Thursday, April 26, 2012

Cheesecake tips and tricks

This post at The Kitchn has some great tips for baking a great cheesecake. I heartily agree with all the tips, and I had never heard the tip to chill your cheesecake for at least six hours. I always just let it come to room temperature on the counter and only chilled it if there were leftovers. I will definitely have to try chilling my cheesecake before serving next time.

I think the most important thing to remember about a cheesecake is that it's basically a custard pie, so it should be handled with care. It will not take kindly to overcooking or too high temperatures. It definitely follows the cardinal rule of cooking eggs - if it looks done in the pan, it will be overdone on the plate. I'll admit; I have had difficulty with this one. But, once I got over it, I could enjoy creamy, luscious cheesecakes and smooth, moist, even custardy, scrambled eggs, and omelets that don't taste like styrofoam.

A lot of people swear by baking cheesecakes in a water bath, but that's a problem if you use a springform pan. The great Alton Brown gets around this by using a 3" tall cake pan instead, but I'm rather attached to my springform. I get around it by putting the two racks in my oven in two adjacent slots with the top rack in the middle of the oven. On the bottom rack, I put a sheet pan filled with water. (Put the pan in first and then fill with water.) I put the water pan in the oven as soon as I finish baking the crust so the water has time to warm up and get the oven nice and steamy while I get the filling ready. Once the filling is ready and in the pan, that pan goes on the rack right above the water pan. It's protected from the harsher radiant heat from the coils at the bottom of the oven, and the cheesecake gets to cook in a nice moist environment. It doesn't coddle the cheesecake as much as a water bath would, but I think it's a good compromise.

The next thing is to not let the cheesecake overcook. I think this is where most cheesecakes go wrong. If you're paranoid about undercooking, you can turn off the oven when you think it's almost done. That will allow you a little more room for error. Although you're more likely to overcook it this way, it won't be as noticeable and will give you peace of mind if you're worried about eating undercooked eggs. (I say to get over it, but that's just me.)

If you're more worried about overcooking, like me, take the cheesecake out of the oven when the outer half is set, but the center still jiggles when you shake it. So, if you're using a 9" springform pan, you're looking for a jiggly circle between 4" and 5" in diameter when you shake the pan. And by shake, I mean wiggle back and forth on the oven rack horizontally, just so there's no confusion. I don't want anybody picking up the pan and shaking it up and down. That sounds like a good way to get boiling hot and probably pretty sticky cream cheese on yourself. Yikes!

If you're looking for a good recipe, I would highly recommend this one from Tigers & Strawberries. It has never failed me, and it's easy to customize.

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