Japanese Cheesecake Is Lighter, Spongier, Perfect-er

February 14, 2018

Japanese cheesecake is an unassuming sort of dessert—a tall, single-layer cake usually finished with a dusting of powdered sugar. My first taste was a true surprise. First thing’s first: It isn’t really a cheesecake, and won’t remind you of one. But it's definitely a cake.

Let me explain: True cheesecake isn’t a cake at all, but a custard that is baked until set. Japanese cheesecake is a cake made with the addition of cream cheese. It has elements of both a rich custard and a light, airy sponge cake. The result is a remarkably moist sponge cake, considering sponge cakes are traditionally soaked with syrup to moisten them, and that's not the case here. It’s also simple, and rather pretty.

It's a cheesecake that's actually a cake! Photo by Bobbi Lin

Want to give it a go? Of course you do. Here’s what you need to know:

What Flavors Are Those?!

With a few simple ingredient substitutions, I was able to develop a recipe not only for the classic vanilla Japanese cheesecake (flavored lightly with lemon), but also a rich chocolate version, and a tart cherry version, too. The methods are the same, save a few ingredient swaps (included in the recipe, below).

Preparing the Pan

Even though this cake isn’t a true cheesecake, it does contain cream cheese and a high proportion of eggs, similar to cheesecake. Remember how I said it has the properties of both custard and sponge cake? The pan preparation reflects this combo. It’s best to use a springform pan, but then prepare it like you would for some sponge cakes. The pan gets lightly greased, then lined with parchment paper (but don’t grease the surface of the parchment once it’s inside the pan). Also, it’s best to treat the cake a bit like cheesecake by baking in a water bath. Place the parchment-lined springform into a deep casserole dish (or any pan it will comfortably fit in). Put a kettle or pot of water on to boil while you prep, so you’ll be ready with hot water when it’s time to bake. It’s very important that all these components are ready before you make the cake batter; since it is lightened with meringue, it's a bit time sensitive!

Preparing the Base

The base of the cheesecake batter is unusual, quite unlike a cheesecake or a sponge cake. To start, place a medium pot of water on the stove and bring to a simmer. Then, place your cream cheese, butter, and milk in a medium bowl and place over the pot of water. Heat this mixture until melted, liquid, and smooth. The reason it’s best to use a double boiler is it can be difficult to heat cream cheese in the microwave. It doesn’t melt well on its own, which is why it’s best to combine with the other ingredients. Once the mixture is liquid and smooth, remove the bowl from the heat. It should not be too hot to continue at this point, but you can let it cool for about 5 minutes before proceeding. Next, the vanilla and egg yolks are added to the base: whisk well to combine, especially if the mixture is still on the warmer side. Next, the flour, cornstarch, and salt are sifted into the base and gently folded in to combine. Finally, some lemon zest and juice are added for flavor. The base can hold at this point while you prepare the last component of the batter: the meringue (you got this!).

Making + Adding the Meringue

Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Whip on medium speed until the mixture just becomes white, then stream in the sugar gradually and continue to whip on high speed to stiff peaks. When the meringue has reached stiff peaks, add about 1/4 of it to the cream cheese mixture (batter). At this point, it’s ok to mix slightly more vigorously because it helps “temper” the base, making it easier to fold the remaining meringue in. Once you’ve tempered the batter, add the remaining meringue in 2-3 additions, folding gently until just combined. Mix well enough that there are little to no pockets of meringue, (to achieve the lightest, fluffiest results).

Baking + Cooling

Once you’ve made the batter, gently pour it into your prepared springform pan, which should be sitting inside a casserole dish (or other pan). Transfer the casserole to a 325° F oven, and pour the water you heated earlier into the casserole, ideally coming about 1/2 way up the side of the springform pan. Close the oven door and bake until the cake is tall and the surface is evenly golden, 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes.

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The cake is properly baked when it springs back lightly when touched—the cake tester trick isn’t really a good guide here. Remove the springform pan from the water bath and let the cake cool completely. Run a small paring knife around the outside of the cake before unmolding and unwrapping the parchment paper.


Serve Japanese cheesecake at room temperature (no need to chill it!), with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and/or a dollop of whipped cream. It’s easy to slice the cake, but be sure to wrap any leftovers tightly in plastic wrap, as it is prone to drying out over time.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Sharon
  • tom
  • Linda klassen
    Linda klassen
  • Sanya Anwar
    Sanya Anwar
  • Patty
I always have three kinds of hot sauce in my purse. I have a soft spot for making people their favorite dessert, especially if it's wrapped in a pastry crust. My newest cookbook, Savory Baking, came out in Fall of 2022 - is full of recipes to translate a love of baking into recipes for breakfast, dinner, and everything in between!


Sharon September 19, 2021
Can this be frozen?
tom February 28, 2018
I was really looking forward to this cake, but a) there were two obvious errata in the ingredients - cornstarch instead of Tartar to the meringue and b) while it says add vanilla to the egg yokes, there is no volume given - I assumed a tsp). However given that, the cake turned out very flavorless and dense. Almost no chocolate flavor. Color was more tan than the dark chocolate pictured sample. Did I miss something ? I used Hershey's Cocoa (non-dutch) because that was what I had on hand. - Where did I go wrong?
Linda K. February 19, 2018
Sorry food52 but once again a Recipe didn’t work for me. I’ve been baking meringue cakes for many years, therefore not daunted by the folding of this cakes batter but the results were a solid rubbery cake. I used a Wilton springform and my inner voice said wrap that sucker with tin foil before pouring in the water bath but went with the directions instead and I believe there was water seeping in?? I also wondered about the cornstarch to egg whites but figured it was the cream of tarter so that was ok. End result, a very dense chocolate cake that I resserected with a ganache and raspberries,
Sanya A. February 18, 2018
Huge fan of japanese cotton cheesecake! I've never tried it flavored beyond matcha though-- clever!
Patty February 18, 2018
If you're not wrapping your Springform pan with foil, you get water in the Cake. That's why I like to cook my CC in a cake pan, parchment, along with the water bath.
Erin J. February 18, 2018
Hi Patty - that is a great tip, though my brilliant no-leak springform from Wilton actually wraps fully around a raised base - never lets any water in! But for a standard pan, love the suggestion!
Dona February 16, 2018
Step 5 instructs to place egg whites and cornstarch in bowl of electric mixer.
Should that be cream of tarter not cornstarch?
Erin J. February 18, 2018
Hi there - yes thanks so much for pointing it out, it’s been amended in the recipe!
Sam February 14, 2018
Thirded! :)
Nikkitha B. February 14, 2018
Oy vey! Of all the stories I've forgotten to attach recipes to in haste, this tops the list. Sorry; it's there now, and here:
Sam February 14, 2018
No worries. Was just very excited. Thank you!
Jenny February 14, 2018
I'm with JB. Recipe, please! This looks amazing.
Nikkitha B. February 14, 2018
Here you go, sorry for delay:
Jenny February 14, 2018
Thank you! I'm so excited to try!
JB February 14, 2018
I didn't see a list of ingredients. Did I miss something?
Nikkitha B. February 14, 2018
Nope, my fault. Here it is: