The first time you make a cheesecake, it can be a daunting task. However, making a cheesecake is actually fairly straightforward, and with some practice and attention to detail, you can make your own cheesecake at home and save money instead of paying for overpriced cheesecake from a bakery or food store.
Preparing the Pan
The first step in baking a great cheesecake is to start with a quality springform pan. Always make sure that the spring clip on the pan still seals the pan tightly before you start baking. If it doesn’t, the pan will need to be replaced. Next, butter the bottom and sides of the pan well with softened butter, for easy removal of the cake. Finally, wrap the bottom of the pan with heavy duty aluminum foil from the bottom all the way up to the sides. This will prevent water from the water bath (discussed below) from seeping in.
Preparing the Oven
Use the temperature suggested in your recipe, with adjustments based on your own personal oven. Preheat the oven at least half an hour before putting in the cake. Some oven manufacturers even recommend preheating up to an hour early to ensure that the temperature is steady and stable. If you haven’t done so already, buy an oven thermometer and keep it in your oven to double-check the temperature before inserting the cake. If the temperature on the oven thermometer and your oven’s temperature control differ by more than 25 degrees, you should call a repairman to come look at your oven. Accurate temperature is crucial in baking cheesecake. If the temperature is too high, the cake will overbake and crack. If the temperature is too low, the cake may never firm up properly.
The Water Bath
If this is your first time baking a cheesecake, you may have never heard of a water bath before. A water bath is just that, a pan of water that you place the cheesecake in during the time it’s baking. The purpose of the water bath is to spread the heat evenly around the cake and add moisture to the oven. The cake will bake gently, evenly, and slowly with moist heat. The water bath can also prevent cracks forming in the top of the cake. The water bath pan should be large enough for your springform pan to sit in with sides just as high. The pans should bake in the center of the oven. The oven door should not be opened at all during the first 30 minutes of baking; opening the door during this time can cause the cake to fall. After the first 30 minutes, you can open the door to check the water bath. Additional warm water can be added if necessary. If the water is boiling, cold ice cubes can be added.
Setting the Temperature
Generally, cheesecakes should bake at a temperature which is no higher than 350 degrees. Baking a cheesecake too quickly at too high a temperature can cause the cake batter to set too quickly and firm too much, resulting in cracks.
Removing the Cake from the Oven
Take the cake out of the oven when the edges are set and light golden brown and the top is golden and looks set and not wet. If the cake still looks pale or not set, leave the cake in the oven and check it again in ten minutes.
When the cake is done, remove the entire water bath from the oven. Gently take the spring form pan out of the water bath and place it on a wire rack to cool. Avoid placing the cake in the path of any drafts. The cake should then be left to cool and set for two hours. If the cake is disturbed within two hours, it could cause the cake to fall or crack.
Chilling the Cake
After two hours have passed, the foil can be removed fro the springform pan, and the cake should be covered with plastic wrap (it should be left in the springform pan) and refrigerated for at least 4 hours.
Removing the Cake from the Pan
When the cake has fully chilled, run a small warm metal spatula or table knife around the sides of the pan. Next, release the spring on the pan, and push the cake up and through the bottom.
Even if your first time baking a cheesecake doesn’t produce a perfect looking cake, don’t despair. Chances are the cake will still taste good, and you can continue the fine tune the techniques outlined above until you get the perfect results are looking for.
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