or chef’s knife into hot water, dry slightly and cut the cheesecake in half.
- Clean the knife after each slice by dipping into hot water, then wipe clean with a towel.
- Cut each half into 6-8 slices each (for a total of 12–16 slices per cheesecake) and reshape into a circle on a cake stand or platter.
- Serve with berry compote, fruit sauce, whipped cream, or chocolate sauce.
You can make the perfect cheesecake for your own preference by simply adjusting the baking temperature, and knowing exactly when it’s ready to pull from the oven. And let us know which one you like best!
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