when i had my bakery, i made lots of cheesecakes; we sold them wholesale and had several clients that would order them in quantity. with as many as i was making, i perfected my technique and learned just what it took to make a cheesecake with out a crack in the middle. my list of rules isn't too long but if it is followed exactly, i can pretty much guarantee that your cheesecake will not crack.
1. reach over the name brand cheese-the one named for that yankee city and grab the full fat store brand because believe it or not, it makes a better cream cheese.
2. throw away the springform pan-yes, that's right, throw it away. grab a heavy duty cake pan. the thicker the gauge, the better, because it will insulate the cake more as it bakes. springform pans are made from a thin gauge metal and they allow the cake to over bake more easily. the best part, a cake pan will not leak-another check in the plus column.
3. never mind the water bath. again, you heard that correctly. it isn't necessary and it can be dangerous.
4. combine your ingredients(softened at room temp first) in a food processor-it will not incorporate air like a mixer will and air is your enemy. air expands when it is heated and when you incorporate lots of it into a cheesecake, the cheesecake expands and souffles when it bakes. and what do souffles do when they get to hot? they collapse and crack and look awful.
5. here is the tricky part-keep in mind that a cheesecake is not a cake, it is a custard that is treated like a cake. when the cake is about 3/4 of the way into the baking process, take it out of the oven and run a knife all the way around the edge to release the cake from the pan. only insert the knife about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch down the side of the pan. why do this? if you don't, the cake will not be able to shrink after baking-remember that first part, it's a custard and not a cake. custards need to shrink and contract a little after baking. if you don't release it from the pan, the only thing it can do is crack down the center-the sides are stuck to the pan and the middle is the only part that "gives".
perfect raspberry swirl cheesecake
1 (8") cheesecake that serves about 10
1 1/2 cups cookie crumbs-i like to use something lowfat like biscotti
3 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and a little on the hot side
1 pound cream cheese-full fat, soft and at room temp
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup seedless raspberry puree
preheat the oven to 300. grease or butter the pan. combine the cookie crumbs and the sugar. add the butter and with your fingers, mix to combine. dump the crust into the bottom of the pan and spread it 2/3 of the way up the sides and across the bottom so that it is an even thickness. set aside.
to make the cheesecake. place the cream cheese, sugar, flour, vanilla, lemon zest and sour cream into the bowl of a food processor. pulse to combine. add the eggs, one at a time and process to combine. scrape the bowl after each egg is mixed in. pulse it a few times to be sure it is evenly combined. reserve 1 cup of the cheesecake batter and pour the rest into the prepared pan. mix the raspberry puree into the reserved batter and drizzle this over the top of the cake. gently swirl it using the handle of a spoon or your finger tip.
to bake, place it in the center of the oven for for 45 minutes. remove the cake from the oven and release it by running a knife around the edge as described above. return the cake to the oven, turn off the heat and let it stand in the oven for 15 minutes. to check it for doneness, the cake should be firm around the edges when you touch it gently but still seem a little jiggly in the middle. it should not look liquid in the middle and if you touch it gently, it should not stick to your fingertip. if you have followed the directions and your oven temp is accurate, the cake should be perfectly baked at this point. allow the cake to cool on a rack for an hour and then chill it for at least 6-8 hours. unmold the cake according to the instructions above.