A few members of the professional baking comunity sent in tips about pans yesterday. Here are some representative emails. This one from reader Laura:
Here is another alternative to a springform pan: disposable foil pans. They come extra deep, although I use regular depth pans because I like to make a smaller cheesecake. I use about 2/3 of the amount of batter (I use Nick Malgieri’s sour cream cheesecake, which is half sour cream and half cream cheese). My own theory is that a smaller cheesecake bakes better, but I have no scientific support for this. (Maybe less risk of overbaking the exterior when there is a thinner layer of batter?)
One more thing: what is your thought on using whipped cream cheese? It introduces air (which I was told is a bad thing because it can cause the cheesecake to rise up and then fall), but it comes to room temperature pretty quickly and you are less likely to get lumps.
I think your instincts in the smaller cakes make sense inasmuch as the larger the mass that goes in the oven, the longer it takes for heat to penetrate all the way to the center. If the temperature is too high, the outside will over-bake by the time the middle is just barely done. A low enough temperature can go a long way to mitigating this risk, though for the truly giant cheesecake (and we’ve all seen them), there may ultimately be no way around the dried-out edge.
As far as whipping the cream cheese, I think a certainly amount of whipping (or vigorous beating) is a good thing in terms of eliminating stubborn blobs of cream cheese. It won’t create a “whipped” texture. For that you’d need egg foam, which is indeed something that many of the ultra-light cheesecake recipes call for.
Reader Ed writes:
I have had a few issues with spring form pans and water baths myself, even with the double layer of foil and not just with cheese cakes. One solution to the problem is to not put the springform pan in the water bath, but rather to put the pan on the shelf below. This is not a perfect substitution, but the added humidity in the oven does help. I will repeat, this is not a perfect alternative, and you must be careful not to overcook your cake, but the results are quite satisfactory. In the professional bakery where I work, we bake cheesecakes in 3 inch deep cake pans with removeable bottoms. You can find them in bakery and restaurant supply houses.
When the cake has come out of the oven and cooled for a few minutes, we run a very sharp, hot knife around the edge of each cake, releasing it from the pan. This reduces the risk of the caking cracking as it cools and shrinks. We cool the cake completely in the fridge and then remove from the pan, The cake is pushed up from the bottom, after running a knife around the edge once more. I should add we always use a crumb crust on our cakes, either ginger snap, graham, chocolate wafer cookie, or even dried cake crumbs. I know the crust is not truly traditional, but it does help to remove the cake from the pan by providing a stable base to slide a thin icing spatula under.
Very interesting stuff. I’ve never heard of putting a pan of water below a cheesecake as an alternative to putting a cheesecake in a pan of water. It wouldn’t offer the same level of protection, but it clearly does something for those cheesecakes. My guess is that large volume of cooler water not only keeps the heat down, it helps make it more even. Hm. I may have to run a few tests.
Thanks to everyone who wrote in!
UPDATE: Reader Laura corrects me that she was actually talking about pre-whipped cream cheese of the type Kraft now sells in tubs. I confess I know nothing about that, but my feeling is that while it could be used to make a kind of cheesecake, it wouldn’t be anything like a New York style.