Cheesecake is an easy-to-make dessert that can be topped with a variety of toppings. The secret to a successful cheesecake is to avoid overbaking: the center should still have a bit of jiggle when it’s removed from the oven.
Bring all ingredients to room temperature, which helps them combine easily and prevents air bubbles (which are one of the leading causes of cheesecake cracks). Also, tap the bowl on the counter to pop any air bubbles before pouring into the pan.
The crust of a cheesecake is a buttery, sweetened base made with cookies, pastry, or other ingredients that are then pressed into the bottom of a baking pan to form a firm base for the luscious cheese filling. Classic cheesecakes typically start with a crust of graham crackers, but other flavors like chocolate, vanilla wafers, or ginger snaps can be used as well. The crust is usually topped with either a baked or no-bake custard-like cheese filling that firms up while cooling and adds the classic cheesecake flavor.
Some no-bake cheesecake recipes use a crust made of shortbread instead, which is typically a mixture of flour and powdered sugar pressed into the bottom and sides of the pan. Other no-bake options for cheesecake include a gingersnap cookie crust or a granola crust.
A chocolate crust can be a fun alternative for a traditional cheesecake, and it can also help to enhance the flavor of any chocolaty cheesecakes. Chocolate crusts can be a little more difficult to make than a traditional graham cracker crust, as they often require more time to bake and are more delicate in texture.
For a unique twist on the classic cheesecake, try adding a salty crunch to your dessert by using crushed pretzels as a crust. This is an especially good choice for cheesecakes that are flavored with warm, autumnal spices or whole fruit. The combination of sweet and salty fulfills two of the main biological cravings in your lizard brain, so it’s a surefire winner.
The cheesecake filling is what really distinguishes a cheesecake from other types of cakes. It is typically a mixture of soft cheese (cream cheese in its block form is the standard), sour cream, eggs, and often sugar and/or vanilla extract. Many recipes also include other ingredients, such as canned pumpkin, chocolate chips, liqueurs, and spices.
The batter should be mixed low and slow, because cheesecake is dense and needs to avoid any air bubbles that could cause cracks as it bakes. A stand mixer is ideal for this, but a hand-held or electric hand beater can be used as long as you do not overbeat the batter. Over-beating the batter will also ruin its texture and may result in a soggy bottom crust.
Aside from the classic New York-style of cheesecake, there are also fluffy and creamy versions that use quark (Japanese cheesecake), ricotta, cottage cheese, farmer cheese, Neufchatel, or a combination of these to create desserts that are light as a cloud and have a unique flavor all their own.
If you want to give your cheesecake an extra special flavor, swirl in some jam before baking it. You can even use melted chocolate or a drizzle of maple syrup for additional toppings that will make this cake a favorite during holidays.
Toppers are the finishing touches to your cheesecake that add a sweet or salty flavor. They can be as simple as fresh fruit or a bit more complex like a caramel sauce or snickers topping. They also help to dress up your dessert and make it more visually appealing.
If you are looking for a fast and fuss-free topping, go with some of the canned pie fillings available in your grocery store. There are many flavors including raspberry, strawberry, cherry, and blueberry that will all taste great on top of a creamy cheesecake. They are a classic and very popular choice because they have both a sweet and acidic quality that balances out the dessert perfectly.
Another option is to use a compote. These are usually whole fruits in a sugar syrup and can be made in a matter of minutes. They will add a touch of sweetness and texture that is not as rich or thick as a sauce. They can be mixed with spices and berries to give it more depth of flavor.
A more traditional and easy topping to make is a whipped cream. This is a light and fluffy dessert topping that can be made with any number of ingredients. It can be flavored with lemon zest, vanilla extract, or even dark-spiced rum for an extra boost of flavor. It can be eaten straight from a spoon or put into a piping bag and piped over your cheesecake.
The type of cheese used in a cheesecake significantly affects its sensorial properties, including texture and flavor. Cream cheese is the standard choice but ricotta, mascarpone, and Neufchatel all lend their own unique characteristics to the dish. Other cheeses like cottage cheese, goat cheese, and blue cheese can also be incorporated into cheesecake recipes.
To prevent cracking, bake cheesecakes at a low temperature, typically under 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Many cooks prefer to use a bain marie, or water bath, for baking because it is a gentle process. The hot steam created by boiling a pan of water creates a moist oven and further insulates the cake from dry heat.
When baking a cheesecake, it is important to keep the heat low and to cook the dessert for a long time. Overcooking cheesecakes can result in the formation of cracks on the surface and in the center. Cracking is an undesirable effect in a cheesecake because it negatively affects the taste and texture of the finished dessert.
It is best to use a springform pan for baking a cheesecake, a pan that has an expandable rim. This will make it easier to release the dessert from the pan for a neat finish. Before baking, prepare the base of the pan by lining it with parchment paper or greasing it with shortening.