Baked or unbaked
A baked cheesecake is a very different dessert to an unbaked cheesecake. The common ingredient is cream cheese and the filling of an unbaked cheesecake just happens to be usually enclosed in a crumb crust similar to that of its very distant cousin, the baked cheesecake. Unbaked cheesecakes usually contain gelatine to stabilise them.
The essential ingredients of a cheesecake are:
• Supermarket-quality packaged cream cheese, not the spreadable or low fat variety
• Cream of some sort – often a combination of regular and sour cream
• Flavourings (the most common are vanilla or lemon)
It may be tempting to use a fresh cream cheese instead of packaged, but fresh cream cheese doesn’t have the stability necessary to make a firm baked cheesecake. It’s best to stick with the full-fat packaged variety found in supermarkets for successful results.
The perfect biscuit crumb crust
• Blend or process the biscuits in small batches until they’re evenly crushed; not too fine – they need a bit of substance. Or you can smash them in a strong plastic bag with a meat mallet or a wooden rolling pin.
• Melt the butter – most recipes use half the weight of butter to biscuit crumbs – mix it into the crumbs, then press the crumb mixture evenly over the base and side of the tin. There’s no need for greasing as the butter in the biscuit mixture is enough.
• Try to avoid making the crumb mixture too thick where the side meets the base of the tin. Use the side of a glass to press and smooth the crumbs firmly onto the side of the tin. Use the base of the glass to press the crumbs firmly over the base of the tin.
• Refrigerate the crumb crust for about 30 minutes while you’re preparing the filling.
Some recipes will instruct you to bake your cheesecake in a waterbath. The results will be better all round; the cheesecake will have a wonderfully rich, creamy texture because it’s been baked in a moist environment at a constant temperature. The temperature in the centre of a cheesecake should not exceed 60°C. The cake should look a bit shaky in the middle when it’s done; it will set and become firm on cooling. Cracks should be a thing of the past if you use this method, and there’s no need for oven-cooling either.
If you’re baking in a springform tin, it probably won’t be watertight, but this trick should help: Place a large sheet of strong foil over the top of the loose round bottom, where the cheesecake will sit – you’ll need plenty of overhang. Clip the ring of the tin into position; it should feel tight. Make the cheesecake. Bring the overhanging foil up around the side of the tin, level with the top of the tin. Then prepare the water bath for baking the cheesecake.
Cream cheese is well known for its lumping qualities. Have the cream cheese at room temperature before you start to mix it, or chop it into the mixing bowl and stand the bowl in hot water to soften the cheese. Heat the beater/s under hot water too. Even with this treatment, the cheese will often form lumps. Scrape the side of the bowl well during the mixing process and check for lumps before moving on.
Cracked and shrinking cheesecake
The cheesecake was either cooked too long or at too high a temperature, or both. It’s a common mistake when making cheesecakes. When you get the timing right, take the cake out of the oven, let it stand for about 5 minutes, then run the flexible blade of a vegetable knife or small metal spatula around the tin between the crust and the tin. This should help with keeping things together. Also try using the water bath method of cooking the cheesecake – it almost always eliminates cracking.