If you start typing “is cheesecake” into Google, the first suggestion is “is cheesecake a pie?” You’ll get mixed results, including adamant ones from the likes of Alton Brown proclaiming cheesecake is a pie. Others say it’s a tart. And some stand by it being a cake. No matter where you fall on this debate, I think we can all agree that cheesecake is delicious. It works for any occasion, and you can make varieties to please every palate.
Before we dive in to all my tips on how to make cheesecake, make sure to check out my “Showstopping Cheesecake” Craftsy class if you want in-depth instructions on how to make beautiful cheesecakes.
Baking with My Mother Cheesecake Video: You can also watch my son, Henri, and me bake cheesecake in an episode of “Baking with My Mother” on Youtube! We make this Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake (recipe at the bottom of this post), but leave out the swirls and add a berry sauce, so we can customize the cheesecake to our own preference. He went with Strawberries and I stuck with blueberries.
What Is Cheesecake?
Let’s answer this question in a little more detail, without quoting the dictionary like in a middle school essay. There are three types of pastries most people consider cheesecake: Cake, tart or pie. Regardless of classification, it most often features a soft, custard layer on top of a crust. It is also often topped with a garnish or other topping.
So what is cheesecake? Ultimately, it is a custard. It is baked in the form of a cake, and can also be used for other desserts, such as pie filling or bars.
The nice thing about this answer, is if you just think of cheesecake as a custard, you can enjoy its versatility, and it can kind of be whatever you need it to be for the dessert you are making. So maybe it’s an existential dessert?
Regardless, cheesecake recipes are fantastic for exploring different flavors and can be presented in many different forms.
Types of Cheesecake
New York Style
New York style cheesecakes are dense and rich. They are heavy on the cream cheese, and often incorporate sour cream or heavy cream into the recipe.
As the name suggests, these cheesecakes are ones that don’t require baking. The simple recipe gives you the flavor of cheesecake in a quick, easy-to-make style.
If you’re looking for a way to serve a crowd, bars are a great option. You get the flavor of a delicious custard in a treat that is easy to serve. Try the raspberry version below, or check out these chocolate-ginger marbled cheesecake bars.
Part of what makes a custard so decadent and delicious is its density and richness. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t make a lighter and fluffier version that still has a wonderful cream cheese flavor.
Japanese Cotton Soft Cheesecake
The Japanese Cotton Soft Cheesecake trend has been around online for years. It’s another light option, that has an almost soufflé-like texture, and the below recipe is made with mascarpone instead of cream cheese.
Holidays offer a great opportunity to use seasonal flavors and create special cheesecake designs. These are some of my favorite colorful recipes for different holidays:
I have made oh so many flavors over the years, and I still feel like I’ve just scratched the surface of the recipe possibilities. From seasonal flavors like pumpkin to fruit toppings to decadent favorites like peanut butter and jelly, you can turn almost any flavor profile into a cheesecake. Below are some of my favorite flavors.
You can find Lemon Meringue Cheesecake in Thalia Ho’s book, Wild Sweetness. I used passion fruit since I had it on hand and it is a delicious substitute. You can recreate a version of this passion fruit meringue cheesecake recipe.
Types of Filling
The above recipes feature different styles of custard. Some are standard cheesecake custard with additional flavors, and some are swirled, styled or glazed. Once you know how to create a simple cheesecake custard, you can flavor it with all kinds of different ingredients.
You can also give your cheesecake a fun or sophisticated appearance with different techniques, such as swirled, layered, striped or glazed cakes. This bull’s eye cheesecake is a great recipe to use because the custard is swirled and the cake is glazed. The Japanese Soft Cotton Cheesecake recipe is a great one to learn about layers.
Types of Crust
A great cheesecake is as much about the crust as the filling. The custard is the star, but a good crust will compliment your flavors and help tie all the components together. Graham cracker crust is the most common, but you can also use a pastry crust. Find out how to make both in my how to make pie crust guide.
One simple way to add a different flavor to your cheesecake and give it a beautiful finish is with a topping or garnish. Fruit toppings are standard, but you can try all kinds of different toppings with fun and tasty flavors, including:
The options are almost endless when it comes to toppings, and offer a way to make a simple cheesecake stand out without trying a more complicated recipe.
How to Make Cheesecake
A cheesecake custard is delicate, and baking it well requires a little nuance. You should use a water bath (as I do in this key lime cheesecake recipe) to help the custard bake slowly and evenly and to help it retain moisture. Another option is to add a shallow pan of water on the rack below your cheesecake as I do in the blueberry swirl cheesecake recipe below. Without one of these methods, you can end up with overbaked edges or a dry cheesecake.
Blueberry Swirl and Sauce
- 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
Graham Cracker Crust
- 1 cup graham cracker crumbs about 5 ounces
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- pinch salt
- 2 ounces unsalted butter melted
- 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream whipped to medium peaks
- 2 cups fresh blueberries
- Cook the frozen berries, sugar and zest in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until they are tender and the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Blend the berries with a blender or immersion blender until pureed.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8×3-inch Springform Cake Pan and line the bottom with parchment.
- In a food processor, mix together the graham crackers, brown sugar, salt, and butter. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and press it out in an even layer. Bake for about 12 minutes, until it starts to look lightly toasted. Lower oven to 325°F.
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the cream cheese on medium speed for about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and mix for another 30 seconds. Add the sugar and mix for about 1 minute, scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix in the creme fraiche and ricotta until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides after each. Add the vanilla, lemon extract, zest and salt. Mix for 30 seconds.
- Pour 1/3 cheesecake batter over the baked crust. drizzle 3 tablespoons blueberry sauce over the batter. Use a skewer or knife to gently swirl the sauce into the batter. Pour half of the remaining cheesecake over the swirled blueberry sauce, repeat the swirling with 3 tablespoons blueberry sauce. Add remaining cheesecake batter and finish by swirling 3 tablespoons blueberry sauce on top.
- Bake cheesecake on a cookie sheet in the center of the oven for about 75-90 minutes (the timing will greatly depend on the temperature of the ingredients). Place a second sheet on a lower rack and fill with boiling water. The cheesecake will soufflé as it bakes, which is normal for this style baking. Once the top of the cake is set, remove from the oven and gently run a knife blade around the edge of the pan. Allow to cool to room temperature before refrigerating.
- Chill for several hours or overnight. Run a hot knife blade around the outer edge of the cake, then remove the sides of the springform pan. Lay a piece of plastic over the top and invert the cake to remove the bottom of the pan and parchment paper. Invert the cake onto the serving plate.
- Top with whipped cream and berries before serving. I used a Leaf Decorating Tip to make the ruffles. Serve with remaining blueberry sauce.
How to Store Cheesecake
It’s hard not to indulge in your cheesecake as soon as it’s ready and, frankly, why wait? If you made a cake for a crowd, it will almost certainly be devoured. However, if you do have leftovers, most cheesecakes will keep in the fridge for about a week.
You can also freeze most cheesecakes, but be sure to wrap it first with plastic wrap and then with foil. It should keep for about a month in the freezer, but make sure it is wrapped well to avoid freezer burn.
How do I know when a cheesecake is done?
One option is to do a wobble test. You can gently tap the pan to see how much the cake jiggles. It should jiggle slightly, but seem loose. This can also depend on the style, as some of my recipes should appear more like a souffle, and others should be a dense custard. Follow the bake time on the recipe, and make sure the cake is set before removing it.
Can cheesecake set without gelatin?
Yes. Most of my recipes don’t call for gelatin. You can get a great texture on your custard without using it.
How do I prevent cheesecake from cracking?
Cracking is often caused by overbaking or a lack of moisture. Pay close attention to the baking time, and use a water bath to help keep the cake moist while it is baking.
In order to make a great cheesecake, you’ll need a springform pan and a mixer with good paddle attachments. Check out my Amazon shop for my essentials. But if you get only one piece of equipment, make it a springform pan.