Can my cheesecake take a bath?
November 21, 2012 4:42 AM   Subscribe

Quick cheesecake-cookery question.

So, I'm tasked with cooking a pumpkin cheesecake today. Not a problem. It's a tried-and-true recipe I've made many times over the years. However, I do have one question...

I've often seen the tv cooks bake their cheesecakes with the springform pan set in a large pan of water in the hot oven. My recipe does not say anything about this technique, so I am wondering if this water technique is applicable to any cheesecake recipe, or just the specific ones that I've seen?

The theory seems to be that the water softens the heating and prevents the top of the cake from cracking. Is this true? Do you amend your cooking time when you use the water method? The water in the pan should be hot at the start, right?

Yes, I know to securely wrap the springform pan in foil before putting it in the water.

posted by Thorzdad to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It can be done wither way. I have had success with both the water-bath method and regular baking. If your recipe does not specifically call for it, I wouldn't consider it necessary.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:50 AM on November 21, 2012

Best answer: Hey, we will be pumpkin cheescake buddies! I am making one today too, among other things. My recipe (from ATK) says to pre-bake the crust at 325 for 15 minutes. Then while it is cooling, put together the filling. When it is ready to put into the oven, heat some water in a kettle, and pour it into the pan till it is half way up the sides of the springform. Bake at 325 for 1.5 hours (to an internal temp of 145-150 degrees). Leave in the water bath for 45 minutes till water is lukewarm. Cool on a cooling rack before chilling.
posted by fancyoats at 5:04 AM on November 21, 2012

Best answer: America's Test Kitchen just ran an article on the science of this very topic yesterday: We Prove It: Gentle Heat Guarantees Smooth Custards.

The difference in temperature along the outside of the cake was huge, 178° with the water bath vs. 213° without.
posted by bcwinters at 5:08 AM on November 21, 2012

Best answer: Makes for more even gentle cooking with any custard based cake.
posted by leslies at 5:16 AM on November 21, 2012

Best answer: Meeee tooooo! I will absolutely be using a water bath (and pre-baking a crust made of pounded ginger biscuits).
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:23 AM on November 21, 2012

Best answer: I do recommend wrapping the outside bottom of the springform pan in aluminum foil, just because I'm nervous about water seeping into the pan (no good reason, just am)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:03 AM on November 21, 2012

Best answer: I always bake cheesecakes in a water bath; it gentles the heat of the oven and keeps the custard smooth - and Ruthless Bunny is right! Aluminum foil around the bottom of the pan helps keep your crust from sogging.

Incidentally, Dorie Greenspan's cheesecake recipe (my go to and favorite ever) suggests shutting off the oven when the center of the cheesecake is still JUST a tiny bit jiggly (not wet, just not fully set) and leaving it in the oven for an hour or two with the door cracked to let carryover cooking finish it and hopefully prevent cracks. Enjoy your cake!
posted by hungrybruno at 6:30 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, all.
I wondered about pre-baking the crust. My recipe says to chill the crust before filling and baking, though.

The baking is at 325˚ for 1 hour, 35 minutes. Would I want to adjust that at all if I use the water bath? There is also an additional 10 minutes of baking at the end, after adding a walnut/brown sugar topping.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:34 AM on November 21, 2012

Best answer: If you use boiling water to fill the pan (btw, pull the oven rack out, put the pan with the cheesecake in the oven, then pour in the hot water. Don't try to carry/balance a wobbly pan of water across the kitchen from counter to stove, you'll just splash your cheesecake) it shouldn't affect cooking time too much, maybe just a little longer. If you can use visual cues in addition to times you'll know if you need to leave it in. The very very center should be pudding-jiggly when it's time to take it out but the sides will be set. Carryover cooking will finish the center for you. But also if you're adding a topping it matters less if the top is cracked, so if you overbake it it will not be the end of the world.
posted by hungrybruno at 6:42 AM on November 21, 2012

Best answer: I am by no means a professional baker, but I have baked quite a few cheesecakes in my day.

I always cook in a water bath whether the recipe calls for it or not. I also have an old gas oven that cycles on and off, so I figure I might need extra help to keep a constant temperature. The best method I have found to get the water in the pan without spilling the cheesecake or third degree burns is to heat water in a tea kettle (hot, not boiling), put the cheesecake in a roasting pan in your oven, and pour the hot water in the roasting pan.

You probably want to cool the crust after prebaking so your cheesecake doesn't start to cook if you pour the filling into a hot pan.

I also like the technique that hungrybruno mentioned--turn the oven off when the cheesecake is not fully set and let it cool with the oven door cracked a bit.

Also, I totally baked a pumpkin cheesecake last night!
posted by inertia at 6:49 AM on November 21, 2012

Best answer: One more vote for water bath. Why? I cook my cheesecakes in a pressure cooker! It sounds weird, I know, but you're essentially just doing a faster water bath cooking!
posted by Fortran at 9:32 AM on November 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you, all!
Yummy cheesecake is in the oven, surrounded by a water bath. I'll let you know how it fares.

Best answers to all!!!
posted by Thorzdad at 9:49 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wellll...poop.
I will swear to my dying breath that I had that thing tightly wrapped against water leakage, but...I guess not. Water got in and what ended up with was a pan of pumpkin ricotta. The graham cracker crust was thoroughly dissolved, to boot.

So, another cheescake will be made soon as the dishwasher is done with my bowls and stuff. I'll be going with the old method, though. I'll try the bath method some other time, when I'm not time-crunched.

posted by Thorzdad at 1:57 PM on November 21, 2012

Ugh, how disappointing!

I have had that problem in previous years. I can never find foil that is big enough to reach all around my springform pan, and using multiple overlapping layers just allows too much seepage. This year I decided to buy one of those disposable foil roasters in lieu of using the foil on a roll. It worked great!
posted by fancyoats at 3:06 PM on November 21, 2012

Response by poster: How did you form the foil roasting pan to the springform?
posted by Thorzdad at 4:35 PM on November 21, 2012

Seconding Fortran upthread: the best cheesecake I ever made came out of a pressure cooker.
posted by emeiji at 4:55 PM on November 21, 2012

How did you form the foil roasting pan to the springform?

I chose a square roaster whose width was as close to the diameter of the springform as I could find. It was probably an inch smaller than the springform, but with tall, deep sides. Before I started any kind of mixing/baking/prepping, I put the springform into the roaster, and kind of stretched the foil sides outward and squished the corners of the roaster inward, just trying to get it as close to the body of the springform as possible. It was not as close-fitting a layer as regular foil would have been, but it seemed to do a good job nonetheless. No cracks in the top of the cheesecake, anyway, which is a good sign.
posted by fancyoats at 6:23 PM on November 21, 2012

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