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Smile and say "perfect cheesecake!"

By Jessica Furniss
April 07, 2021
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If you're looking for a dessert that's sure to please, cheesecake is the perfect fit. A staple on the menus of your favorite fancy restaurants and neighborhood diners alike, cheesecake's creamy and tangy flavor has charmed dessert-lovers across the globe.  Although most cheesecake recipes have very simple ingredient lists, there are a few key dos and don'ts that will make or break your cheesecake. Let's go through some common mistakes you can avoid to ensure your cheesecake sets properly, has the right texture, and doesn't sink or crack. 

1. Get your crust right

  • One of the most common mistakes folks make with cheesecake crust is not crushing the graham crackers enough. It's best to use a food processor to get the finest texture possible. You don't want big chunks of graham cracker that will cause the crust to crumble. 
  • It's also really important to make sure your crust comes up the side of the pan, covering the seam of the springform pan. This prevents leaking and gives you a nice crust on each slice.
  • Another common mistake is not pre-baking the crust. Before you add your batter, it's important that your crust has a short 8-10 minute visit in the oven at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). This sets and seals the crust to prepare it for the wet batter. Make sure it's completely cooled before adding the batter.

2. Don't go low-fat

  • While it may be tempting to cut down the fat content by choosing low-fat cream cheese or low-fat sour cream, full fat is the way to go when it comes to cheesecake. The fat content helps the cheesecake set and creates its signature creamy texture. If you've ever made cheesecake that was runny, it's very likely that low-fat ingredients are to blame. 
  • Full fat sour cream adds extra moisture and a tangy flavor to the cake. However, you can swap out the sour cream for heavy cream or even full fat Greek yogurt. Just make sure you're following a recipe that calls for those substitutions to get all your measurements right. Don't just wing it and hope for the best.

3. Don't use cold ingredients

  • Cold ingredients are a big no-no when it comes to cheesecake. If your ingredients are cold you will have to mix them longer which will whip too much air into your batter. If the cake has too much air, it will rise too much in the oven and then the middle will sink when cooling. Nobody wants a sad, sunken cheesecake. 
  • Allow your ingredients to come to room temperature and add them in the order given in the recipe. Adding ingredients all at once or out of order could cause your cheesecake to bake poorly. It's imperative that the cream cheese whips up a little on its own, then the other ingredients can be added in order to get a cheesecake that sets firmly and has a lovely texture. 
overhead shot of cheesecake topped with fresh strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries
Credit: Meredith

4. Do I really have to do a water bath?

  • Can you bake a cheesecake without a water bath (aka bain marie)? Yes, but it has a much higher risk of burning and cooking unevenly. A water bath uses steam to slowly and evenly cook the cake, which prevents cracking and burning. Be sure to wrap your springform pan in aluminum foil as a barrier between your cake and the water bath. 
  • And, speaking of springform pans, it really is important that you use one. There's nothing more frustrating than taking special care to follow every instruction properly then not being able to remove your cake without it falling apart completely. So it's worth having a springform pan around, especially once you start making tasty cheesecakes and want to keep making more!

This recipe for Classic New York-Style Cheesecake is baked in a water bath.

5. Don't overbake

  • Overbaked cheesecake will cause unattractive cracks and a dry, crumbly texture. Because cheesecake is a custard, it won't be completely firm when done. The easiest way to make sure you don't overbake it is to give it a little jiggle. Take a wooden spoon and give the cake pan a gentle tap on the side. The cake should jiggle just a little in the center if it's done. If the whole cake ripples and jiggles you know it needs a little more time to bake. 
  • Quick tip: Your cheesecake will do its entire cooling process inside the springform pan. Don't attempt to remove it from the pan until it's been refrigerated overnight.

6. Don't rush the cooling process

  • A common mistake when cooling your cheesecake is to attempt to cool it too quickly. If you have a conventional oven you can turn the heat off, open the door, and allow it to cool for an hour inside the oven before moving it to a cooling rack to cool completely. A gas oven, however, might overcook it, so you'll want to move it to the cooling rack immediately.
  • Once your cake pan is no longer hot to the touch, cover it and move it to the refrigerator to chill overnight in its springform pan. Chilling it overnight ensures that it sets properly.
  • Wait until it's chilled overnight before running a knife along the edge between the crust and the side of the pan, then gently unbuckling the pan. 
  • Quick tip: It might seem like a shortcut to pop your cheesecake straight in the freezer from the oven. This will ruin the texture and prevent the cake from setting properly. 

7. Don't leave it out

  • Don't leave your cooled cheesecake out longer than two hours or you risk food poisoning. Store it in the fridge completely covered and it will stay fresh for up to 5 days.
  • To prepare the cheesecake for the freezer, you'll want to freeze the cake unwrapped on a plate for about an hour. then pull it out and double wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze it for up to 4-6  weeks. When you're ready to enjoy it, thaw it in the fridge overnight with the plastic wrap still on. 

If you follow these tips, your cheesecake will come out tasty and beautiful every time!

RELATED: Browse our entire collection of cheesecake recipes.