Reader Richard is sick and tired of having to disguise the cracks in his cheesecake with sour cream toppings and pieces of fruit. He wants to know what he can do about it. Richard, I have a few ideas.
Cracks in cheesecakes are caused by temperature problems, and are usually a result of one region of the cake heating faster than another. Large cheesecakes are especially crack-prone since the areas closest to the rim of the pan cook and firm up first. If this happens too abruptly the outer portion of the cheesecake can shrink and pull away from the softer inner portion.
Cracking can also happen as a result of curdling or “breaking”, for the truth about cheesecakes is that they’re actually custards under the hood. Curdling results when the egg proteins in the cake get too hot and start to congeal into clumps. As they tighten they squeeze out moisture, causing the cake to weep. The cheesecake takes on a grainy texture and again starts to shrink. Wherever firmer, shrunken overcooked spots meet softer, un-shrunken medium-cooked spots, cracks appear.
It isn’t difficult to overcome these problems. First rule of thumb, always bake a cheesecake in a water bath, which evens out the heat. Next, bake your cheesecake low, never more than 350. If you already take these precautions, try calibrating your oven to make sure it isn’t running hot. Failing all that, you can take your cake’s temperature as it bakes. About ten minutes before you determine it should be done, insert a quick-read thermometer in the very center. You want the center to be at least 140, no more than 150.
But in truth you don’t need to go to that extent. If you jostle the pan a bit you should see it jiggle, but not slosh. At that point it’s done. Are we cool?