How to keep your cheesecake from cracking across the top

Ask the Chef

March 23, 2003|By Jim Coleman & Candace Hagan | Jim Coleman & Candace Hagan,Knight Ridder / Tribune

What Am I Doing Wrong? My Cheesecake, So I'm Told, Is Very Good. It's Fluffy and Moist, but Only in the Middle., Once I Remove It From the Oven and It Cools Down, It's Always Cracked Across the Top. I Camouflage It Very Well With Topping, but I Need to Know How to Prevent This. I Was Told Steam Gets Into It, but When?

There are certain mysteries of life that never get solved. And right up there at the top of the Enduring Question List is: Why does the top of my cheesecake resemble the Grand Canyon?

Well, I do have some suggestions for you, but, like all of life's mysteries, you will have to find the solution that works best for you.

Let's start with your oven. If you haven't checked the accuracy of its temperature lately, you may want to invest in an inexpensive oven thermometer. If the thermometer registers a higher temperature than the one set on your oven, then you may have a problem.

Most cheesecake recipes call for a 325- to 350-degree oven, and if your oven is running hot, you can start counting your cracks.

Speaking of ovens, you should also always preheat before you cook, and you should place your cheesecake on a rack right in the center.

Now let's talk about that cooling process that seems to cause those cracks. First of all, while the cheesecake is cooking, wait until it has just set but is still jiggly in the middle and then turn the oven off.

Leave your cheesecake in the oven for one hour and do not open the oven door. After an hour, remove the cheesecake and allow it to finish cooling at room temperature on a wire rack before you try to loosen the sides from the pan.

Finally (and at this point you're probably saying, "Thank goodness!") let's tackle the steam that you think is getting into your cheesecake. If you are using a recipe that calls for the cheesecake to be baked in a water bath, then you need to cover the top of your spring-form pan with foil before baking. If you are not using a water bath, then the person who told you that steam was getting into your cheesecake is all wet.

Chef Jim Coleman and his wife, writer Candace Hagan, answer your food questions. He is the executive chef at the Rittenhouse Hotel, Philadel-phia, the author of three cookbooks and the host of two nationally syndicated cooking shows -- A Chef's Table on NPR, and Flavors of America on PBS.

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