Why do cheesecakes crack?

Reader Rick is sick and tired of having to disguise the cracks in his cheesecake with sour cream toppings, and wants to know what he can do about it. I have a few ideas on that.

Cracks in cheesecakes are caused by temperature problems, and are usually a result of one region of the cake heating faster than another. Large cheesecakes are especially crack-prone, since the areas closest to the rim of the pan cook and firm up first. If this happens too abruptly, the outer portion of the cheesecake can shrink and pull away from the softer inner portion. The result: a crack.

Cracking can also happen as a result of curdling or “breaking”, for cheesecakes are actually custards under the hood. The egg proteins in the cake get too hot and start to tighten up into clumps. As they tighten they squeeze out moisture, causing the cake to weep. The cheesecake takes on a grainy texture and again starts to shrink. Wherever the firmer overcooked spots meet the softer medium-cooked spots, cracks appear as the overcooked cake contracts.

It isn’t difficult to overcome these problems. First, always bake a cheesecake in a water bath, which evens out heat. Also, bake your cheesecake low, never more than 350. If you already take these precautions, try calibrating your oven to make sure it isn’t running hot. Failing all that, you can take your cake’s temperature as it bakes. About ten minutes before you determine it should be done, insert a quick-read thermometer in the very center. You want the center to be at least 140, no more than 150.

But in truth you don’t need to go to that extent. If you jostle the pan a bit you should see it jiggle, but not slosh. Are we cool?

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14 Responses to Why do cheesecakes crack?

  1. Sarah says:

    I never knew that.. thanks for the interesting and useful information :)

  2. Linda says:

    I was taught that as soon as the cheesecake comes out of the oven, run a sharp knife around the sides, I have never had a crack

  3. Amanda :} says:

    Calibrating your oven is a great tip! I have another tip to add: When you take the cheesecake out of the oven , run the tip of a paring knife around the edge of the cheesecake so as it cools, it all shrinks into the center, rather than the outside rim staying where it is and the center shrinking into itself.

    • joepastry says:

      Yes indeed, running a knife around the rim is a great way to prevent cracks around the outer edge. Thanks Amanda!

      - Joe

  4. Mikki says:

    I’ve never had a problem with cracks either and I was always taught to turn off the oven and cool the cheesecake in there with the door cracked open. Its the sudden temperature change that causes cracks too!

  5. ben says:

    All these ideas work very well. Try using a piece of parchment paper
    buttered on both sides, and attach it to the sides of the pan. Another thought is to run the crust up the side of the pan. I personally don’t
    do this because I like the filling more than the crust.

  6. Maribel says:

    What about over beating and incorporating too much air in the batter? Do you know if that might cause cracks too?

    • joepastry says:

      Hi Maribel!

      Too much air usually causes sinking in the center, as steam bubbles deflate (cheesecakes, being custards, don’t have the structure of layers cakes, plus they’re heavy!). I suppose in extreme cases that could lead to cracking as well.

      - Joe

  7. Eve Harlowe says:

    Love you blog, awesome tips , fantastic recipes …thank you!

  8. Maddy says:

    I have also read that 2-3tbspns of flour or cornstarch added to the filling batter helps avoid cracks. Something about this would prevent the eggs from over-coagulating??? I followed all the tips on this board…have one in the oven door cracked, cooling right now…fingers crossed….

    I think historically I have been guilty of over baking…

    • joepastry says:

      Hi Maddy!

      Yes, the starch gets between the egg proteins and prevents them from bunching up…to a point. It offers some insurance, shall we say, but is not a complete preventative. Let me know how it turned out!

      - Joe

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