Cheesecake: The plain, the swirled and the pumpkin

Move over Eve, Marilyn, Cleopatra and Mae West, and let me show you how this temptation thing is really done.  Plan ahead, you’ll want plenty of time to be ready for this.

First you warm things up. Then you…

Dab on a little spice, sprinkle on a little sweetness, and always remember to keep the fire low.  Now, aren’t you in the mood for…

Cheesecake?!

Yes, cheesecake. What else did you think I was talking about? Cheesecake like all good things in life favors those who plan ahead and take their time. Plus, once you have the basics well in hand, there are endless new varieties to try to keep things interesting.

This blog will cover the basics of cheesecake making and will link to 2 different cheesecake recipes. You’ll see these different versions of cheesecake in the step photos. First, a plain NY cheesecake, perfect for all occasions. Next, we’ll talk about how to make that same cheesecake as a pumpkin swirl cheesecake, and lastly, a full-on 100% pumpkin cheesecake.

For the cookie style crust, place in your mixing bowl:

• 1 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
• 1/3 cup sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
• 1 large egg

Blend on medium-low speed until the mixture comes together in large moist chunks.

Once the mixture resembles cookie dough, you’re ready to press it into a greased 9″ x 13″ x 2″ pan. Be sure to double check the 2″ height measurement. You want plenty of room for all of the luscious filling.

Remember the old days when you would put all of your dough in the center of the pan and push, pull and cuss it into all of the corners of the pan? Well no more! Instead, break up the dough into lots of pieces and distribute them evenly over the bottom of the pan.

Then just work your way across the bottom of the pan, blending each chunk into the next in a nice even layer.

Voila! And nary a curse word spoken. Be sure to press the dough up the sides of the pan to provide side support. About an inch all around should do the trick.

Prick the base all over with a fork, and bake in a preheated 400°F for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

One of the most important parts of a smooth and creamy cheesecake filling is the cream cheese itself. Use a good quality cream cheese, and take the time to let it warm to room temperature. As you can see, there is a vast difference in temperature in cheese straight from the fridge (left) and cheese that has been left out for 2 hours (right). Warm cream cheese means far fewer lumps in your filling.

For your filling, place in the mixing bowl:
• 2 pounds (four 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, at room temperature
• 1 3/4 cups sugar
• 3 tablespoons King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

Mix at low speed with your paddle attachment until there are no lumps. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl at least twice during this process, to be sure no cheese is sticking.

Stop the mixer every now and then to scrape down the bowl and check for lumps. As you can see, there are still a few in the mixture, so keep going on low speed for a few more minutes.

When the initial mixture is fairly lump-free, add the lemon zest, salt, and vanilla, and mix to combine. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until incorporated and scraping the mixing bowl between additions. Stir in the sour cream on low speed.

Why low speed? Why can’t we just set this baby on high and whip the leapin’ ladybugs out of the filling? It would save a lot of time.  Sure, it would save time, but the beauty of cheesecake lies in its dense texture. Whipping on high speed incorporates more air than you want into the filling and will create bubbles in your finished cheesecake. So, set your iPod up with a slow and dreamy music mix, and go with the low and slow.

** STOP HERE FOR PLAIN NY CHEESECAKE**Pour the filling over the crust and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the edges of the cake are set one inch in from the edge. The middle should still jiggle when you nudge the pan; in fact, the cake will look underbaked. Measure the temperature of the cake an inch from the edge: when it reaches 175°F, turn off the oven.

Another must-do for crack free cheesecake is a slow cool down. Once you’ve turned the oven off, prop the door open with an oven mitt or foil ball and leave the cheesecake to “coast” for an hour. The filling will finish baking and will become set and the slow cool down will not shock the cake into cracking.

Now, say you didn’t want to stop at a plain cheesecake as the fall holidays grow nearer. Care to give the swirl a whirl?

For pumpkin swirl cheesecake, remove 1 cup of your prepared batter and mix it with 1/2 cup pumpkin puree (canned is fine), one egg, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ginger and a pinch of allspice. (no worries, these amounts are listed in the “tips” section of the basic NY cheesecake recipe).

Blend with a fork until the mixture is nice and smooth.

Pour your plain cheesecake batter into the prepared crust. Dollop the pumpkin batter randomly over the surface and swirl gently with a knife, spreader or similar tool.

Bake as you would for the plain cheesecake, including the jiggle test and long, slow cooling time.

One cheesecake is out of the oven, crack free. You can see it in the upper left hand corner of the photo.

Want a fun way to pass the 60 minutes as you wait for your cheesecake masterpiece to coast to deliciousness? Invite a young friend in to the kitchen and have him draw a picture with you. Portraits are always fun, such as a portrait of our boss, Matt, in customer service.  Henry had some great ideas about how Matt should look…

Sorry for the blurry picture, but I just couldn’t stop laughing. In case you can’t read all of the descriptions Matt has several legs, a pointy tail, lots of hair, pointed teeth and yes folks, yet another beard coming out of his head. Despite his “devilish good looks” Matt is a very dear man and he claimed first dibs on his special portrait from soon to be famous artist Henry.

The only drawback to my art session was I got distracted and didn’t check this cheesecake early. It baked to 182°F, so the proteins in the eggs began to tighten up and caused some cracking during the cooling stage. Some carefully cutting and a little whipped cream will take care of that though.

Chill the cheesecake for at least 6 hours. Overnight is best.

Check out that amazing texture. Dense, smooth and creamy. Dipping your knife in hot water then wiping clean will help make cleaner cuts in your chilled cheesecakes.

One pan of cheesecake, many different looks. Using a few bits and bobs and leftover toppings from the fridge, you can create a cheesecake tasting plate that will appeal to every guest. Would you rather have chocolate sprinkles, or mini chocolate chips?

For me, it’s always going to be cherry pie filling. At least for the first round. I may try the pecan and caramel sauce on my second trip.

Now that you have a basic cheesecake and a swirled cheesecake under your belt, try our full-flavored pumpkin cheesecake from the main photo. With a spicy gingersnap cookie crust, it makes a nice change from pumpkin pie for fall holiday feasts, and can be embellished with a little cinnamon whipped cream  if desired.
Let’s review those key cheesecake points one more time.

  • Make sure your ingredients are room temperature, especially your cream cheese
  • Blend well to get rid of lumps before proceeding. You only get one change to be lump-free
  • Low and slow is the key to mixing. Avoid introducing too much air
  • Stay with low and slow for baking too. Test your cheesecake while the center is still loose.
  • A long coast to the finish is the best plan.
  • Proper chilling before serving will give you the best texture.

I really hope this has answered some of your burning cheesecake questions. We’d love to hear your tips and tricky for perfect cheesecakes so fill up those comments!

MaryJane Robbins
About

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...

comments

  1. Simona

    Please help! I may be blind, but I cannot seem to find on this page all the ingredients (and quantity) for the filling of the plain cheesecake.
    You mention first the main ingredients ( cream cheese, flour, sugar) and then you say: “add the lemon zest, salt, and vanilla, and mix to combine. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until incorporated and scraping the mixing bowl between additions. Stir in the sour cream..”
    How many eggs? How much sour cream?how much lemon zest, salt and vanilla ?
    Am I the only one who cannot find this in the text?!
    Thank you in advance!

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins, post author

      Hi Simona,
      The links to the recipes in our blogs are listed just under the main photo at the beginning of the blog, to the right of the author’s name and the date. Hope this helps! ~ MJ

    2. Simona

      Thanks a lot for your ‘enlightenment’! I thought there must be a trick somewhere 🙂
      The recipe is fantastic and so easy!
      Thank you MaryJane

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      We are grinning ear to ear knowing MJ has enlightened you with her blog on Cheesecake. Happy baking! Elisabeth@KAF

  2. misslolo

    I just baked the pumpkin cheesecake and it is cooling in the oven with the door propped open. My problem is it cracked while it was baking. There was a crack that went around the cake about an inch from the edge. I just checked it again and now there are several cracks through the middle. I usually use a water bath when the recipe calls for it with a cheesecake. Any ideas on why it cracked?
    I’ve been a home baker for over thirty years so I wouldn’t consider myself inexperienced, however, I’m learning every day. I would appreciate any advice.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We honor your expertise and encourage you to avoid over-beating and over-baking! Over-beating incorporates air, which will cause cracking and the over-baking will also create those cracks. Strive for a slightly moist center. wishing you well on take two! Happy baking – Irene@KAF

  3. buzzlite2002

    when making mini cheesecakes, do you have to use the small mini pans for this or can you use a small round cookie cutter to cut them out?

    You may use a cookie cutter if you prefer to work with a single “thinner” layer of cheese cake. Just make sure your cutter is taller than the cheesecake layer. I prefer to work with individual cakes, they’re a bit less “fussy”. Frank @ KAF.

    Reply
  4. paulandlolli

    I bake A LOT of cheesecakes. I made 16 of them for Christmas gifts this season alone. I use cookie crumb crusts made with butter and suger and my batter is made with cream cheese, sugar, 4 eggs and flavor. I bake it at 350 degrees for 55 minutes, remove from oven for 10 minutes, run a small spatula around the edges and then put in refrigerator to cool. I don’t ever get cracks and it frees my oven for the next batch when I don’t have to do the “coast cool down”. By running the spatula around the edge, as the cheesecake contracts as it cools, it isn’t sticking to the pan so it doesn’t crack. They were so successful this year, I have requests for many more next year – especially the Raspberry White Chocolate Truffle flavor I created.

    Reply
  5. skeptic7

    I just baked a pumpkin cheesecake with a cookie crust. I put a teaspoon of powdered ginger in the cookie crust. My favorite store was out of ginger snaps. The cake is about to start the coasting stage. The cake is cracked around the edges.
    If your cake is already cracked before the coast, then it may have gone a bit too long in the hot oven. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on the internal temperature as it bakes. ~Amy

    Reply
  6. amanda_k

    will this work in a glass pan or do you recommend metal? do you always line with parchment first?
    Both of these recipes call for using 10-inch springform pans, which are only made out of metal. I do not think these recipes will fit in a regular 8 or 9 inch pie pan–glass or metal, as there is too much batter. It does help to line the bottom of springform pan with a round of parchment paper to aid in removing the cheesecake from the pan. If you have any other questions, please call us on the Baker’s Hotline. ~Mel

    Reply
  7. reneesiff

    My pumpkin swirled one just came out of the oven from “coasting” – it’s pretty cracked, but I don’t have an instant read thermometer (Santa? Are you reading this?) Can’t wait to slice it up tomorrow for company! They’re all dying to try it!

    Renee, just dab some whipped cream over those cracks, and on one will be the wiser… : ) PJH

    Reply
  8. wendyp4

    Do you think I could sub. some cocoa for some of the flour for the cookie-style crust? I would like to try this with a chocolate crust!
    Yes, you could try that! I think that sounds divine. Elisabeth

    Reply
  9. Jess

    Whenever I make pumpkin cheesecake, I line a colander with three layers of paper towels, dump in the pumpkin, and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. (You could use a clean towel but the pumpkin may stain it.) Helps keep the cheesecake dense and creamy!

    Reply
  10. Louise

    Is the temp. you gave for the baked cheesecake the same, no matter what the pan dimensions are? The temp.pen is a good idea. I just baked 2 cheesecakes, and they both cracked. First time that has happened to me. Normally, I don’t have that problem. I have a hint to pass along to make the crack dissapear. Wait until the cheesecake has completely cooled in the frig., take a teaspoon, run the backside under hot water until spoon is hot, leave wet, and then work the back of the spoon back and forth lightly over the crack, and it will dissapear, you may need to do this several times to make it completely unnoticeable, it works.

    The temperature guideline is consistent up to a 10″ springform pan as well as a 9″ x 13″ pan. Beyond that, I’m not sure. These are the only sizes that we have tested. Frank @ KAF.

    Reply

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