Choice Cheesecakes: Which Baking Method is the Best?
AbstractSince ancient times, nothing has said "special" and "dessert" quite like cheesecake! The Romans even sacrificed their form of cheesecake, called libum, in religious ceremonies. Modern cheesecakes are more likely to be eaten at parties and at restaurants than used as sacrificial offerings, but no matter how they're enjoyed, all cheesecakes require some finesse in their baking and mixing to avoid common cheesecake faults, like cracking, collapsing, or failure to rise. In this cooking and food science project, you'll investigate three baking methods to see which one produces the choicest cheesecake—low on cracks and high on rise.
Kristin Strong, Science Buddies
To determine which baking method (traditional, New York, or water bath) produces a cheesecake with the fewest cracks and greatest rise.
Cheesecake—one of the richest and most decadent cakes in the world—is not really a cake at all, but a sweetened egg-and-cheese custard. Like all custards, cheesecakes need to be baked at a relatively low temperature (300–325°F), for just the right amount of time. They also need to be well mixed, but not overbeaten. Overmixing, baking too long, baking at a temperature that's too high, or cooling a cheesecake too quickly can all result in several major problems: cracking, shrinkage, and overbaking around the edges. If too much air is beaten into the batter, or if the temperature is too high, the cake may rise and puff up dramatically, and then collapse, creating cracks. Or, if the batter is fiercely overbeaten, such as in a food processor, then it will be so thin and dense that it may not rise at all. Cracks and shrinkage often do not become obvious until the cheesecake is out of the oven and in the cooling stage.
Figure 1. This photo shows a slice of New York style cheesecake with raspberries. (Joy of Baking, Stephanie and Rick Jaworski, 2003.)
To overcome these cheesecake challenges, several baking methods have been developed, all of which direct bakers to keep the baking temperature low, for the most part, and to take the cake out of the oven when the outside of the cake is "set" or firm, but the center still jiggles when the cake is shaken gently. Because the baking temperature is so important to creating a successful cheesecake, many recipes recommend using an oven thermometer to check the accuracy of your oven to make sure that it is at the right temperature. They also advise having all ingredients at room temperature, and greasing the springform pan (a special pan used for baking cheesecake) well, so that it will "release" the cheesecake during cooling. Inverting (turning upside-down) a large bowl or pot over the cheesecake while it is cooling on a counter helps to slow the rate of cooling, and keeps the cake environment moist.
The three methods for baking cheesecakes are:
- The Traditional Method: Bake at moderate to low heat (300–325°F) until the edges are set, but the center is still jiggly. Cool on the counter with an inverted bowl.
- The New York Method: The cake goes into the oven at 500°F for 15 minutes (min.) and then the temperature is reduced to 200°F for one hour. Finally, the oven is turned off, and the cake is left to cool in the oven with the door left ajar.
- The Water Bath Method: The sides and bottom of the springform pan are wrapped in a wide sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil. After the pan is filled with batter, the cake is placed in a baking dish or roasting pan that is shallower than the springform pan, but at least 3 inches (in.) wider. Boiling water is poured into the baking dish or roasting pan to a depth of about 1 in. The cheesecake is then baked, as in the traditional method, at moderate to low heat, and then cooled on the counter with an inverted bowl.
In this cooking and food science project, you will investigate which baking method results in a cheesecake with the fewest cracks and the best rise.
Terms and Concepts
- Why isn't a cheesecake a cake?
- What are some common cheesecake flaws?
- How can you avoid cheesecake flaws?
These sources provide cheesecake recipes and tips for mixing and baking a better cheesecake:
- Rombauer, I., Becker, M., and Becker, E. Joy of Cooking. New York: Scribner, 1997. pp. 977–980.
- Jaworski, S. and Jaworski, R. (2010). New York Style Cheesecake Recipe. Retrieved April 22, 2010.
- Martinson, S. (2003, June 19). New York Cheesecake is all it's cracked up to be. Retrieved April 22, 2010.
- McMillan, T. (2009). Perfect cheesecake recipe takes the cake. Retrieved April 22, 2010.
For help creating graphs, try this website:
- National Center for Education Statistics. (n.d.). Create a Graph. Retrieved April 2, 2010.
Materials and Equipment
- Ingredients to make nine cheesecakes. The type and quantity of ingredients required will vary, depending on the recipe you decide to use and the diameter of your cheesecakes.
- Springform pan, with a diameter of your choosing; available at your local home goods store
- Kitchen appliance to mix your cheesecakes, such as a mixer with beaters, a mixer with paddles, or a food processor
- Mixing bowl, large
- Large bowl for inverting (turning upside-down) over a cheesecake as it cools; should be bigger in height and width than the finished cheesecake
- Measuring cups
- Measuring spoons
- Silicon spatula
- Heavy-duty aluminum foil (1 roll)
- Baking dish or roasting pan, shallower than the springform pan, but at least 3 in. wider
- Recommended: Oven thermometer for checking the accuracy of your oven temperature
- Optional: Fine grater for making lemon zest from the yellow part of lemons
- Optional: Camera
- Lab notebook
- Graph paper
Making, Baking, and Testing Your Cheesecakes
Select a cheesecake recipe to use for all of your testing.
- The Bibliography has sample recipes, but you can find others online or in recipe books.
- Some cheesecake recipes have a sour cream layer or a topping above the cheesecake layer. If you decide to use a recipe like this, then you will need to take your measurements on the cheesecake layer (counting cracks and measuring rise) before you add the sour cream layer or topping, since you will be unable to take these measurements once the sour cream layer or topping is added.
Gather and set out all the ingredients and utensils you will need to make one cheesecake, according to the recipe that you have selected, on the kitchen counter.
- Make sure all ingredients (for one cheesecake) are at room temperature before making your batter.
- Although it is less efficient, it is recommended that you make and bake your cheesecakes one by one, instead of trying to do several at once. This will eliminate variables like placement inside the oven or time between mixing the batter and baking.
Follow the recipe directions and make your cheesecake batter.
- Keep your mixing method constant; in other words, mix your ingredients in the same way for every trial.
Write down in your lab notebook the details of how you prepared the batter, such as:
- If you had the ingredients at room temperature,
- How you greased the pan,
- If your oven was preheated,
- What kind of kitchen appliance you used to do your mixing,
- How long you mixed the batter, and
- The order in which you mixed your ingredients.
Bake your cheesecake according to one of the three methods described in the Introduction.
- Use the oven thermometer to adjust your oven temperature to the correct temperature, if necessary.
- Bake the cheesecake in the same place in the oven for every trial. Record the location of this place in your lab notebook.
Select a time (or times) after baking to evaluate your cheesecake; for example, at 15 min. after baking.
- Count up and record in your lab notebook the number of cracks in the cheesecake top and enter your count in a data table, like the one below.
- Using a ruler, measure the height of your cheesecake, and enter your measurement in a data table, like the one below.
|Baking Method||Trial 1||Trial 2||Trial 3||Average of Trials|
Cheesecake Rise Data Table
|Baking Method||Trial 1||Trial 2||Trial 3||Average of Trials|
- Repeat steps 1–5 for the two additional baking methods.
- Repeat steps 1–6 for two additional trials for all baking methods. Running repeat trials ensures that your results are accurate and repeatable. Sure, it's a lot of cheesecake, but your friends probably won't mind helping with the eating part of your science project! And, you can always freeze the cheesecakes for treats throughout the next few months.
Analyzing Your Data Tables
- For each baking method, calculate an average number of cracks from the three trials, and record your calculation in the Number of Cracks Data Table.
- For each baking method, calculate an average rise from the three trials, and record your calculation in the Cheesecake Rise Data Table.
- Make a bar chart showing the baking method on the x-axis and the average number of cracks on the y-axis. You can make the chart by hand, or use a site such as Create a Graph.
- Make a bar chart showing the baking method on the x-axis and the average rise on the y-axis.
- Looking at your bar charts, which baking method produced a cheesecake with the fewest number of cracks? Which baking method would you recommend to get the best rise?
Ask an Expert
- As a variation, choose one baking method, such as the New York method, but use different mixing methods. Compare a food processor, mixer with a paddle, mixer with a whisk, and a blender to see which produces the best cheesecake with the fewest cracks and best rise.
- Try developing a test for consistency (texture) preference. Some people love dense cheesecakes, while others like lighter, airier ones. Some like dry cheesecakes, while others prefer creamy. The baking or mixing method can dramatically change the taste and texture of a cheesecake. See, for example, which baking or mixing method is best for the dry cheesecake lovers, and which one is best for those who prefer a creamier texture. You can read this article on sample size to determine how many volunteers you will need. With a project that tastes this good, they shouldn't be hard to find!
If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers: