Use these easy-to-follow steps to make an extraordinary cheesecake from scratch.
Use a springform pan to make cheesecake. Removing the cheesecake from any other type of pan is nearly impossible because the crumb crust falls apart. (Some cheesecakelike desserts can be baked in other types of pans, but only when the recipe specifies this.)
Let your chilled ingredients stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking. At this temperature, you'll get more volume from the eggs, and the cream cheese will be softened enough to blend well with the other ingredients. (For food safety reasons, eggs should not be left out at room temperature for more than 30 minutes.) Next, stir together ingredients for crust. When adding the melted butter to the crust ingredients, stir until all the ingredients are moist. This will help them stick together when you press the crust into the pan.
Press the crust mixture firmly onto the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Be sure the crust is built up to at least 2 inches up the sides of the pan. The crust needs to be taller than the level of the filling so the finished cheesecake doesn't spill over the edges. There are two ways to do this: with your fingers or with a measuring cup.
Use an electric mixer, to beat the softened cream cheese, flour, and sugar (and any flavorings, if the recipe calls for them) on medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy. Thorough blending is especially important at this stage so the mixture is smooth before liquids such as eggs and milk are added. Once the batter thins, it's difficult to smooth out any lumps.
Slowly beat the milk into the cream cheese mixture using the low setting on your electric mixer.
Use a higher speed to beat the filling just until it's creamy and smooth.
Use a spatula to gently stir the eggs into the filling. While you want some volume from the eggs, you don't want to overbeat the batter after adding them. Overbeating incorporates too much air into the mixture, which can cause the cheesecake to puff too much while baking, then fall and crack.
Slowly pour the filling into the crust-lined pan. Spread the filling evenly with a rubber spatula.
Place the filled springform pan on a shallow baking pan just in case some of the butter leaks out of the crust while baking. Bake the cheesecake in a preheated oven according to recipe directions.
At the minimum baking time, check cheesecake for doneness by gently shaking the pan. If the filling appears nearly set (the center will jiggle slightly), it's done. A 2-inch area around the outside edge should appear set. (The center will firm up as it cools.) Avoid overbaking -- it can cause the cheesecake to crack. Don't check for doneness by poking it with a knife or toothpick -- you want a smooth surface.
Cool as directed in the recipe. Most cheesecake recipes call for chilling the cheesecake in these steps:
Tip: Be sure to set timers for these stages; if you wait too long to loosen the crust from the sides of the pan, the cheesecake can pull away from the sides of the pan and crack.
To cut a cheesecake into clean slices, use a nonserrated knife with a thin blade. Before cutting each slice, dip the knife in hot water and wipe it dry with a towel.
Tip: If the top of your cheesecake has cracked, you can always cover it up by spreading a thin layer of sweetened whipped cream over the entire chilled cake before you present it to your guests. Embellish with berries or chocolate curls, if you like.
Tip: Cheesecake needs to be refrigerated for storage. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 3 days. To freeze cheesecake, wrap (without garnishes) in plastic wrap and seal in a freezer bag, an airtight container, or overwrapped in heavy foil. Freeze a whole cheesecake for up to 1 month; freeze pieces for up to 2 weeks. To thaw frozen cheesecake, loosen the covering slightly. Thaw in the refrigerator (a whole cheesecake should thaw within 24 hours).
Bake cheesecake in a water bath for extra-creamy results. Because the water in the pan does not ever exceed 212 degrees F, the water bath insulates the cheesecake so it bakes evenly. The outside does not cook more quickly than the inside, so the egg protein doesn't overcoagulate, which can cause the cheesecake to crack.
To bake a cheesecake in a water bath, prepare the crust as directed. Place the crust-lined springform pan on a double layer of 18x12-inch heavy-duty foil. Bring edges of foil up and mold around the sides of the pan to form a watertight seal.
Prepare filling. Pour into prepared pan. Place the pan in a roasting pan. Pour enough boiling water into the roasting pan to reach halfway up sides of the springform pan.
Bake for 60 minutes. When done, cake edges will jiggle slightly when the pan is gently shaken. Turn oven off; allow cheesecake to sit in the oven for 60 minutes (cheesecake will continue to set up during standing in oven). Carefully remove springform pan from water bath. Remove foil from pan. Cool and chill as directed.