Our Step-By-Step Guide to Making the Perfect Cheesecake
A slice of cheesecake is the ultimate indulgent dessert to finish a meal. Whether you're a beginner or a cheesecake-making pro, we'll go through the critical steps for success of how to make homemade cheesecake. You'll also find useful tips for how to keep a cheesecake from cracking (the fear is real).
Though it's too easy to order a rich and creamy slice of cheesecake while dining out, it's actually an easy dessert to handle in your own kitchen. Once you learn how to make cheesecake from scratch, you'll be ready to impress the whole family. Thanks to years of perfecting cheesecake recipes in the Better Homes & Gardens Test Kitchen, our experts filled us in on the most essential tips to know in creating a cheesecake that's nice and smooth (and free of cracks). For this guide, we're sticking to a traditional baked cheesecake rather than the no-bake kind. So grab a cheesecake recipe and get ready to start baking.
How to Make Cheesecake
To get you through the basics, we'll be using our classic cheesecake recipe as a guide. But you'll be able to apply these helpful steps and tips to any recipe.
Step 1: Use a Springform Pan
A springform pan ($12, Amazon) is a round pan with straight sides that are removable by releasing a clamp (making serving super easy). Springform pans are ideal for the soft texture of cheesecake as removing cheesecake from any other pan type is nearly impossible without the crust falling apart. Some cheesecake-like desserts can be baked in other types of pans, but only when the recipe specifies this.
Step 2: Let Ingredients Stand
Let any 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 2 hours.
Step 3: Press Crust Mixture into Pan
After mixing up your crust ingredients, press the mixture firmly onto the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Be sure the crust is distributed so it's 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.
Step 4: Prepare and Beat the Filling
Use an electric mixer ($50, Amazon) to beat 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. Here are some extra tips to ensure your filling will be the right consistency for baking.
- 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.
Step 5: Gently Stir in Eggs
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. You'll also stir in your sour cream and vanilla in this step if your recipe calls for it.
Step 6: Pour Filling into Pan
Slowly pour the filling into the crust-lined pan. Spread the filling evenly with a rubber spatula.
Step 7: Set Inside a Larger Pan and Bake
Place the filled springform pan on a shallow baking pan ($10, Target) 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. To ensure extra-creamy results, you can also opt for baking your cheesecake in a water bath. Learn how to do that in our directions further down in this guide.
Step 8: Check Cheesecake for Doneness
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. Don't worry, the center will firm up as it cools. This is one cake you shouldn't check for doneness by poking with a knife or toothpick. You want that top to be nice and smooth!
Step 9: Cool Cheesecake
Knowing how to cool your cheesecake properly is an essential step. While some recipes vary, most cheesecake recipes call for chilling the cheesecake with these steps:
- Cool cheesecake in the pan on a wire rack ($15, Bed Bath & Beyond) for 15 minutes.
- Loosen the crust from the side of the pan with an offset spatula ($10, Amazon) or a small sharp knife (but do not remove the sides yet).
- Cool on the wire rack for another 30 minutes.
- To remove the cheesecake from the springform pan, unlock the clasp on the sides.
- Open the pan as wide as possible and carefully lift the sides off the cheesecake.
- Cool the cheesecake completely on the rack.
- Cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 4 hours before serving.
Test Kitchen 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.
How to Cut a Cheesecake
How to Store Cheesecake
Cheesecake needs to be refrigerated for storage. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 5 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). To make serving a piece or two at a time easy, try flash freezing first before storing them.
How to Make Cheesecake in a Water Bath
Although it's not a necessary step, a water bath lets the cheesecake bake more slowly and evenly, protecting and insulating the delicate filling so the outer edge of the cake won't bake faster than the center (which can lead to cracking). To do this, place your crust-lined springform pan on a double layer of heavy-duty foil ($10, Walmart). Bring edges of foil up and mold them around sides of pan to form a watertight seal. Place springform pan into a roasting pan ($15, Amazon). After adding the filling, pour enough boiling water into the roasting pan to reach halfway up the sides of the pan (keep water level below the foil). Bake 1 hour. Turn off the oven; let stand in oven 1 hour. Promptly remove from water bath; cool as directed.
How to Keep Cheesecake from Cracking
To avoid an unattractive cheesecake like the image above, know the common issues that can cause a cheesecake to crack: overbaking and/or overbeating. Your cheesecake is done when the center is still wobbly when gently shaken, don't bake until it's firm or it will be overcooked. To avoid overbeating, make sure you follow the steps for incorporating the ingredients (beating or stirring). Overbeating the eggs or filling incorporates excess air, which causes the filling to puff too much in the oven, then fall and crack as it cools.
Even if the top of your cheesecake has cracked, no need to worry. You can always cover it up by spreading a thin layer of sweetened whipped cream or a sauce over the entire chilled cake before you present it to your guests. Embellish with berries or chocolate curls, if you like.
Since you're a cheesecake pro now, no one will ever guess that your homemade cheesecake didn't come straight from the bakery. Get creative and show-off those skills with irresistible flavor combinations. Chocolate lovers can enjoy our chocolate-peanut butter, cookie dough, or red velvet cheesecake. For a fruity twist, try our mascarpone cheesecake with strawberry-rhubarb compote. You can also avoid turning on the oven and make a no-bake cheesecake for an equally rich and delicious dessert.