Cheesecake is one of those desserts that's amazingly classic—making one kinda feels like a rite of passage. Mainly, because it takes SO long to make one from start to finish. Here's how to make sure you don't waste your time.
How to make a graham cracker crust
The crust is honestly one of our favorite parts and it's simple to make! Crushed graham crackers (the finer the better), melted butter, a little sugar, and salt - that's it! Mix those together and press into your springform pan. We don't bake pre-bake our crust because once the entire cheesecake is baked and then chilled, the crust adheres to the filling and the butter hardens back up to give you a nice sturdy crust. If you want peace of mind or like the toasted grahams, pre-bake the crust in a 350° oven for about 10 minutes.
Want to swap out the grahams for something else? No problem! We also love crushed Nilla wafers, shortbread cookies, gingersnaps, and Oreos. You'll need about 2 cups crushed of whatever cookie you want to use.
What's the difference between a no-bake and baked cheesecake?
No-bake cheesecake is still made with cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla, but instead of eggs we fold Cool Whip into the mixture to keep it sturdy. The mixture then sets up in the fridge for several hours. Baked cheesecake has egg in the cream cheese batter (it helps with that fluffy, silky smooth texture), so it needs to cook through.
How do you bake a cheesecake?
You make a crust—typically made of graham cracker—and then a cream cheese filling that gets poured over the crust and then bake. It's all together pretty simple. A water bath will help your cheesecake cook more evenly and prevent it from cracking. It's cooked at a lower temperature as well and needs a lot of careful cooling time.
What is a water bath for baking cheesecake?
A water bath is a roasting pan filled with some boiling hot water (enough to come up halfway on the cheesecake). The water bath gives the oven moisture, which will help prevent the cheesecake from cracking or turning out rubbery. It also helps provide a slower heat source than just the oven itself. Using a water bath is the best way to ensure you won't end up with a cracked cheesecake in the end.
Do I need to use a water bath?
Honestly, yes, you can get away without using a water bath, but we don't recommend it. A water bath will help ensure your cheesecake doesn't crack. If you choose not to use a water bath and it ends up cracking, don't fret! The cheesecake is still good! Cover it with a ganache or a fruit and call it good. A water bath is also going to ensure even cooking and help prevent those dark spots on top of your cheesecake. The whole thing will cook slowly and evenly thanks to the steam and the results will be a light creamy center!
The only downside to using a water bath and why most people don't want to, is the risk of getting water in your cheesecake itself. To prevent this, wrap the bottom and sides of your springform pan in two layers of foil. Place your wrapped pan into a larger roasting pan and then place the whole thing into your oven. With the pan in the oven carefully pour your boiling water into the roasting pan. If you have a kettle with a long spout they work best for this.
Why do cheesecakes crack on top?
A few reasons: Over-mixing the batter can cause it to fluff up and then fall in the oven. Not using a water bath can cause it to crack as it's cooking. Cooking your cheesecake too long is the biggest culprit. You're looking for only the center to be slightly jiggly. Dramatic temperature changes from hot to cold can cause your cheesecake to crack as well.
Why is it important to let the cheesecake slowly cool down in the oven after baking?
Letting a cheesecake slowly cool in the oven, with the oven door propped open, after baking will help prevent the top from cracking. The slow, even reduction of heat will also prevent the cheesecake from sinking as it cools.
What toppings can I put on my cheesecake?
This is the fun part! While a classic cheesecake is good as is, a topping only makes it better. Use your favorite jam, fresh berries, or a lemon curd for a bright citrusy topping. A chocolate ganache or caramel are always a good idea or get really fancy with a brûléed top like in our Creme Brûlée cheesecake!
How do I store my cheesecake?
After your cheesecake has cooled down in the oven with the door propped open for about an hour take it out of the roasting pan and unwrap the foil. Let is sit at room temperature for another hour to cool down further to room temp. Refrigerate still in the springform pan, uncovered for at least 5 hours. After the 5 hours you can wrap the top with plastic wrap. The cheesecake will stay good for a few days in the refrigerator.
FOR THE CRUST
- 9 graham crackers (1 sleeve), finely crushed
- 6 tbsp. butter, melted
- 1/4 c. granulated sugar
Pinch kosher salt
FOR THE FILLING
- 4 (8 oz) blocks of cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 1 c. granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 c. sour cream
- 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
- Step 1Preheat oven to 325° and grease an 8" or 9" springform pan with cooking spray. Make crust: In a large bowl, mix together graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, sugar, and salt until totally combined. (Mixture should resemble wet sand.) Press into bottom and up sides of prepared pan. Set aside.
- Step 2In a large bowl using a hand mixer (or in the bowl of a stand mixer), beat cream cheese and sugar until no lumps remain. Add eggs, one at a time, then stir in vanilla and sour cream. Add flour and salt and beat until just combined. Pour mixture over crust.
- Step 3Wrap bottom of pan in aluminum foil and place in a large roasting pan. Pour in enough boiling water to come up halfway in the baking pan.
- Step 4Bake until center of cheesecake only slightly jiggles, about 1 hour 30 minutes. Turn off heat, prop open oven door, and let cheesecake cool in oven, 1 hour.
- Step 5Remove foil and refrigerate cheesecake until completely chilled, at least 5 hours and up to overnight.