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Perfect Cheesecake Splash

Cheesecake is perhaps one of the most heralded yet capricious desserts to bake from scratch. Consider it the Sandra Bullock of the baking world.

When a cheesecake is good, it is oh so good! (As is the perfectly wonderful Sandra Bullock in While You Were Sleeping, Crash, The Blind Side, and Miss Congeniality.)

Photo copyright Little Corner of Mine blog. Her pumpkin cheesecake recipe is great, the cake just cracked. It happens. No offense is at all intended.

When cheesecake is bad, you want to love it because, well, it is cheesecake after all! But in reality? It’s dry, curdled, and barely palatable. Not at all what you expected. Then you’re all like, “Why did I waste my time on this?! (Just like Sandra Bullock in This Thing Called Love, Speed 2, and The Net.)

Are you following where I’m going with all of this? What’s worth doing is worth doing well.

Perfect Cheesecake via ComfortablyDomestic.com

The perfect cheesecake should be smooth and creamy, dense but not heavy, modest and simple. No prefabbed crusts. No gelatin or whipped topping worked in. No sunken centers. No cracks running across the top that require copious amounts of canned pie filling* to fill. Just a simple, unadorned cheesecake. What’s more perfect than that?

(*Editor’s note: canned pie filling is from the devil. Just. Say. No.)

Think this is a lofty goal? No way. Perfect Cheesecake from scratch can absolutely be achieved at home. It’s not complicated. It’s science.

~Cheesecake Science~

{Cue ominus music and reverb here}

I’ll be honest–I’ve made a lot of bad cheesecakes. Really bad cheesecakes. After crying over one too many cracked cheesecakes, I decided to do some research as to what makes a really good one. After reading up on ingredient choices, tweaking of proportions, and adopting Alton Brown’s method for custard based pies, I climbed out of the hole of cheesecake despair, and planted me feet firmly on the grounds of cheesecake success.

A cheesy comparison I know, but stay with me. ;)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, by understanding a few principles of Food Science, you can make anything fabulous. I’m going to demonstrate how to create a cheesecake so gorgeous and velvety that your friends and family will be clamoring for the name of the bakery that you bought if from. At which point you can offer to sell your perfection to them at a “reduced cost” from bake shop prices.

Or you can just give them a big ol’ hug and a second slice, which is what I usually do.

Pull up a chair and embrace your inner Food Dork, because we’re going to delve into to the Science of Cheesecake. I promise this will be way more fun than it sounds!


cheesecake cast

Gather a few simple ingredients: full-fat cream cheese, full-fat milk, full-fat sour cream, full-fat sweetened condensed milk, full-fat graham crackers, unsalted butter, large eggs, a touch of all-purpose flour, cornstarch, and vanilla extract.

Notice all the full-fat ingredients? Cheesecake is no place for low or reduced fat anything. Those fats are the first key to a good cheesecake, as they have an important job to do–which is to make your cheesecake divine! Amen.

You’ll also need a 10-inch springform pan with 2 1/2-inch sides, a large roasting pan with 3-inch sides, a clean kitchen towel, and at least a quart of boiling water. A food processor and stand mixer are nice, too. If you are lacking in luxury appliances, than I’ll outline a few work-arounds in the printable recipe portion of this post.

Springform Pan Prep2

The key component to a successful cheesecake outcome is proper pan preparation. Springform pans are convenient in that the sides can be removed for easy cake extraction. However, the pans can also be a hindrance to the cake extraction process if not adequately prepared for the job of Cheesecake Vessel.

Before doing anything else, begin preparing the springform pan by unlatching and removing the outer ring. Then trace the bottom plate onto a piece of parchment paper. Next, close the latch on the ring, and measure both the height and perimeter. Since I live with four real-live distractions sons, I like to jot the measurements right onto a corner of the parchment so I don’t forget them if when I have to pause what I’m doing to do something else.

Plot out and mark the measurements of the outer ring onto a sheet of parchment paper. Cut out both the circle and the long strip(s) of parchment–they’ll be used to line the base and interior wall of the the springform pan.

Springform Pan Prep 3Put the springform pan back together. It’s not a bad idea to insert the parchment circle and side strips into the pan to ensure they are the right size, trimming to fit when necessary. Grease the inside of the pan with shortening. The shortening will give the parchment liners something to adhere to, and help prevent the cheesecake from sticking to the pan.

Springform Pan Prep 4

Press the parchment circle on the base, and line the wall with the long strip. Use a little more shortening to grease the outer surface of the parchment. Wrap a double layer of aluminum foil up and over the bottom and side of the pan to prevent water bath seepage later. Set the pan aside.

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

crust ingredients

In the interest of full disclosure, the filling in this recipe is mine-all-mine!  However the crust portion is absolutely, positively, one-hundred percent Alton Brown’s recipe for a graham cracker crust. Same goes for the baking methodology. AB knows his food science. I am but a studious grasshopper with a library card. 

Grab the graham crackers and a cold stick of unsalted butter. The crust requires exactly 15 whole graham crackers. Because Alton said so.

cookie substitutes

I will say that such crunchy cookies as Oreos and Swedish gingersnaps can be substituted for the graham crackers, provided you use at least 5 ounces of them.


Break the crackers to fit into the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the crackers rendered to crumbs, with a few larger pieces. Cut the cold butter into one-quarter inch cubes and sprinkle over the crumbs. Continue to pulse until the butter disappears into the crumbs, making the mixture very moist.

Why use cold butter when most recipes call for melted butter? The cold butter combines with the finer graham cracker crumbs, helping to crumbs hold together when compressed into the pan. When the butter melts while the crust it baking, it gives off moisture, which will yield a firm–but not tough–platform to hold the cheesecake. Also, melted butter is just plain messy. When used in a cracker crust in a springform pan, it leaves a greasy residue all over everything–including the bottom of the oven.

Pressing the crust

Press the crumb mixture into the bottom and up 1/2-inch of the sides of the prepared springform pan. Blind bake the graham cracker crust in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, and place it in the refrigerator to cool while tending to the filling.

Reduce the oven temperature to 250°F.

As the cheesecake filling is largely comprised of eggs, sugar, and milk products, it can be classified as a custard. Custardization occurs when sweetened milk products are combined with eggs or cornflour and then slowly thickened with heat. Eggs are a great thickener, but the egg proteins tend to be a little temperamental and want to coagulate too rapidly. It’s the over-coagulation of the eggs that is partly to blame for the custard curdling and/or cracking in the oven. 

creaming the fats

Adding a little cornstarch mixed with flour when beating the sugar and cream cheese into a frenzy of creaminess will help the over all texture of the finished cheesecake. The reason this helps is twofold:

  1. Creaming the hard sugar crystals into the soft cream cheese will break the larger molecules in the cream cheese down to a finer consistency.
  2. Adding a mixture of flour and cornstarch to the creaming process will distribute the larger starch molecules through the mixture. Those starch molecules will later get in between the egg proteins, thus preventing them from over-coagulating.

So go ahead and cream the sugar, cream cheese, flour and cornstarch together on medium speed, until it is very light and fluffy; scrape down the bowl as needed. Turn off the mixer.


Whisk together the eggs, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract, and sour cream together in a bowl until blended.


With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the egg mixture into the work bowl, scraping down the bowl as needed, and continue mixing until its fully incorporated and smooth.


Remove the cooled crust from the refrigerator. Line a roasting pan with a clean towel to keep the cheesecake from sloshing around the pan, and center the springform pan on top of the towel. Pour the filling over the crust.

smooth top

Level the filling with a rubber spatula before setting the roasting pan on the oven rack. Work quickly so all the heat in the oven doesn’t escape.

water bath

Pour boiling water into the roasting pan until it reaches at least one inch up the wall of the springform pan. Close the oven door and bake for one hour and ten minutes without peeking even once!

first wave

After 70 minutes, turn off the oven and open the oven door and take a peek.

After this first wave of baking, the edges of the cheesecake will look set, but the center will still have an almost runny appearance.

Don’t touch it. Don’t jiggle the pan. And for all that is good and right with the world, do not take the cheesecake out of the oven! Just take a quick peek and then close the oven door.

Set the timer for 60 minutes, leaving the cheesecake in the now-turned-off oven to finish baking. No peeking this time, either! Do not open the oven door even once during this time.

Wait. Finish baking in an oven that has been turned off? How does that work?! Well, during the first wave of baking, the walls of the oven absorbed heat–it’s what oven walls are designed to do. Therefore, even though the oven has been turned off for the second wave of baking, there is enough residual heat in the walls and left in the water bath to radiate enough heat to complete the baking process. I promise. 

post second wave

Upon completion of the second wave of baking, remove the cheesecake from the oven, carefully remove the aluminum foil, and set it on a wire rack to cook for one hour. The center may still look slightly jiggly, but don’t worry! The filling will continue to set as it cools. If the filling looks totally set in the oven, the eggs are already over-coagulated. If the cheesecake hasn’t cracked already, then it will crack as it cools.

Cracks in cheesecake are tragically avoidable by not over baking.

After an hour on the cooling rack, gently run a knife between the parchment and wall of the pan to ensure that the cheesecake isn’t stuck to the sides of the pan somewhere. The cheesecake will pull away from the sides of the pan as it cools; verifying that the cheesecake is able to move freely as it cools now will prevent cracks around the edges later.

Almost Perfect Cheesecake via ComfortablyDomestic.com

Put the cheesecake, uncovered, into the refrigerator to cool overnight. Not several hours–overnight! The cheesecake needs plenty of time to firm up and be lovely. I can relate to that.

Once the cheesecake has chilled out overnight, you may serve it in good conscience. The cheesecake will be deliciously creamy, with a smooth, even texture, and nary an unsightly crack in sight–it’s positively perfect!

To serve this velvety wonder, start by unlocking the outer band of the springform pan to remove it. Rather than trying to transfer the cheesecake from the base of the pan–which is a risky proposition at best–I usually just set the base onto a pretty serving plate.

Positively Perfect Cheesecake by ComfortablyDomestic

To ruin such a beautiful cheesecake by hacking through it with poor slicing technique would be travesty. Achieving nice, clean slicing lines, is easy. Simply run a sharp knife under very hot tap water for a few minutes, and then wipe it dry. Slice through the cake with the warmed knife, rewarming it under the water if the filling begins to stick or tear.

Normally I am a Cheesecake Purist, preferring my custard pies unadorned. However a little salted caramel sauce drizzled on the plate is never amiss.


Positively Perfect Cheesecake


Yields One Monster 10-inch Cake

(At Least 16 Servings)

Positively rich and velvety cheesecake that comes out perfect every single time! No cracks, no lumps, no sunken middles–nothing but the thrilling victory of cheesecake success.

Prep Time: 1 hour, Cook Time: 1 hour 10 minutes plus 2 hour standing time, Total Time: 4 hours, plus overnight refrigeration.

For the Crust:

15 Whole Graham Cracker Sheets (not just the halves, or about 1 ½ cups of crumbs)

½ C. really cold unsalted butter, cubed

For the Filling:

5 packages (8 oz. each) full-fat cream cheese

¾ C. granulated sugar

2 Tbs. flour

1 Tbs. cornstarch

4 eggs

2/3 C. full-fat sweetened condensed milk

1 Tbs. vanilla extract

1 C. full-fat sour cream

Additional Equipment Required:

A large, 3-inch deep roasting pan, kitchen towel, parchment paper, shortening. A stand mixer and food processor are nice, but not essential. A quart (or more) of boiling water will be necessary for the water bath. (A major appliance work-around will be detailed in the Notes section, below of the body of the recipe.**)

To Prepare the Springform Pan:

  1. For this recipe, use a 10-inch springform pan with 2 ½-inch high sides. Please use a pan with these dimensions, as it is the best for the job.
  2. Remove the bottom of the springform pan and trace it’s diameter with a pencil onto a sheet of parchment paper. Use a measuring tape to measure distance around the (closed) exterior band of the pan, as well as measuring the height of the band. Use those measurements to mark off a long strip of parchment. Cut both the bottom circle and the side strip(s) out of the parchment. Reassemble the springform pan. Set both the bottom circle and sides of parchment in the pan to ensure a proper fit without wrinkly overlaps. Trim edges for a better fit, if necessary.
  3. Lightly grease the bottom and interior sides with shortening. (Baking Spray can be substituted in a pinch, but shortening is really best.)
  4. Line the greased pan with the parchment and lightly grease the top of the paper with a little more shortening.
  5. Wrap the bottom and exterior walls of the prepared pan with a double thickness of aluminum foil; set the prepared pan aside.

For the Crust:

  1. Set the oven rack to the second to the lowest position in the oven.
  2. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
  3. Break the graham cracker sheets into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the processor 5 or 6 times, or until the crackers resemble gravel, with some larger pieces.
  4. Cut the cold butter in ¼-inch cubes, and toss them in with the graham cracker pieces in the processor.  Pulse the butter into the crumbs until it disappears and the mixture is very moist. (Creating about 1 ¾ to 2 cups of the mixture.)
  5. Dump the crumb mixture onto the bottom of the prepared springform pan.
  6. Press the crumbs into a compact layer on the bottom of the pan, and about an inch up the side walls.
  7. Bake the crust for 10 minutes. Remove it from the oven and place it in the refrigerator to cool.
  8. Reduce the oven temperature to 250 degrees F.

For the Filling:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the sugar, cream cheese, flour, and cornstarch on medium speed until very smooth and creamy, scraping down the bowl as necessary; turn off the mixer.
  2. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract, and sour cream until well blended.
  3. Turn the mixer on low speed, and slowly pour the egg mixture into the cream cheese mixture and continue to mix until all is incorporated and smooth; scrape down the bowl as necessary. (I find that Speed 2 on my stand mixer works best. I end up scraping down the bowl three times during the process.)
  4. Pour the filling into the cooled crust.

To Bake the Cheesecake:

  1. Fold a clean kitchen towel to line the bottom of a large roasting pan.
  2. Set the filled springform pan onto the towel in the center of the roasting pan.
  3. Place the roasting pan onto the second to the lowest rack in the now 250 degree F oven.
  4. Pour boiling water into the roasting pan around the springform pan, until it comes 1 inch up the side of the pan, being cautious not to splash any water onto the filling.
  5. Bake for one hour and ten minutes. Do not open the door of the oven, turn the light on, or otherwise peek at the cheesecake during this time–doing so will cause the oven temperature to fluctuate, and will affect the final results.
  6. After 70 minutes has passed, turn the oven off, and open the door to peek at the cheesecake and allow some of the heat to escape. The outer inch and a half of the cheesecake should look mostly set, with the interior being runny in appearance.
  7. Close the oven door, and continue baking the cheesecake for an additional 62 minutes. The heat remaining in the walls of the oven and in the water surrounding the cheesecake will finish baking the filling. Relax! It’ll be fine!
  8. Again, don’t open the door and peek during this time.
  9. At the end of the final hour of baking, carefully remove the cheesecake from the roasting pan, open the foil around the pan to let any water escape, and set the pan on a wire rack to cool for one hour. The center of the cake may still look a little jiggly, but so long as it doesn’t look like soup, this is fine. The custard will continue to set as it cools.
  10. After an hour of cooling on the wire rack, finish removal of the foil surrounding the springform pan. Run a thin knife between the parchment and wall of the pan to ensure that the cake isn’t sticking to the sides.  The cheesecake will pull away from the wall of the springform pan as it cools. Set the pan in the refrigerator to cool overnight. Do not wrap the pan in any way, as steam will continue to escape during this time. Wrapping the cheesecake would trap the evaporating moisture and cause a layer of water to form on the top of the cake.

For Serving:

  1. Verify that the cheesecake isn’t sticking to the wall of the springform pan before unbuckling the ring and removing it.
  2. To prevent the cake from sticking when cutting, slice it with a sharp knife that has been run under hot water and then dried. If the cake begins to stick or clump on the knife, repeat the warming under water process before continuing.

Variations: I prefer cheesecake to be simple, with perhaps a little fresh fruit on top, or a slight drizzle of caramel, chocolate, raspberry sauce on the plate. That said, a few variations have made it out of my kitchen from time to time.

  • Citrus Cheesecake – Fold in 2 tsp. of freshly grated orange, lemon, or lime zest into the filling.
  • Cookies and Cream Cheesecake – Use Oreo cookies instead of the graham crackers for the crust, and reserve a few more cookies to break apart and sprinkle over the finished/chilled cheesecake. Drizzle with hot fudge before serving.
  • Maple-Ginger Cheesecake – Substitute gingersnaps for the graham crackers in the crust. Decrease the vanilla in the filling to 2 tsp. and add 1 tsp. of maple extract. Drizzle with salted caramel sauce before serving. Sprinkle candied pecans over top if you prefer.
  • Apple Cider Cheesecake – Substitute equal parts apple cider for the vanilla in the filling. Salted caramel sauce is a nice accompaniment.
  • Shortbread cookies or Biscoff cookies are a viable alternative to graham crackers in the crust.
  • Decreasing the vanilla to 1 tsp. and substituting sweet liqueurs such as Bailey’s Irish Cream and Chambord for the remaining 2 tsp. is an interesting alternative for the Holidays.

 **NOTES: All baking times/ingredient amounts are based on the use of a 10-inch round by 2 ½-inch tall springform pan because it is simply the best size for the job. Using a pan of a different size will affect the results and require many adjustments to both the ingredients and baking times.

In lieu of a food processor, the graham crackers can be placed in a sealed zip-top bag, and crushed into crumbs with a rolling pin. Work the butter cubes into the crumbs with your fingers—it’s messy, but effective. A hand mixer can be used for the filling–just be patient because it will take more time to achieve the required consistency.**