It seems as if I remember a lot of talk on the importance of proper cooling techniqes when baking cheesecakes. I make a 2 1/2 cupcake that was 7/8 baked properly and about 1/8 of it was a little wet on the bottom. They looked beautiful. I recall that some will shut off the oven and let the cakes cool that way. Problem for me the cakes on top rack bake a little quicker than those on the bottom rack. I would have to take the cakes on the top rack out and put them back in after @ 3-4 minutes so those on the bottom rack could bake properly. Can someone offer some pointers or point me in the direction of a good technique cook book.
Cheesecake Cooling and Setting
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I let a whole 9" cheesecake cool in the bain marie in the oven for about an hour. Where yours are small single serving, probably 20 minutes would do it? This helped a lot with cracking and such, but I had to reduce the cooking time a bit to compensate for the falling oven in the cool down period.
You might also swap your racks at the halfway point in cooking to help even out the cooking but with a cheesecake, that could cause it's own problems.
A waterbath with minimize cracking, but sometime yo will still get cracks.
Here's a trick to do "Plastic surgery" on those cracks. You won't get rid of them, but they will be far less noticeable.
Onnce the cake is cool, but not cold, lay a piece of cling film over the entire surface, and with your finger rub smooth the cracks. They will close up but still be there. Refrigerate the cake, and when cold, remove the film. Now you can "do" Cher.....
Hahaha, I love it. Thank you so much for the tip about cheesecake plastic surgery! I'm slowly getting into the business of selling cakes and this month I've been doing a lot of "showcase" cakes that are served at occasions where my potential customer base attends. So it's extremely important that the cakes look really good. Unfortunate that you can sell a cake that looks gorgeous and tastes like cardboard, but you cannot sell a cake that tastes wonderful but has cosmetic flaws.
I've gone through a lot of cheesecake recipes lately and I notice that the fluffier lighter variety (usually beating the egg whites separately) always includes instructions to cool it for several hours in the oven or even overnight before removing, whereas the recipes for dense New York style cheesecake never tell you to do anything special regarding cooling. Is there a reason behind that or is it just coincidence? I'm fascinated by food science.
I make a lot of cheesecakes, and to be honest, I don't think the cooling method has a thing to do with cheesecakes cracking.
First off, a water bath (bain marie) is a must. Not only does it enable you to bake with a more gentle,even heat, but it adds a great deal of humidity to the baking environment, and those conditions will result in a much creamier cheesecake - assuming your recipe is a good one.
So, cakes crack because they are baked at too high a temperature or for too long; because there has been too much air incorporated into the batter; and also because the pan is not well greased, causing the cake to stick to the sides of the pan as it attempts to shrink and pull away from the pan. But that big crack that people talk about, that Grand Canyon down the middle of the cake - IMO, that's from overheating.
When I bake a cheeecake, I use a conventional aluminum pan with 3" sides, well buttered and with a parchment round in the bottom (which is also well buttered). I prebake my cookie/nut crust for 10 minutes at 350F, then let it cool completely. As soon as the crust is out, I lower the oven temp to 320F. A lot of people probably feel 320F is too low, but when you consider that half the cake is sitting in a water bath and can't get any hotter than 212F (because water boils at 212F and can't get any hotter), setting the oven to a moist 320F keeps the entire cake at a more uniform temperature. So, the batter is made and poured into the pan containing the now cooled crust, then the pan is submerged in the water bath with the water reaching about halfway up the sides of the pan. Then the whole thing goes into the oven for about 1:30, until the edges are set but the center still jiggles.
Once done, the whole thing comes out, and then I remove the pan from the water and simply place it on a cooling rack until it's cool, about 2-3 hours. Then it's into the refrigerator for a minimum of 8 hours. When it's time to unmold the cake, I remove it and set it on a hot range burner for about 10 seconds, just long enough to melt the butter under the parchment. Then I warm a knife under hot water and then run it around the edge of the cake. I then place a cardboard round (you can use anything - just make sure to wrap it in Saran) over the pan, invert the pan and kind of drop it from a few inches onto the counter, to give it a little jolt. The cake should slide out as you lift the pan. If not, just repeat. Finally, place your plate on the now face-up crust and invert the cake once more so it's right side-up on your plate.
I know that's a lot to digest...I'll be around to discuss if anyone's interested. I enjoy de-mystifying the cheesecake process!