If you’ve ever read a few cheesecake recipes you may have noticed something odd. It seems like every recipe tells you to do something different when you bake or cool a cheesecake. The ultimate goal is to prevent it from cracking. I’ve made this special dessert for years and the good thing is that it’s delicious whether it cracks or not.

Some recipes tell you to wrap the pan in foil and bake it in a larger pan of hot water. I’ve seen recipes that say to cool the baked cake under a large bowl so it cools slowly. There’s a method where you cool it for an hour in a turned off oven and then set it on the counter to cool. All of this is pretty confusing and when I tried these various methods the cheesecake still cracked. Again not the end of the world but it made me curious if there was a better and easier way.

Seventh Grade Science Fair

By the time my fourth child was old enough to compete in our homeschool science fair I had figured a few things out. You need a good question to answer and you need to repeat the experiment at least three times. It helps if you are answering something practical that people are interested in. Specifically something judges might be interested in.

My daughter Emma loves to bake and she loves cheesecake so when I suggested testing the three common ways to cool a cheesecake to prevent cracking she was sold! However this meant testing the three methods three times each. Nine cheesecakes! We are not easily deterred by baking challenges though so she got started. Thankfully it was Christmas time so we brought cheesecake to every party we went to. Some lucky people even received one as a gift!

Scientifically Proven Cheesecake

Emma’s experiments showed that the best way to keep your cheesecake from cracking is to bake it at a low temperature for one hour, turn the oven off, and cool the cake completely in the oven overnight. She also learned that you should butter the sides of the pan.

Cracks happen when the temperature changes too much too quickly. The slowly cooling oven allowed the cake to come to room temperature very slowly. A cheesecake also will shrink as it cools. Buttering the sides of the pan kept the cake from sticking to the sides of the pan and pulling apart in the center as it cooled.

Emma’s Cheesecake

Graham Cracker Crust

  • 5 full sheets of graham crackers, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter

Cheesecake Filling

  • 3 (8-ounce) packages of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/3 plus 1 tablespoon sour cream, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup milk, room temperature

Make the Graham Cracker Crust

First preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Now make the crust. I put the graham crackers in a ziplock bag and roll them with a rolling pin until they are fine crumbs. You can also use a food processor. I usually can’t be bothered to clean my food processor for only 5 graham crackers. Combine the crushed graham crackers with the melted butter. Butter the sides of an 9 inch springform pan and press the crumb mixture into the bottom of the pan. Bake the crust for 10 minutes to help it set. Set it aside to cool while you make the filling.

This makes enough to cover the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of graham crackers crust. I don’t love a lot of crust with a cheesecake but if you do then just double the amounts to make more. I’m here for the cheesecake not graham cracker crust!

Make the Filling

In a mixer beat the room temperature cream cheese until it’s very smooth. Add the sugar, flour, and salt and beat again until smooth. Be sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the pan so it’s all incorporated.

Cream cheese for Emma's Cheesecake.
Whipped cream cheese for Emma's Cheesecake.
Cream cheese and dry ingredients for Emma's Cheesecake.

Add the eggs one at a time. Mix each one in and scrape down the bowl before adding the next egg. This method makes sure the batter doesn’t turn clumpy. Adding liquid all at once to a thick mixture can make it difficult to get a smooth batter. Slowly incorporating the liquid and working to make a smooth mixture before adding more liquid will ensure a smooth cake. Pretend I took some photos of adding the eggs here.

Now whisk together the sour cream and milk. Stop and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl again and slowly add the milk mixture. I pour the milk mixture in a slow stream with my mixer on the lowest speed. When all the milk is added, scrape down the bowl one last time and mix a minute more on the lowest speed to make sure it’s all combined.

Adding liquid ingredients to Emma's Cheesecake batter.

Bake and Cool Your Cheesecake

Pour the creamy filling into the pan with the graham cracker crust and put it in the oven. I usually set the pan on a large baking sheet to make it easier to move in and out of the oven. Also I line the baking sheet with parchment just in case the pan leaks. You know I don’t want to wash a pan if I can help it! Set a timer for one hour. When the timer goes off, turn the oven off. Don’t give in to the temptation to open the oven and check the cheesecake. The gradual cooling of the oven is needed to finish baking the cake and let it cool slowly.

Emma's Cheesecake ready to bake.

I time the baking so the timer goes off around the time I go to bed. In the morning it’s cool and I move it to the fridge. Don’t do this if you are prone to forgetting about timers. One of the advantages of baking a cheesecake for a party or event is that you can make it ahead of time and not worry about a last minute dessert. This could also be a disadvantage if you forget to plan ahead. You cannot make this as a last minute dessert.

Emma's Cheesecake baked.

A Note About Room Temperature

You may have noticed that I mentioned ingredients being at room temperature. That is one nonnegotiable with making a cheesecake. If the cream cheese is cold you won’t be able to get it really creamy and smooth. A lump in the batter will be a lump in the finished cheesecake.

At the end of the day, if you make a cheesecake and it has a few lumps in it or a crack in the top it’s really not that big of a deal. My philosophy is that it’s going to be a lot better than the cake they didn’t make so who can judge! Like all baking, practice makes perfect and everyone is more than happy to eat whatever I bakeeven if it’s not “perfect”. It’s a win win!