Cheesecake's distinct texture relies on cheese blended with eggs and sugar, but it's the kind of cheese that informs the character of the cake.
- Dense New York-style is made with cream cheese; lighter Italian with ricotta. (These distinctions are full of ironies: New York-style relies heavily on Philadelphia cream cheese, and what we think of as Italian is actually more Little Italy than Verona.)
- Other cheeses can be used, such as Neufchatel (a form of cream cheese); cottage cheese; or fresh cheeses like fromage blanc, mascarpone and even tangy goat.
- Texture varies from one step away from eating straight cheese to light and ethereal.
Cheesecakes, unlike other cakes where beating air into the batter is key, suffer if over-mixed. For best results, have all the ingredients (cheese, eggs, liquids and flavorings) at room temperature before blending.
The big bugaboo with cheesecake is cracking. Cheesecakes, like custards, rely heavily on eggs to set, which means they must cook gently and slowly. Otherwise the eggs puff, overcook and get grainy, then constrict when cooled, resulting in an undesirable split in your smooth cake.
The main trick with cheesecake is gentle, coaxing heat. Just as you want them to cook slowly, you also want them to cool gradually. Quick changes of temperature upset the structure of the cake, causing cracks. For a moister, creamier cake, turn off the heat when the center's still loose and let cool in the oven.
- Many cheesecakes, like our classic one, are baked in a water bath (a pan of water) to moderate the temperature. Since water remains at a constant temperature, the cake sets slowly, resulting in a super-creamy cheesecake.
- With richly flavored cheesecakes, like our peanut butter or chocolate ones, the same result can be achieved by baking slowly at low temperatures.
- To prevent the cheesecake from cracking as it cools, run a thin knife around the edge of the cake as soon as it comes out of the oven. After chilling, remove the springform ring (but not the metal base).
A crack in your cheesecake is not the end of the world. Simply use it as a starting point when cutting your first slice.
Dip a knife in warm water and wipe dry before slicing each piece.
Because of the high fat content, most cheesecakes freeze well for up to two weeks if wrapped tightly in both film and foil. But cheesecakes with a high water content, such as our Fresh Cream Cheesecake or Passion Fruit Cheesecake, will become icy, so freezing is not advised.
Draining Fresh Cheesecake:
Line a medium (about 8 inches wide) sieve, fine strainer or colander with a double layer of damp cheesecloth and set over a bowl. Cover and refrigerate.