Let’s get one thing straight – baking cheesecakes is not as complicated as it looks. You really only need to bake a cheesecake once or twice and you realize how easy it actually is.
Ignore all the millions of complicated recipes you have seen – a good cheesecake pretty much consists of cheese, eggs, and sugar. Yes, you can add stabilizers and you can add flavoring (optional), but we’ll get to that soon. This mixture rests on a base that is either a prepared and baked shortcut pastry or a good old a crumbed biscuit base. And that’s all folks…
The only down side to a cheesecake (oh yes, there is one!) is that it lacks spontaneity. You cannot bake a batch and serve it up. Cheesecakes need to be thought of in advance, baked and chilled for eating half a day away…
So call me crazy, but after much cheesecake soul-searching in my life, I have gathered some helpful tips which I am happy to share…
I have also had the good fortune this year to meet and be guided by the much gifted Hans Bertele, a super talented German pastry chef (based in Israel) who has made a name for himself over the years with his amazing baked goods and very successful business. I (not so patiently) waited for the day I got to spend in his cheesecake workshop. Like a good student, I wrote out my list of questions and waited eagerly to collect the answers throughout the 7 hour session. Life’s cheesecake mysteries were about to unfold before my very eyes….
Baking pan – I’ve mentioned this before. I really do not like springform pans. Unless the final product is spongey and rests on baking paper, I steer clear of these babies. If you are a serious baker, get yourself some basic cheap baking rings with flat bottoms. I know in the US you can buy proper cheesecake pans, but rings are the most commonly used baking tool in cake shops.
Hans says: Its true. Being a pastry chef and bakery owner, the place is full of rings. I mentioned to him about the pop-up cheesecake pans and he said that is also an option, although more expensive (and hence inaapropriate for a baking business).
Watery cheeses – Although Americans have taken ownership of the cheesecake, long before cream cheese was invented, the Europeans were mixing and baking cheesy bakes. I personally am not a huge fan of creamy and rich cheesecakes. Being greedy when it comes to food, I like to finish up what is placed before me (decoration and all), so cream cheese makes this task a challenge. So when I began to bake cheesecakes I tended to look in the direction of the European style cakes that were based from lower fat white cheeses. The downside to those is that being lower fat, these cheeses contain a high percentage of water. The high water content at times can destabilize the cakes and bring about the need for longer baking… this pretty much defeats the whole fluffy cheesecake aim.
So what does one do I hear you ask?
Like our forefathers, we take gauze fabric and sieve the cheese over a bowl for a few hours. Gauze fabric is cheap and accessible and is reusable. I also use it to make labane cheese balls (but that’s another story). I read somewhere that you should try to get at least 5 Tbsp of fluids out of each 1kg of cheese.
Eggs- A professional cake maker normally calculates everything in weight. There is no measurement in cups, units, spoons etc. So fact is, large egg=65g and medium egg=55-60g.
Most cake recipes will call for medium eggs by the way, even if they don’t tell you that.
Hans says: Not surprisingly all is measured by weight, so no recipe was handed to me with an exact number of eggs.
Moisture – I was always told to keep a dish of water underneath my cheesecakes. This serves the purpose of keeping the moisture up in the oven so that the top of the cheesecake does not crack in the dry temperature. A good tip I once got was to have a tray ready in the oven while it is pre-heating. Once the cake goes in, throw a few ice cubes onto the tray to get some fresh steam circulating.
Hans says: Cracking is not due to dryness but due to the cake sticking to the sides of the pan and pulling at the center as the cake expands. Water and ice are unnecessary but if you want to keep the sides of your cake nice and pale, you can wrap the outside of the pan with some wet folded newspaper which keep he sides cooler in the heat of the oven.
Knowing when its done – Unlike regular cakes, cheesecakes are not “done” when they are baked. They pretty much need to have a little bit of color, a crust and be slightly wabbley when tapped (like Jello). The cake stabilizes once it is chilled. Try not to over-bake as this is the main reason for the cake sinking in after it chills. I have suffered much disappointment in the past over cake-sinkage.
Releasing the cheesecake from the pan – When the cake is chilled, you need to dip a sharp (preferably thin) knife in hot water, wipe it dry and run it around the inside edge of the pan. This releases the sides of the cheesecake from the ring.
So for my final words, I wish you luck. It can give one a great feeling of success to master this art (or is it just me???). Don’t forget to let the cake chill for a few hours, or preferably overnight and decorate with anything that takes your fancy.
The following recipes have been tried and tested (and eaten) many times. Good luck!
Rich and Creamy Cheesecake
Souce: Based on Orna and Ella’s cheesecake recipe
Base: prebaked shortcrust pastry, well fitting thin layer of sponge cake or, if using a springform or disposable pan, mix 170g crushed biscuits mixed with 1/4 cup sugar and 100g melted butter. Tightly pack the bottom of the pan with the mixture.
- 750g drained lowfat cheese (or cream cheese)
- 180g sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 6 medium eggs
- 400ml sour cream
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 20g vanilla sugar
Preheat oven to 150C.
Mix the cheese and sugar until creamy and well combined. Add eggs one at a time and finally add the vanilla. Pour over base and bake for 40-45 minutes until ready. remove from oven and chill to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 200C. You may get cracks in the center when the cake cools. Not to worry, all will be fixed shortly.
Mix topping mixture and spread evenly over cake. Bake a further 10 minutes.
Remove cake from oven, chill and refrigerate overnight.
Optional Fruit: 200g frozen berries or cherries mixed with a 1/2 Tbsp sugar. Place these in the microwave for a few seconds at a time (mix in between heating sessions). Continue until sugar has melted. When cake batetr is poured, add fruit to the top of the cake. Using a spoon you can drizzle some of the remaining juice over the cake. Not only does it add flavor, it also looks very impressive when slicing!
European Style Cheesecake
Source: Based on Hans Bertele from Gaya Bertele
Makes 1 x 24cm cheesecake.
- 750g drained cheese or cream cheese
- 200g eggwhite (about 6 medium eggs)
- 125 eggyolks (its ok to just use all of the yolks remaining from the whites)
- 40g + 150g sugar
- 50g cornflour mixed with 45g plain flour
- Pinch of salt
- Zest of 1/2 lemon
- 1 tsp Vanilla
Optional: If you are using low fat cheese, add 45 melted butter. If using cream cheese and mixture looks thick, add 50g milk.
Preheat oven to 220C.
Base – prebaked shortcrust pastry, well fitting thin layer of sponge cake or, if using a springform or disposable pan, mix 170g crushed biscuits mixed with 1/4 cup sugar and 100g melted butter. Tightly pack the bottom of the pan with the mixture.
Mix well the cheese (butter, if using), yolks, flavorings, salt and 40g sugar. Add sifted flour mixture. If mixture looks too thick (needs to be firm but still runny), add milk now.
Beat eggwhites and 150g sugar until firm but not too stiff (does not need to be like a meringue). Fold mixture into cheese mixture.
Pour batter over base and place in oven for approximately 7 minutes. The cake will rise up quite high. Reduce the oven to 160C and remove the cake from oven. Quickly run a thin small knife along the sides of the top of the pan to release the top crust and allow it to continue rising and falling without cracking the cake (This is THE baking secret btw). Return the cake to the oven ASAP. Continue baking for another 45 minutes approximately.
Remove from oven, chill to room temperature and refrigerate overnight.
Note: To maintain white sides to the cheesecake, read what I wrote before the recipes.
Quick and Easy Balkan-style Polenta Cheesecake
Source: My mum xoxo
You can also make a low-fat/diet version of this cake. It still comes out delicious. I see the sentimental tears in my sisters eyes as she reads the recipe, haha…
Makes: 1 large loaf pan or 2 disposable paper loaf pans.
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup sugar (can use 1 cup sugar substitute)
- 3 Tbsp canola oil
- 1/2kg dry cottage cheese or drained ricotta
- 3/4 cup polenta
- Zest of 1/2 an orange or lemon
- 1/4 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 160C.
Beat eggs well until very pale and fluffy, add sugar and continue beating util mixed through. Add oil.
Add remaining ingredients in the order which they are listed.
Pour into pan (if using a metal pan, please butter before as this cake is low in fat).
Bake for approximately 45 minutes or until ready.
We used to eat this hot out of the oven as kids with a dollop of sour cream. Avoid this if you dont want a stomach ache and let it cool to room temperature.