A cheesecake should be relatively trouble free but occasionally problems do come up. Over the years, we’ve been asked the following questions.
“What’s the easiest way to make crumbs for my crust?”
Lots of folks use a food processor; we don’t bother. We use a heavy duty zipper-type plastic bag and crush the crackers or cookies with a rolling pin a few at a time. We save the plastic bag for the next crust. If we’re in a hurry, we just use packaged graham cracker crumbs rather than crushing crackers.
“I have lumps in my cheesecake. How do avoid those?”
Most likely the lumps are from globules of cream cheese in your batter. Before adding any of the other ingredients, beat the cream cheese and granulated sugar together until completely mixed. The sugar crystals will cut through the cream cheese breaking up the globules. In the heat of the oven, the sugar will melt further breaking up any pieces.
If your recipe calls for chocolate, either white or dark, the lumps could be chocolate. When the chocolate is mixed into the cool batter, it solidifies and creates lumps. To avoid that, make sure your melted chocolate is hot, well above the melt point. With your mixer running, drizzle the hot chocolate into the batter. With the chocolate hotter, it will disperse before setting up.
“I bake my cheesecake for the time specified in the recipe and the center is still soft. What am I doing wrong?”
You’re probably doing nothing wrong. Baking times in recipes are always estimates and can be affected by the temperature in your oven (calibrated temperatures are seldom right), the depth of the batter, whether the pan is light or dark (dark pans bake faster), how cold your batter is, and other factors. Don’t worry about the time and just bake it until it done. (See the next question.)
“How do I tell when my cheesecake is done?”
There are three ways. You can gently shake the cheesecake. If only the center is still jiggly, it’s done. This is not very precise but with practice, you can get good with this method.
The most common way is to stick a knife in the batter about one-inch from the center. If it’s done, it will come out clean.
The most precise way to tell when a cheesecake is done is with an insta-read thermometer. Stick the probe in the center of the cheesecake and see what it reads. A cheesecake is done when the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees. That’s when the proteins in the eggs coagulate.
“How do I stop my cheesecake from cracking?”
A cheesecake top without a crack seems to be the ultimate measure of success. It shouldn’t be. A crack doesn’t affect the taste. Many cheesecakes are topped and the topping covers any cracks.
There may be a number of reasons for cracks:
– Too much air incorporated into the filling may cause cracks.
– Too much baking time will over bake the filling and is a common cause of cracks.
– Uneven baking may be a cause. If you are using light gauge, reflective pans, consider switching to heavier gauge, dark pans.
– Too high of heat may cause cracking. Consider baking at 325 degrees instead of at 350 degrees.
– It your cheesecake cools too rapidly, it may develop cracks. Don’t let your cheesecake cool in a draft.
Cheesecakes with starch in the filling are less prone to cracking.
“My crusts crumble when I try to serve my cheesecake. What am I doing wrong?”
It’s the butter that acts as the mortar holding the crumbs together. The butter needs to be well mixed with crumbs. There has to be enough butter, a minimum of four tablespoons per crust. The mixture needs to be compacted with firm pressure. We use a pastry tamper or heavy mug to compress the bottom and to press the sides.
Always cut and serve your cheesecake cold. That way the butter is a solid. If the cheesecake gets too warm, the butter melts and the crust will crumble.
Baking a crust is not necessary but it does tend to hold the crust together. The sugar melts in baking and tends to hold things in place once it cools and sets.
“I always seem to muck up my slices when I cut my cheesecake. What’s the best way to cut a cheesecake?”
Use the right knife, a sharp, thin-bladed knife. Don’t use a serrated knife as filling and crumbs tend to stick to the serrations.
Cut with a downward pressure, dragging the knife as little as possible. After each cut, wash and dry the knife so that you have a clean blade slicing through the cheesecake.
“My slices seem to stick to the base and it’s hard to remove them. Is there an easy way to neatly remove my slices?”
There is an easy way to get slices to slide of the pan base. Heat a wet kitchen towel in the microwave. Lay the towel on the counter and place the cheesecake directly on the hot towel. In a couple minutes, the heat will soften the butter against the base and slices will easily slip off.
It helps to have a springform pan with a smooth base.