Q.: I haven’t baked a cheesecake from scratch in about 40 years, and when I got out my old Betty Crocker recipe and baked one, it got a big crack in the center. What did I do wrong? I was using a dark-coated springform pan.
— K.C., Kent
A.: Cheesecakes crack when they are overbaked. A cheesecake may continue to jiggle in the center when it has baked for the correct amount of time. But our tendency is to keep baking them, fearing they have a raw center, and that’s often when cracks start to develop.
Take heart. There are a few things you can do to minimize the chances of your cheesecake developing a grand canyon.
Bake your cake in a water bath. Wrap your springform pan in two layers of heavy-duty foil so that water doesn’t seep in along the pan’s ring and make your crust soggy. Fill the pan with your crust and batter. Place the filled cake pan inside a larger pan (like a roasting pan) and place them both in the oven. Then use a kettle of boiling water to fill the bigger pan about an inch or so up the sides of the cake pan. This will help to keep the cake from cracking and create a steam effect that will produce an extra-creamy cheesecake. If your recipe calls for baking your crust first, then adding the filling, wrap your pan in foil after baking the crust.
Once the cake has baked for the time recommended, turn off your oven and crack open the door, leaving the cake in there for another hour to cool down slowly. After the hour is up, place it on a wire rack until cooled completely. Refrigerate the cake after it has cooled to room temperature. Gentle cooling also helps to keep cracks at bay.
As a side note: Dark-coated pans are not your friend. They tend to conduct heat, so cakes will bake faster, causing things like cracks in cheesecakes and other overbaking issues. I recommend light-colored aluminum or light metal pans.
Finally, remember my theory that cherry and blueberry topping were invented by the baker who experienced the first cracked cheesecake. Spoon on the fruit topping and no one will ever know.
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