When it comes to cakes, Cheesecakes belong to a league of their own. There are mainly two types of cheesecakes: baked and unbaked (also known as chilled cheesecakes). Cheesecakes are often flourless. However, some baked cheesecake recipes do call for small amounts of plain flour or corn starch to hold the cheesecake together and give it a more cake-like texture.
A water bath is sometimes used for baked cheesecakes. This involves the cheesecake tin submerged in a larger pan filled with hot water. Using a water bath promotes a moist environment and encourages even heat distribution, resulting in cheesecakes with creamier texture. Compared to the conventional butter cake, baked cheesecakes are actually baked custards, albeit creamier and denser. On the other hand, chilled cheesecakes often calls for whipped cream and gelatin powder to hold the structure. In fact, the texture of unbaked cheesecakes very much resembles that of a firm gelatinous cheesy mousse.
The main ingredients used in cheesecakes are cream cheese, eggs and sugar. The choice of cheese may differ slightly with some recipes suggesting ricotta, cottage or mascarporne cheese. Sometimes, it is a mixture of two types of cheese. Most people may be more familiar with the American style cheesecake which usually calls for sour cream or whipping cream as the liquid ingredient. American style cheesecakes are rich and dense whereas the Japanese cheesecake (also known as cotton cheesecake or souffle cheesecake) is light, velvety and cake-like.
Cheesecakes may or may not come with a base. The base may be made from digestive biscuits, graham crackers, ground nuts, brownies, pastry or sponge cake.
I am a self-confessed cheesecake lover who loves to bake and eat cheesecakes. Having baked quite a couple of cheesecakes, the following are my observations and tips on baking/making cheesecakes. Hope they are useful to you:
1) When cheesecakes are baked and come into contact with cold air suddenly, they may be subjected to cracks on the surface. This happens when the oven door is fully opened after the cheesecake is baked. To prevent cracks from surfacing, the baked cheesecake should be cooled in the switched off oven gradually for sometime before being removed to cool on a wire rack.
2) Cheesecakes baked in a water bath are less likely to experience cracks on the surface. The entire cheesecake would have a more uniform density and texture as opposed to cheesecakes baked without a water bath. Cheesecakes baked without a water bath would have tough and dry edges. Nowadays, I bake all my cheesecakes in a water bath.
3) When using a water bath, be sure to wrap 2 or more layers of aluminuim foil around the bottom and sides of the pan to prevent water leaking into the pan.
4) When a cheesecake recipe calls for whipping cream, do not overbeat the mixture when the cream is added. The cream may separate and result in an undesirable grainy texture.
5) When beating in eggs or liquid ingredients into cheesecake mixture, beat on low speed and mix until combined. Do not overbeat as air will be incoporated into the batter, resulting in a sunken cheesecake when cooled. Run a spatula through the cheesecake mixture in a zig zag manner to eliminate some of the air bubbles or rap the cheesecake tin on a solid surface and allow air bubbles to rise to the surface.
6) Cheesecakes are done when they appear to be softly set and will jiggle slightly (centre is less set and more wobbly compared to edges) when the pan is moved. The baked cheesecake will continue to firm up as it cools down after baking and when it is being chilled in the refrigerator. Personally, I like my cheesecakes to be softly set throughout the surface without the centre being more wobbly (when using a water bath).
7) Baking times will affect the density of the baked cheesecake. Cheesecakes that are baked longer will be denser and dryer. Vary the baking time (shorten or lengthen)to get your desired texture. Cheesecakes that are overbaked will turn out dry and tough whereas cheesecakes that are underbaked may not hold their shape well (very watery in texture) when sliced. It will be easier to vary baking times using a water bath without drying out the cheesecake.
8) When using a water bath while the recipe does not call for one, the baking time will be longer.
9) When buying cream cheese, select the ones in rectangular blocks rather than those in tubs (more for cheese spread). The composition of the cream cheese in these packagings are different.
10) A good brand of cream cheese to use would be Philadelphia cream cheese.
11) Cheesecakes store for up to 7 days in the refrigerator. Cheesecakes can be frozen to last longer.
12) Always keep cheesecakes in the refrigerator and serve them chilled. According to some sources, the flavour of cheesecakes mature as the number of days pass.
13) When using vanilla, use the best quality vanilla to give the cheesecake a full bodied aroma. The difference in quality of vanilla used in cheesecakes is noticeable.
14) For unbaked (chilled) cheesecakes, the quantity of gelatin used is often crucial in ensuring that the cheesecake sets well. Ensure that gelatine is well dissolved using a bain marie/ double boiler but do not over heat the gelatine mixture.
15) To cut cheesecakes into neat slices, wipe the knife with a kitchen towel after every slice.
16) To give the cheesecake a smooth finishing around the perimeter, dip a knife in hot water. Dry the knife with a kitchen towel and run around the sides of the cheesecake. Repeat the step if necessary.
Baking cheesecakes is an uncomplicated affair. There are hardly any major disasters to send you on a panic. Whether you are a seasoned baker anot, it will be a good idea to include them on your baking list. So, why not get some cream cheese and start baking one right away?
The above are based on my observations and experience. The tips provided, while they work well for me, may not be suitable for everyone. Feel free to provide suggestions, opinions or comments on this article.