Monday, 21 September 2015

Failing and winning at cheesecake

Cheesecake is easily one of my all time favourite desserts. The first time I ever made it was a few years ago and I used a recipe by chef John from Foodwishes that has since become my go-to cheesecake recipe as it needs absolutely no changes or improving. I fell in love with the taste and texture and to this day I prefer to make my own cheesecake rather than buy one (but I guess that's the case with most desserts).

The thing with cheesecake is, though, that it's not the easiest dessert to bake perfectly. Considering how easy the batter is to make, there is a surprising number of things you can do wrong. One of the most common problems you can encounter is a nasty crack in your cheesecake which can occur when you overmix the batter, bake it at a higher than recommended temperature, open the oven door at the wrong time, not let it cool in the oven et cetera et cetera et cetera. Even when you take every precaution possible, you might still get a crack, which is exactly what happened to me every single time I made cheesecake. This is how it'd usually go: I put the cheesecake in the oven, for a while nothing happens, next thing I know it's rising like crazy (making it look like it has tumors), cracks and then deflates.

Deflating usually somewhat conceals the cracks or at least makes them look smaller, but that's not what you're going for. I wanted a perfectly smooth cheesecake. So this time I decided I'd try something else, and given that pretty much every baker suggests using a water bath, I thought I'd give that a try.

What most people do is wrap the spring form pan in aluminium foil to prevent water leaking into the pan. So I wrapped it in several layers of aluminium foil, put the pan in a larger pan and fillied it with water. I was a bit sceptical, but when I saw my cheesecake baking more evenly that I could possibly hope for, I was impressed to say the least.

Everything was looking great. I waited for it to cool before I took it out of the oven, then proceeded to remove it from the water bath. This is when the trouble began. As I started removing the foil I realised it hadn't prevented the water from leaking. I removed the pan ring and was very unhappy to see that the crust was all soggy. It did't look too apetizing either and I knew I could never eat or serve it like that. My first instinct was to google „cheesecake waterbath fail what do i do“ but none of the suggestions I could find online was very helpful.

Luckily, I can say I'm a resorceful person and am generally good at fixing things. So I covered the cheesecake with parchment paper, flipped it over onto a plate and then carefully put it back into the pan, crust facing up. I put it back in the oven and baked it at 180°C for additional 10 minutes. It came out just perfect, the crust was crunchy and all the excess moisture was gone. I let it cool again, then it was finally ready for refrigeration.

I have to say I'm quite proud of my mad MacGyver skills that saved this weekend's dessert. In the end it was one of the best cheesecakes I've ever made taste-wise and definitely my best one in terms of looks. I served it with two different kinds of sauce (strawberry and blueberry, both very good, even if I say so myself) and fresh blueberries.

So, is the water bath worth the hype? Well, it definitely does what it says it would – makes the cheesecake bake evenly. My problem was that the foil wasn't large enough and I don't think any number of layers would have kept out the water. In the future I'll either find a larger roll of aluminuim foil or use a smaller pan, but all in all I'd rather have a crack (which in the words of chef John can be used as a cutting guide and can in fact be quite convenient) than a soggy crust.

I definitely recommend you try chef John's recipe as it's by far the best cheesecake I've ever tried and I never got anything but compliments for it. Note that when using a water bath,though, it does take longer to bake; I baked mine for around 90 minutes.

Happy baking!