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How to prevent cheesecake cracking

Only you can prevent cheesecake cracking - The Messy Baker

This is what happens when you bake cheesecakes without a hot water bath.

Growing up, cheesecake was a graham crust pressed into a 9 X 9  pan, slathered in a mixture of cream cheese and Dream Whip, and crowned with a can of blueberry pie filling. Or cherry, if the mood struck. I had no idea baked cheesecakes existed, no idea they came in any flavour beyond vanilla and no idea why the would require anything as confounding as a hot water bath (or bain-marie if you want to sound chi-chi.). And I had no idea they could crack.

At 16 I made my first baked cheesecake — chocolate amaretto — and stubbornly ignored the instructions to bake the foil-wrapped springform pan in a roasting pan of hot water. That was crazy talk. Just some high-falutin’ chef making life more complicated than it needed to be. The cake emerged fragrant, but with a cracked top. I hid this imperfection under a layer of melted chocolate. Problem solved.

Over the years I learned to hide the cracks with whipped cream, fresh berries and other distracting toppings. Eventually, I got smart and used a bain-marie and those pesky cracks disappeared.

Despite my reluctant conversion, the bain-marie continues to confuses a lot of people. I’ve received questions about my pumpkin cheesecake recipe recently published in a coupon book aimed at American Thanksgiving hosts. So, for those of you hoping to impress the ravening hoards with a cheesecake (pumpkin or otherwise) this Thanksgiving, I’ve enlisted the help of Susan Sampson and her handy book 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets.

Read on and your cheesecakes will emerge from the oven equal to those at fancy bake shops. And for a fraction of the price!

9 Ways to Prevent Cheesecake Cracking

Excerpted from 12,167 Kitchen and Cooking Secrets by Susan Sampson © 2009 Robert Rose Inc. www.robertrose.ca Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

  1. Grease the pan well.
  2. Don’t overbeat it.
  3. Don’t bake it too fast.
  4. Don’t let the oven get too hot.
  5. Bake it in a bain-marie.
  6. Don’t submit the cheesecake to sudden temperature changes.
  7. Don’t bake it for too long.
  8. Loosen the edges when the cheesecake is done.
  9. Chill it before removing it from the pan.

Two reasons for clumps or dents on the surface of finished cheesecake:

  • The filling wasn’t blended well.
  • The cream cheese was too cold when beaten.

Beat the cream cheese with the sugar until it’s fluffy, but don’t overbeat when adding the remaining ingredients. Too much air, and the cheesecake puffs too high in the oven, then collapses and cracks.

Cold cream cheese makes the batter lumpy. Use cheese at room temperature and you won’t be tempted to overbeat it.

Use the mixer on medium speed, not high. Beating too much air into the batter will create bubbles on the surface of the cheesecake.

Gussy It Up

Pour a layer of chocolate between the base and filling, for a bit of snap. Let it set before adding the filling.

  • Always use a springform pan. Grease the sides to reduce sticking. Line the bottom with a parchment round to make removal and serving easier. The parchment stays put when you cut the slices. For a prettier presentation, you can buy a springform pan with a glass bottom.
  • For slow, even baking, put the cheesecake pan in a bain-marie (a hot-water bath). Wrap foil around the bottom of the springform pan, in case of leaks.

Outside the Box

Some cooks swear that super-creamy, super-quick cheesecake can be made in a springform pan in a pressure cooker. I haven’t tried it.

One of my more inquisitive readers wonder if a water bath will stop pumpkin pies from cracking. Hmmm? Never tried it. Does anyone know? I think this query is worth investigating!

In the meantime, good luck with your cheesecakes. And Happy Thanksgiving.


Photo © Carol329. Published under a Creative Commons License.

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25 Responses to How to prevent cheesecake cracking

  1. NS Foster November 24, 2010 at 1:45 pm #

    This is fantastic, thank you! Actually going to try my first one in a couple days. (I’m Canajun, though, it’s unrelated to Thanksgiving.)
    NS Foster recently posted…Recommendation RRrrrrrrondays!My Profile

    • Charmian Christie December 21, 2010 at 5:51 pm #

      @NS Foster, hope your first baked cheesecake turns out well. Since they are so expensive to buy in the store I figured they are hard to make. Not at all. Good luck and happy eating.

    • Charmian Christie December 6, 2010 at 10:54 am #

      @Laura, never tried cheesecake in a pressure cooker. But I have a pressure cooker. And cream cheese. Sounds intriguing! Thanks for the links.

      • Laura December 21, 2010 at 11:32 pm #

        @Charmian Christie, I forgot to mention, I think you need a smaller spring-form pan to fit in the pressure cooker. My pressure cooker is 22cm wide so my pan is 18cm wide (would have gladly used a 20 but the clasps would not fit in the pan!)

        Happy Holidays!

        Laura

        P.S. Making the Limoncello Cheesecake again, today a few days ahead of Christmas Eve dinner so it can taste grrrreat!!
        Laura recently posted…Pressure Cooker Arborio Rice Pudding with Mandarin Coins- Amaretto Cookie Crumbs and ThymeMy Profile

        • Charmian Christie December 22, 2010 at 9:35 am #

          @Laura, thanks for taking the time to add the detail about pan size. My springform pans are too big to try this right now but I’ll definitely keep this in mind for the future! Plus, limoncello is my mom’s favourite liqueur so I just might have to make it for her birthday this summer.

          Happy Holidays to you, too!

    • Charmian Christie December 21, 2010 at 5:51 pm #

      @Laura, wow. Never heard of this technique. Thanks for the links!

  2. Sally November 26, 2010 at 4:57 am #

    This is such a useful post. I’m saving this for the next time I bake a cheesecake. We all learn by our mistakes right?!
    Sally recently posted…Portable food – pear and almond cakeMy Profile

  3. NS Foster November 29, 2010 at 8:26 pm #

    I just wanted to report back and say that, after referencing your website several times, I made my first cheesecake. No cracks!! Thanks so much!!

    Though, tragically, there were small lumps in the batter. I left those damn cheese cream packages out for like an hour! I’m tempted to make them downright warm next time.
    NS Foster recently posted…LunchMy Profile

    • Charmian Christie December 6, 2010 at 10:56 am #

      @NS Foster, glad it worked.

      A lot depends on how cold the fridge was and how warm your kitchen is, so warming them slightly might not be a bad idea. Just go easy on the warming!

  4. Lisa December 1, 2010 at 3:21 pm #

    Hi there,

    Normally I hate leaving negative comments, but I really disagree with your post (even though I love the rest of your website!).

    I have NEVER used a water bath when I bake my cheesecakes, and I haven’t experienced any issues with cracking.

    the photo you posted above shows a cheesecake that was baked too hot and too long…a cheesecake should never be that brown on top.

    my method involves pre-heating to 450 degrees, baking the cheesecake for 10-15 minutes, then turning the oven down to 250 degrees and letting it go until the centre is somewhere in the 155-160 degree mark (or for those without a thermometre – when the centre of the cheesecake no longer looks glossy but instead looks dull, and the cheesecake only jiggles in approximately the inner half of the cake)….about 75-90 minutes.

    I then let it cool in the oven a bit before i take it out, let it finish cooling on the counter, and then refrigerate overnight.

    I just find that a hot water bath is way too fussy, when there is such a simple and easy way to avoid cracks (low and slow, keep centre under 165 degrees).

    anyways, just wanted to add my two cents. :)

    • Charmian Christie December 6, 2010 at 11:01 am #

      @Lisa, I don’t find your comment negative at all. I’m fascinated by your technique. I’ve never heard this information before and having made more than my share of cracked cheesecakes, have been a devotee of the bain-marie. I’m happy to abandon it in favour of a better, less fussy technique.

      This is why I keep the comments section open! Thanks so much for posting. The next time I make cheesecake, I’ll try your method.

  5. Sophie December 12, 2010 at 4:38 am #

    Thanks for those useful & great tips!! There were things that I didn’t know!!

    Many kisses from Brussels to you, Charmian!
    Sophie recently posted…Vegetarian romanesco pasta all spiced up!My Profile

    • Charmian Christie December 21, 2010 at 5:52 pm #

      @Sophie, lovely to hear from you again. Glad you find the tips useful. Hope your cheesecake turns out creamy and without cracks.

  6. Cheryl Arkison December 16, 2010 at 10:13 am #

    Mmm, cheesecake…
    I need to have people over so I have an excuse to make it. Otherwise I would happily eat the entire thing!
    Cheryl Arkison recently posted…Kingsland Farmers Market OpensMy Profile

    • Charmian Christie December 21, 2010 at 5:53 pm #

      @Cheryl Arkison, I love a really nice cheesecake — especially chocolate. But can only eat a small amount since it’s so rich. We should share one sometime?

  7. Sharron Clemons December 21, 2010 at 3:30 pm #

    @Laura, never tried cheesecake in a pressure cooker. But I have a pressure cooker. And cream cheese. Sounds intriguing! Thanks for the links.

  8. Angelica Raymond December 24, 2010 at 3:16 am #

    @NS Foster, hope your first baked cheesecake turns out well. Since they are so expensive to buy in the store I figured they are hard to make. Not at all. Good luck and happy eating.

  9. Mary October 22, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

    I have baked cheesecake without a water bath and I never had happen to me what happened in that picture. Once in a while mine will crack in the center.

    • Charmian Christie October 23, 2012 at 9:38 am #

      That photo was an extreme case. I didn’t bake it, thank heavens! The likely culprit is putting it in an oven that’s too hot and baking it too long. You can bake a cheesecake without a water bath, but the chances of a cracked surface are greater. That said, just top the thing with whipped cream and no one will know. :-)

  10. DTJ November 29, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

    I attempted my first cheesecake this year and it did not turn out well despite following all directions. The top completely cracked, was that perfect golden brown, and looked completely done. However, when we cut it, it fell completely apart and was a huge mess. I still dont know what I did wrong.

    • Charmian Christie November 30, 2013 at 11:05 am #

      It’s always disappointing when a recipe doesn’t turn out. I’m only guessing at what went wrong but here are some common issues with cheesecake. I am assuming you are using a recipe that has been tested and actually works. So assuming your recipe isn’t at fault:
      • the batter was overmixed or beaten at too high a speed. This can create a lot of bubbles which can crack the top of the cheesecake and mess with the texture.
      • your oven might be running hot. Check it with an oven thermometer. Cheesecake needs a very gentle heat.
      • the cheesecake cooked too long. To prevent cracking (even if using a water bath) and producing a dry cheesecake, turn the oven off while the centre of the cheesecake is still a bit jiggly. Unlike regular flour-based cakes, if the centre of a cheesecake is fully cooked, it’s overcooked.

      Hope this helps! Good luck with your next cheesecake and don’t give up!

  11. Nathan November 24, 2014 at 11:59 am #

    Just a note on pumpkin pies; the problem is that whereas cheesecake is low water, so it is “done” when the internal temperature hits ~65 degrees C, most pumpkin pie recipes contain a lot of water, so they aren’t “done” until well after the internal temperature hits 100 degrees C and moisture has been forced out of the pie. The easy solution to this is to use dry milk in place of the milk called for in your recipe; the pie will then be ready at an internal temperature of 65 degrees, just like a cheesecake – the texture of the finished product will be smoother too.

    • Charmian Christie November 26, 2014 at 7:37 pm #

      Interesting note. I don’t recall having a lot of problems with pumpkin pie cracking, but I always top it with whip cream so any imperfections would be hidden anyway. I know some people are more into the visual aspects and will find the dry milk tip useful. Thanks again for the information.

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