For those who are trying a cheesecake for the first time, or who don’t like the water bath. Since perfecting the water bath technique, it is the only way I will cook a cheesecake from now on. However, whether in a water bath or not, these are still useful tips to consider.
Your cheesecake is in the oven, and you’re playing the waiting game. If you’re like me, you set the timer for 15 minutes before the minimum baking time to make SURE that it won’t burn, then set it for increments of 10 for the next 30 minutes. Not only is this a great way to ensure your cheesecake to fall, but it will also cook unevenly. It’s definitely not a bad idea to check your cheesecake well before it’s done, since elevation and your oven will be different. For example, my oven runs hot on one side and cool on the other. Everything I make is nice and crispy on the left, and underdone on the right, forcing me to open up that oven and turn everything 180 degrees halfway through cooking. I have also found out that I need to cook my cheesecakes 10-15 minutes more than most recipes call for, but the top starts getting pretty brown. Nothing is worse that having a cheesecake with a burned top! That taste is pretty distinct. So here’s the method.
Pop that puppy into the oven with a pan of water on the rack directly beneath it, and check on it through the window with the oven light on about 2/3 into the cooking process. Letting heat out will significantly reduce the temperature, causing various deflation problems. If you are looking a little brown, go ahead and slide some tinfoil over the top as quick as you can. (Tented if your cheesecake is puffing out above the edge of the pan, that tinfoil will stick to it like melted caramel to the inside of your new purse on a hot day.) Make sure the tinfoil is shiny side down – this will direct the heat towards your cheesecake to keep it cooking, but will stop the browning.
When you think you are done, go ahead and open the oven. Pull the rack out before removing the cake, and give it a little jiggle. The edge of the cheesecake should be set, and the middle still jiggly. If the whole thing ripples, stick it in for another 15-20 minutes. Trust me, underdone cheesecake is not so fun to cut, eat, and especially to present.