All of my tricks and tips for getting a crack-free classic cheesecake without a water bath!
Guys. This cheesecake is like crack. But it is not cracked. 😉
There is absolutely nothing better than sliding your fork into a decadent, dense, slightly sweet, slightly tangy classic cheesecake. The creaminess. The graham cracker crust finish. And maybe some fresh berry compote on the side, because WHY NOT?
I avoided home-making cheesecakes for so long, because my brain put up all these little road blocks — the biggest being the dreaded water bath. But championing through was 1000% worth it and I developed a couple tricks along the way!
So pull out your #bakingnerd glasses, your notepad, and your #2 pencil; we’re about to take a deep dive on classic cheesecake and my cheater’s methods for avoiding cracks AND avoiding the tricky traditional water bath.
Why do cheesecakes crack?
In order to understand how to avoid cracks, we need to know why they happen! Cheesecakes usually crack for one of two reasons: drastic temperature changes OR over-baking.
A common solution for crack-free cheesecakes is the traditional water bath, in which you bake the cheesecake pan, filled with batter, halfway submerged in a water bath. But SO many people avoid making cheesecake, because of the water bath, and I totally GET it. Trying to get the height of the water right, dealing with leaky springform pans, fearing a watery cheesecake crust… Aka mental road blocks to awesome cheesecake.
Which is why I bake my classic cheesecake WITHOUT a water bath. And while a cracked cheesecake is 99% as good as a non-cracked cheesecake, below are the methods I use in place of a traditional water bath to avoid cracked cheesecake!
How do I get a flat cheesecake with no cracks?
My cheater’s methods for getting a flat classic cheesecake without a water bath include the following steps:
- (1) a pan of hot water on the bottom rack of the oven (no submerging required);
- (2) an easy DIY insulated cake strip;
- (3) a CLOSED oven from start time to finish time; and
- (4) a careful eye on cook time.
First, we’re going to place a baking sheet or pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven, which will help imitate that warm, humid baking environment and prevent the top of the cheesecake from setting too quickly.
Second, we’re going to insulate the springform pan by wrapping it with a DIY insulated cake strip. This cake strip requires only aluminum foil and paper towels and the post includes step-by-step pictures for an insulated cake strip that can be made in just a few minutes. This will help the cheese cake cook evenly across the middle and the outside–preventing the outer edges from over-baking too quickly!
Third, don’t open the oven! Cook it the full initial 52 minutes without opening the oven.
Fourth, become a pro at judging bake time through the “wobble” method. At 55 minutes, turn your oven light on and give your oven a little shake. I usually place my hands on the handle of the oven door and just push with a baby shake. (Still not opening the door.) By shaking the cheesecake a smidge, you can judge how much “wobble” it has. The cheesecake is done when the outer 1-2 inches of your cheesecake do not jiggle/wobble like jello but the middle 3-4 inches of your cheesecake does jiggle/wobble like jello. Do NOT wait until your entire cheesecake has no wobble or it will be over-baked and increase the chance of it cracking.
If your entire cheesecake wobbles, turn the oven light off and give it a few more minutes. But once your cheesecake has the right amount of wobble, turn the oven completely off and crack the oven door open by no more than 2 inches. Leave the cheesecake to cool very nearly to room temperature but at LEAST an hour. By doing this, you VERY gradually cool the cheesecake and introduce no drastic temperature changes.
Can I make cheesecake without a water bath? Or is a water bath necessary for cheesecake?
You can absolutely make a cheesecake without a traditional water bath. The traditional water bath provides two elements: a steamy, humid oven environment that prevents your cheesecake from drying out on top and insulation for protecting the cheesecake from drastic temperature changes.
We can create these same two elements using the cheater’s methods I describe above. The pan of hot water creates a steamy, humid oven environment. As a result, the cheesecake does not develop a “crust” or “film,” which is more prone to cracking upon cooling.
The insulating cake strip helps insulate the cheesecake to ensure even baking across the cheesecake. The outer edges don’t cook and “set” too quickly or become over-baked (and prone to cracking) before the middle cooks!
Is this a New York style cheesecake? What is a New York style cheesecake?
Yes! New York style cheesecake typically includes sour cream, whereas other cheesecakes include heavy whipping cream. The sour cream makes the cheesecake dense and creamy with a slight tang.
What toppings are good on cheesecake?
- caramel sauce (quick and easy caramel sauce recipe in these blondies)
- hot fudge (recipe for hot fudge in this mud pie recipe)
- berry compote (recipe for berry compote in this lemonberry fool recipe)
- lemon curd (recipe for easy lemon curd in this lemonberry fool recipe)
How do I get a clean slice of cheesecake?
Fully chilled cheesecake. Hot knife. If you really want to go the extra mile, spray the knife with cooking spray. 😉