1Baking in a Water Bath
Cheesecake is a custard at heart. It's delicate, so you want to bake it slowly and evenly without browning the top.
The most effective way to do this is to bake it in a water bath. Since water evaporates at the boiling point, the water bath will never get hotter than 212 degrees F (100 degrees C), no matter what the oven temperature. This means that the outer edge of your cheesecake won't bake faster than the center, which can cause it to soufflé, sink, and crack.
To prevent water from seeping into the removable bottom of the springform pan, wrap aluminum foil completely around the bottom and halfway up the sides of the pan. Place the cheesecake into a jellyroll pan (or any baking pan with sides) and place the pans into the oven. Use a teakettle to fill the outer pan with hot water.
It's common to overbake cheesecakes because, while they might look underdone, they are actually done when the center is still wobbly. At this stage, residual heat will "carry over" and the center will continue to cook.
Remove cheesecake from the oven to cool on a rack, or simply leave the door of the oven closed, turn off the heat and let the cheesecake cool for at least an hour. This helps prevent the cheesecake from sinking in the center.
After chilling, the once-wiggly center should firm up just fine.
•The cream cheese should be at room temperature before you begin mixing, or you'll end up with lumps in your cheesecake.
•Using cold cream cheese also leads to overbeating--whipping too much air into the batter--which forms unattractive air bubbles on the surface of the cake.
•Unless the recipe instructions specifically note otherwise, you should beat the cream cheese by itself until it's smooth and light, before adding any other ingredients.
•If you end up with lumps in your batter, run the mixture through a sieve or give it a quick spin in the food processor and you'll have silky smooth results.
4Putting the Cheese in Cheesecake
Whether you're making an Italian-style cheesecake with ricotta cheese or a classic New York cheesecake with cream cheese, don't skimp on the fat content. Reduced fat and nonfat cream cheeses contain fillers that might prevent the cheesecake from setting properly. Never substitute whipped cream cheese for the solid block.
5All About Texture
Eating cheesecake is a very sensual experience: texture is everything. Some recipes contain a small amount of starch, such as flour or cornstarch. These cheesecakes have a more cake-like texture. Cheesecake recipes that do not contain flour are intended to be luxuriously smooth and dense.
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