Cheesecake is dessert royalty. It is perfect at brunch with a pile of fresh fruit, as an afternoon treat with tea, or draped in caramel for a decadent evening dessert. Which means there really might be a cheesecake for everyone (and we all know which restaurant chain took that idea to the bank): simple plain vanilla, every flavor of fruit, and every style from light and fluffy Japanese to super dense and creamy New York. Even savory cheesecakes have become popular as an alternative to quiches.
So: We all agree that eating cheesecake is delightful, and there are lots of wonderful recipes out there for making them at home. But here, reader, are three ways you can ruin a cheesecake. Don’t let these happen to you.
Mistake #1: Using the wrong cheeses
What do I mean by wrong in this case? Lower fat versions of the cheese called for in the recipe, or willy-nilly substitution just because you like another cheese better (or that’s what you’ve got in the refrigerator). In the precise world of baking, you cannot just swap out low-fat or fat-free cream cheese and get the same result. (Sure, there are ways to make cheesecake slightly less calorie dense, so if that is your need, be sure to seek out a recipe that was developed for that purpose.) The same goes for subbing in cheeses like ricotta, chevre, farmers, labneh, or mascarpone unless they are specifically called for. Stick to the recipe, in other words.
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Mistake #2: Using cold cream cheese
If your cheesecake recipe calls for cream cheese, it must be fully at room temperature in order to blend properly. Use it when it’s still cold? You’ll end up with lumps of unmixed cheese throughout your cake, where they turn into hard little crumbly curds. Set out your cream cheese at room temp for at least 4 hours before beginning your recipe; I like to leave it overnight.
Mistake #3: Overbaking
Want to ruin the texture of your cheesecake? Here’s a shortcut: Bake it too long and you’ll have a cake that’s dry, crumbly, and a sob-worthy failure. Here’s how to avoid the overbaking disaster: Check for doneness by giving the pan a gentle shake. Once you have about a two-inch-radius center that wobbles slightly (like a firm gelatin), pull it from the oven; it will continue to cook a bit as it rests and will firm up perfectly. (Many recipes call for baking in a water bath, which is also a great gentle cook that will avoid overbaking).