The general rule is that a cracked custard is an overbaked one, but it takes time to do that. If it's cracking very soon after you put it in the oven, my guess is that you've mixed it on a speed other than low and therefore have whipped too much air into it, which will certainly cause it to crack. When I posted this recipe, I tried to incorporate detailed yet concise instructions for mixing one. Good luck and persevere!
are you using a water bath? sometimes if the oven is too dry, that can lead to cracking. ditto for an oven that's too hot. a cheesecake that cooks at too high a temperature is also likely to crack.
Not to put too fine a point on it, all baked custards except pumpkin pie should be baked in a water bath. With cheesecake especially, it is important that all ingredients be at room temp before mixing. You're working with an emulsion, which is difficult to achieve with cold ingredients. Always mix cheesecake on the paddle, and never above the lowest speed. And of course always bake in a water bath.
so agree with Boulangere and vvvanessa! Step #1 is room temp ingredients
(also imp is that u don't use low fat or light cream cheese--higher probability it will crack!
step#2 is to mix at your lowest speed, slowly adding eggs one at a time. don't add the next egg until it is fully incorporated. This step takes time--don't rush it!!
Step #3 is the water bath
Step 4 is to unhinged your pan carefully after running a knife sound the edge. If the cheesecake is attached to the ring, the tension will create a fissure.
@boulangere, thanks so much for the detailed specifics behind the science of cheesecake. NO cookbook would ever care to share suchcrucial details! you piqued my curiosity however with the pumpkin (why does that alone not need a water bath?
Pumpkin pie has a pastry crust that would quite literally (I think) never bake to doneness if in a water bath. Can you tell how much I love, love, love cheesecake?
@ Boulangere: you should write a book on it..I'd be the first one to buy it.. LOve cheesecake, but am terrified of trying to make it!
YOU? Afraid of a cheesecake? Words seriously fail me here. But gosh, what do you have to lose but some cream cheese, a few eggs, and some sugar? Be brave!
I second, third, fourth, whatever, the above tips. But I have found that a water bath doesn't always work for me and read a good tip from a Washington Post article. Warning: Super easy but it takes a long time. Toss out whatever temperature your recipe calls for and set your oven to 200 degrees. Pop your cake in the oven without the bath and let it cook for at least 6 hours (might even need a minimum of 8 hours). The whole point is getting the center of your cheesecake to around 160 without letting the outer edges overbake. I remember the article's author said she often made her cheesecakes right before going to bed and then letting them cook over night. The beauty is that you can let them cook for even longer because the oven temp is so low.