Up until a couple days ago I had never baked a cheesecake. You could still say I've never baked a cheesecake... successfully. They're tricky little buggers, those cheesecakes.
Nobody's perfect right? Right.
I'm not here today to show off pictures of my pretty cheesecake and swoon about how amazing it turned out. I could have concealed those cracks with some candied orange peel or sauce. I could have adjusted the contrast of the browned edge of the cake to make it appear less overdone in photoshop. I could have pretended to do everything right when, in reality, I did the polar opposite. But I won't. That would be a lie and I try not to lie to you.
Instead I'm here today to serve as a lesson. Instead of telling you everything that I did wrong, I'm going to tell you how to do it right. I'll make sure to put these lessons to good use once I've overcome my crushing cheesecake failure. But hey, it still tasted good. So cheesecakes crack. They want to, they try so hard to, but you have to do your best to deny them that satisfaction. Oh, how I wish I'd looked up all these tips BEFORE I made my failed cheesecake instead of AFTER the catastrophe.
Firstly cheesecakes that are baked with flour or corn starch added are less likely to crack than those without. The starch molecules apparently get in between the egg proteins preventing them from over-coagulating. If your cheesecake recipe doesn't call for flour or corn starch you can safely add in 1 tbsp - 1/4 cup with the sugar. Your dessert won't explode. Promise.
Second thing you need to make sure of is not to over-mix. You can mix it all you want before the eggs are added but after you better put that mixer on low and pay close attention. Over-mixing your cheesecake batter during the egg stage creates bubbles. I'd suggest treating it like muffin batter with delicate blueberries in it. Add the eggs one at a time and once you see that yolk break and start to combine stop and add the next egg.
Third thing you need to do is make sure to grease your spring form pan or line it with parchment paper. Cheesecakes have a tendency to shrink while they cool so you might think you've accomplished a crack-free cheesecake when you take it out of the oven, but half an hour later it's crack city. A well greased pan allows the cheesecake to shrink as it likes without any resistance from the edges.
Forth thing to do is to wrap the base of your filled spring form pan in aluminium foil then set it in a shallow dish filled with water that reaches halfway up the pan. This serves two purposes. The water bath adds humidity to the oven air and also allows the cheesecake to bake evenly and gently. The aluminium foil is there just to make the pan water tight.
The fifth prevention measure is to make sure not to over-bake your cheesecake. It should be baked at a temperature no higher than 325 degrees and baked slowly. After about 45 minutes of uninterrupted baking the surface of your dessert should be smooth, the edges firm and the middle should still jiggle slightly. Don't worry, it will set while it cools.
The sixth and final thing you need to do is allow your cheesecake to cool slowly. Good things come to those who wait right? When it's finished baking just turn the oven off and allow the cheesecake to cool inside for another hour. Then take it out of the oven and leave it to reach room temperature with a plate inverted over top. This is to make it cool as slowly as possible. Like I said before, most of the cracks occur during the cooling process. That big ol' doozy in the center of mine happened while it was left out on the counter all by its lonesome to cool. Once it's cooled to room temperature then, and only then, remove it from the spring form pan and put it in the refrigerator to set up for 4 - 6 hours, or even overnight. The longer the better.
That was a lot of information to take in at once so let's summarize...
1. Make sure to add flour or corn starch to the batter. 2. Don't over-mix during the egg stage. 3. Grease your pan. 4. Wrap the pan in foil and bake in a water bath. 5. Don't over-bake. 6. Cool it painfully slow.
I hope your cheesecake turns out better than mine did. Good luck and enjoy!