Cheesecake

Why Cheesecakes Crack (& How to Stop It)

April 27, 2015

Every week, baking expert Alice Medrich will be going rogue on Food52—with shortcuts, hacks, and game-changing recipes.

Today: How to make a cheesecake that won't crack under pressure. 

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An uber-decadent cheesecake can make your reputation as a baker and host(ess). Cheesecakes are almost too easy to make. Unfortunately, they often crack—but not until the cake is long out of the oven and you think you're home free. 

Fortunately the fix is easy. Cheesecakes are simply rich custards made with different ratios of eggs, cheese, and sugar: Over-baking is usually the primary reason for most problems. Observe a few simple rules, and cracks in cheesecake (or custards) will be a thing of the past.  

Here are five tips (among which number 4 is probably the most important):

1. Check your oven. Excess heat causes cracking. If your oven runs hot, turn the dial down to compensate. With notable exceptions, cheesecakes do best when baked between 300 and 325° F—with or without a water bath. 

More: Is your oven thermometer telling you lies? Here's how to keep it honest.

2. Avoid excess beating. Over-beating whips too much air into cheesecake batter and can cause the cake to puff up, then sink, shrink, and crack. It doesn’t improve the texture either. Stop beating as soon as the batter is smooth and creamy rather than fluffy (unless otherwise directed). If you use a stand mixer, opt for the paddle rather than the whisk. To avoid the need for excess beating, be sure to start with softened cream cheese. 

3. Grease the sides of the pan. A greased pan will help the cake detach from the pan as it cools and shrinks so that it does not stretch and crack. If a pre-baked crust extends up the sides of the pan, re-grease the sides above the crust before filling (in case the filling exceeds the depth of the crust). To be extra sure that the filling lets go of the pan, slide a slim knife or spatula around the hot cake, pressing against the pan to avoid tearing the cake. Finish cooling as directed.   

4. Never bake a cheesecake until “done.” Force yourself to take the cake out of the oven while the batter still jiggles and sways (but doesn’t slosh) when the pan is gently shaken. The retained heat in the batter will finish baking the cheesecake gently—and perfectly. The cake may not set completely until it is cool or even chilled.  

5. Cool the cake slowly, away from drafts. Some cakes are cooled in turned-off ovens with the door ajar. You can also slow the cooling by putting a large bowl or pot over the cake on the rack to create a warm, moist cooling environment.  

Now thare you're armed with these five tips, go forth and try your hand at a smooth-topped cheesecake:

Mocha Marble Cheesecake

Adapted From Chocolate Holidays (Artisan 2005)

Serves 10 to 12

For the crust:

1 1/2 
cups chocolate wafer crumbs (190 grams) or graham cracker crumbs (140 grams)

6 
tablespoons (85 grams) melted butter

1/4 
cup (50 grams) sugar

1 1/2 
teaspoons instant espresso powder


For the filling:

1 1/2 
ounces (43 grams) milk chocolate, very finely chopped

3/4 
teaspoon instant espresso or coffee powder

1 1/2 
tablespoons boiling water

1 1/2 
pounds (680 grams) cream cheese, at room temperature

1/2 
cup (100 grams) sugar

1 1/2 
teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 
large eggs, at room temperature


See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Pick up a copy of Alice's James Beard Award-winning book Flavor Flours, which includes nearly 125 recipes—from Double Oatmeal Cookies to Buckwheat Gingerbread—made with wheat flour alternatives like rice flour, oat flour, corn flour, sorghum flour, and teff (not only because they're gluten-free, but for an extra dimension of flavor, too). 

Photos by James Ransom

11 Comments

irishchef December 16, 2015
Nancy internal temp is 150 degrees and it's done. All bacteria is killed too.
 
Nancy December 16, 2015
What about taking an internal temperature reading? What temperature would that be, if anyone can help with that? Also, that is one reason why I love sour cream topped cheesecakes - covers the cracks! Or other toppings such as a fruit topping. And if it cracks, know what? Its still a delicious cheesecake!
 
Dea July 7, 2015
Do you have a cheesecake without the crush.
 
Cary S. May 4, 2015
I make my cheesecake batter in a food processor using the metal blade. Since a food processor doesn't add air to the mix, it's additional insurance along with using a water bath. I also use a food processor to whip heavy cream, no air, no worries of weeping or deflating.
 
irishchef May 3, 2015
I've had the best results by baking cheese cake till center is jiggly and then turning oven off and opening oven door till it stays open (like when broiling). Leave like this till cake is cool. Works everytime.
 
andrew E. May 3, 2015
Here are the 3 things that have always worked for me :<br />All ingredients at room temp.<br />Mix all ingredients on speed 1<br />300* , water bath , cool in water bath with the Oven turned off
 
Lauri W. May 3, 2015
I always bake my cheesecakes in a water bath and then only halfway. I put my springform pan into a slightly larger cake pan, then inside a much larger cake pan and fill the outer pan with enough water to come 1/2-3/4 up the side of the inner cake pan. After baking halfway through the allotted recipe time, I turn off the oven and leave the cheesecake in the oven, door closed, for another hour. The hot water and the heat of the oven finishes cooking the cheesecake and not only does it not crack, it doesn't brown the top. The result is a 'restaurant quality', beautiful product.
 
Lynn S. April 28, 2015
I've always rolled my eyes at cheesecake recipes that read "add the eggs, one at a time and beat until thoroughly mixed." This direction is the recipe for a cracked cheesecake. I always mix up my eggs first, then slowly add them to the cream cheese mixture as the last addition. No cracked tops!<br />
 
Rich C. April 28, 2015
adding a small amount of cornstarch to the eggs will prevent cracks
 
AntoniaJames April 27, 2015
So many useful tips, as always. Just got "Flavor Flours," by the way, and am so glad I did. ;o)
 
lily April 27, 2015
How++do+I+save+some+pix's+food+or+cake+?!<br />