Helpful tips, how-to's and useful information on cheesecakes.
Cheesecake has become one of the most popular desserts in the United States. Cheesecake variation has been the subject of many a debate. Some love rich and creamy cheesecake, others favor the dense New York-style cheesecake. Then there's the light and airy variety and a myriad of crusts which range from the classic graham cracker to Oreo cookie to brownie and cake layers. The whole subject can get a little confusing. Whatever type of cheesecake you prefer, here are a few secrets to baking cheesecake like a pro.
- Use first rate, quality ingredients: Use fresh Grade AA large eggs. Full-fat cream cheese produces the texture and taste you're after. The fat-free kind is apt to bake up a cake that's soft, chalky and slightly rubbery inside while the low fat sort, often dubbed "Neufchatel", will yield a harder, more crumbly cheesecake, according to Pam Anderson, author of The Perfect Recipe. Heavy cream (pasteurized rather than ultra pasteurized). Sour cream that hasn't actually soured and spoiled.
- Be sure all ingredients are at room temperature before you begin mixing, especially the cream cheese. If it's cold and hard it will make a lumpy cheesecake and if you think beating it to death will take care of those annoying bits of uncreamed cheese...think again.
- Baking cheesecakes in a bain-marie also known as a water bath, produces a texture that is creamy almost custard-like, moist and rich. Cheesecakes baked in this manner are insulated from the direct dry heat of the oven. Like creme brulee, bread pudding and flan, a cheesecake is similar in structure to these flourless custards and benefits from the gentle even heat a water bath can provide.
- Fruit is better reserved for use as a topping as its flavor can get muddled and lost in the cheesecake when baked along with it. A plain cheesecake topped with a cooled fruit compote or fresh berries glazed with melted preserves will give you a spectacular presentation as well as optimum taste.
- Avoid over-beating the cheesecake filling. Over-beating incorporates additional air and tends to cause cracking on the surface of the cheesecake.
- Use a springform pan (a pan with removable side and bottom). Placing the pan on a baking sheet helps to avoid leaks in the oven.
- Always bake a cheesecake on the center rack of the oven.
- Don't be tempted to open the oven door during the first 30 to 40 minutes of baking, drafts can cause the cheesecake to fall or form cracks.
- Avoid over-baking. Be aware that baking times are not always exact, due to variations in ovens. A perfectly baked cheesecake will be puffed around the edges, yet the center should be slightly moist and jiggly. Unless otherwise directed by your recipe, turn the oven off and allow cheesecake to remain in oven, with the door ajar, for 30 minutes or until center is completely set. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack away from drafts before refrigerating.
- Upon removal from the oven, loosen the cake from the edge of the pan by running the tip of a knife or narrow spatula between the top edge of the cake and the side of the pan. This allows the cake to pull away freely from the pan as it cools.
- After a cheesecake has chilled completely, preferably overnight, gently loosen the entire side of the cheesecake from the pan with the tip of a knife while slowly releasing the springform pan clamp. Carefully remove the side of the pan.
- Garnish a cheesecake no sooner than 1 to 2 hours before serving, better yet...just before serving
- For optimum flavor, serve cheesecake at room temperature. This takes about 30 minutes.
- Store in the refrigerator up to 4 days, loosely covered.
- Baked plain (minus topping) cheesecakes freeze well for up to 2 months. Cool completely and wrap tightly in heavy-duty foil or plastic wrap. To use, thaw frozen cheesecake overnight in the refrigerator.