Learning how to make cheesecake means saving yourself from a lifetime of dessert-panic. Never again will you spend so many hours deciding between dessert recipes that you don’t even have time to get the oven preheated. You’ll never be reduced to sprinting through the bakery aisle minutes before a party, or, god forbid, skipping dessert altogether. With a classic cheesecake recipe in your back pocket, your dessert game is invincible.
Here’s how to make an absolutely perfect cheesecake.
1. MAKE THE CRUST
If starting with whole graham crackers, break them into large chunks and add them to a food processor, along with melted butter, a small amount of sugar, and a pinch of salt (you can also add other mix-ins like grated coconut or nuts at this point, too). Once that mixture is crumbly and holds together a bit when pinched, transfer the mixture to a springform pan (most recipes call for a 9-inch springform).
2. PRESS THE CRUST MIXTURE FLAT IN THE PAN; PRE-BAKE IF DESIRED
For a graham-cracker crust that holds together well when you slice your cheesecake, it’s all about packing those sugary, buttery crumbs into the base of your springform pan evenly and firmly. Scatter the crumbs to form an even layer, and then use the heel of your hand, the flat bottom of a glass, or a dry-ingredient measuring cup to pack the crumbs into a sturdy crust. At this point, some recipes will call for pre-baking the crust for about 10 minutes before filling it; others simply add the filling and bake everything together. If you do pre-bake your crust, be sure to let it cool completely before proceeding with the next step.
3. BEAT THE CREAM CHEESE WITH THE OTHER FILLING INGREDIENTS
Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, gradually beat the cream cheese with sugar, vanilla extract, and any other ingredients called for in the recipe, until the filling mixture is very creamy and evenly mixed. Most recipes call for beating in the eggs last to avoid overbeating them. Add the eggs one by one, beating after each addition, just until they’re fully incorporated. Remember, you’re making cheesecake, not soufflé, so there’s no need to continue beating once the mixture is blended.
4. BAKE THE CHEESECAKE IN A WATER BATH
Once your filling is ready, bring a kettle of water to a boil. Pour the filling into the springform pan, spreading it evenly over the crust. Place the springform pan in a larger shallow pan (a roasting pan works well here), and place in the oven on the middle rack. Pour boiling water from the kettle into the larger pan so that it comes halfway up the side of the springform pan. Bake until the edge of the filling is light golden brown, the top is light gold, and the center barely jiggles about 1 1/4 hours.
5. LET IT COOL OVERNIGHT BEFORE SERVING
Remove the springform pan from the water bath, transfer to a wire rack, and let cool. Refrigerate the cheesecake in its pan until completely cold before serving, at least 6 hours and preferably overnight. Unclasp and remove the side of the springform pan (the base will help the cheesecake remain stable). To cut the cheesecake cleanly, use a long slicing knife, wiping it with a warm damp dish towel between slices.