I just realized that I didn’t discuss baking times and temperatures
Never bake your cheesecake in an oven hotter than 350 degrees. If your cheesecake is more than two inches thick, then I wouldn’t bake it any hotter than 325 degrees. And some recipes start you out HOT–at 400 degrees plus in some cases–for the first 15 minutes or so (which puts a browned crust on the top of the cheesecake, and firms up the outside of it first) … then they reduce the heat even lower–down to 200 degrees in some cases–and keep it there for an extended baking period. Yes, that means it’s going to take longer … but that’s okay. Longer is better for the texture. And don’t rely on your oven’s temperature gauge to know what the temperature is in your oven. Ovens are notoriously WRONG … so use a thermometer and CHECK IT! Most stoves also allow you to set your dials to show the accurate temperature inside the oven. Take advantage of that ability. Temperature control is essential in baking cheesecake.
Many recipes suggest you bake your cheesecake in a water bath. The water bath acts as a heat sink, and keeps the outside of the cheesecake from burning before the inside is done. I don’t use one myself. To me, a water bath–and handling all that scalding hot water sloshing around in a pan on a normally-shaky oven rack–is just an engraved invitation for a second-degree burn. I’ve ever used one when I didn’t get burned … so I’d rather regulate the heat better/allow the cheesecake to bake lower and slower instead.
Beyond that, all the normal sorts of baking rules apply. Darker pans cook hotter but more consistently than shiny metal pans. Glass cooks hotter and faster than metal, plus it holds heat longer … so that means your food cooks longer once it comes out of the oven when it’s in glass. Corners cook faster in squarish pans, so round pans are probably your best choice when it comes to cheesecakes … though, I have successfully baked cheesecake in 13X9 pans, and cut it into squares to serve. You just can’t rush cooking it that way. Remember: low and slow wins the day.
Then there’s the HUGE question: how do you know if your cheesecake is done … so that you don’t over- or under-bake it?
Some people prefer to rely on thermometers. If you’re one of them, you’re shooting for an internal temperature of between 160 and 170.
The rest of us go by the look/feel/smell of something to tell if it’s done. In the case of a cheesecake, what you want is:
- a smell like browned crust … and a little like baked cheesecake.
- edges that look slightly dry, and that are starting to pull away from the edges of the pan some. This is particularly true of cheesecakes that only use a bottom crust, where the cheesecake batter rests against the side of the pan.
- a mostly solid feel overall when you shake the pan slightly … with a slight bit of looseness in the center 1/3rd of the cheesecake. There will also be a damp sheen in the center of the top as well. Don’t worry if it still looks a little under-done. Your cheesecake is so hot that it will continue to cook once you pull it out of the oven, and it won’t firm up completely until it’s been refrigerated … so that little bit of looseness and dampness in the middle is important. Without it, you’ve probably cooked your edges too much already. And as long as it’s not sloshing all over the place … you’ve cooked it enough to safely cook the eggs in it.
When in doubt … err on the side of caution. A slightly undercooked cheesecake is preferable to a slightly over-cooked cheesecake.
Rough time estimates? At 350 degrees, one basic cheesecake building block sort of cheesecake, made from one 8oz brick of cream cheese/one egg/add-ons, will bake in approx. 25-30 minutes. A two basic cheesecake building block sort of cheesecake–made from two 8oz bricks of cream cheese, etc.–will bake in approx. 30-40 minutes. Three basic cheesecake building blocks takes approx. 40-50 minutes to bake, and four will take about an hour to bake … in all cases–give or take–based on the size, color and composition of the pan, and the thickness and initial temperature of your cheesecake batter as it goes into the oven.
If you have questions, just let me know. I know I forgot something else here