Cheesecake is a huge favorite among my husband’s family, and I have spent the last decade (and then some) perfecting my method.
I’ve made many iterations, and my favorite always include a tart component, like lemon, to counter the rich cheesecake.
The Secret to Truly Lemony Cheesecake
The lemon in this cheesecake is two-fold—it’s in the batter in the form of zest and also on top of the cheesecake in the form of bright, smooth lemon curd.
When I serve this cheesecake, before cutting it, I like to pipe dollops of curd on top that I then smash-n-drag (technical term) with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon to create the flower burst effect you see here in the photos—I always have to be extra!
Honestly, though, feel free to just dollop it on top or stick a spoon in the jar and serve it up tableside.
No Water Bath Needed
You might notice that I don’t bake this cheesecake in a water bath like most classic recipes. I ditched the water bath method a while ago in favor of creating a steamy environment for the cheesecake to bake in.
Here's what I do: I just place a 9x13-inch baking dish full of boiling water on a rack below the cheesecake while it bakes. The cheesecake still bakes gently, and I don’t have to worry about water finding its way into the cake pan.
Even though we forgo the water bath here, I wrap the outside of the pan in foil so the edge of the cheesecake doesn't over bake or turn brown. You can skip this step if you don't mind some browning.
How to Prevent Your Cheesecake From Cracking
In my many years of making cheesecakes for my family, I have learned a few key tips for success.
- The first is—don’t over-beat the batter! Resist the urge to beat the mixture too much. Over-beating can pull too much air into the mixture, resulting in a cracked cheesecake.
- The second is—patient cooling. Seriously, I cannot stress this enough. Be patient when cooling your cheesecake.
Yes, I tell you to leave the cheesecake in the oven to cool for an entire hour after it's done baking (I know, it’s a lot). Then with the door cracked for another 45 minutes, then on the counter, and finally, it chills in the refrigerator.
I swear I am not insane, nor am I trying to torment you. I have found that, without fail, rushing the cooling process almost always cracks the cheesecake. I have even saved slightly over-baked cheesecakes (you know, the ones that dome and soufflé) from cracking, using this method.
Additionally, please let the cheesecake chill in the fridge for at least six hours before serving. The purpose of this long, cold nap is for texture—if your cake is still room temp in the middle, it won’t be silky, smooth, and perfect. It will be sort of eggy, crumbly, and almost foamy.
How to Store Your Cheesecake
I almost always make this cheesecake a day before I want to serve it so it has plenty of time to chill in the refrigerator.
The minimum is six hours, but 12 or more is even better. That means you can also make the cake three or four days in advance. It can be covered tightly with plastic wrap (a layer of foil on top of that is great insurance if your refrigerator has a lot of pungent contents that may lend unwanted flavors to the cake).
Leftover cheesecake can be stored similarly, loosely wrapped with plastic, or in reusable containers.
You Can Freeze Cheesecake
Having a cheesecake in the freezer makes those last minute visits from friends and family worry free.
For this cheesecake, freeze it before you add the lemon curd topping. Once the cake has thawed, go ahead and spread the curd over the top and serve.
I typically freeze my cheesecakes whole on a cake board wrapped in plastic and foil, but you can also freeze cheesecake by the slice. Click on How to Freeze Cheesecake for a step-by-step guide on keeping a cheesecake in the freezer so you're ready the next time a dessert emergency arises.
Cheesecake on the Brain? Try These Other Recipes!
- The Perfect Cheesecake is for those who love classic New York style cheesecake.
- Don’t have time for the oven? Then make this No-Bake Cheesecake!
- Pumpkin Cheesecake in the Instant Pot!
- Sous Vide Cheesecake in jars!
- For the gingersnap crust:
- 7 ounces (198g) crisp gingersnap cookies (or graham crackers)
- 4 tablespoons (57g) unsalted butter, melted
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- Pinch of kosher salt
- For the cheesecake batter:
- 2 pounds cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup (200g) sugar
- 1 packed tablespoon lemon zest (from 1-2 fresh lemons)
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup (227g) sour cream
- Pinch of kosher salt
- To serve:
- Prepared lemon curd, store-bought or homemade
Prepare the oven and baking sheet:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. On a baking sheet place a sheet of aluminum foil large enough to wrap around the outside of the springform pan. Set it aside.
Make the crust:
To make the crust, place the cookies into the bowl of a food processor and process until you get fine, even crumbs. Mix the cookie crumbs with the melted butter, sugar, and kosher salt until you get the consistency of wet sand, and the mixture clumps together when squeezed in the palm of your hand.
Press the crust mixture into the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan in an even layer. You can either keep the crust layer only on the bottom, or on the bottom and pressed up against the sides. It is totally up to you!
Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set on a cooling rack while you prepare the cheesecake filling.
Reduce the heat and create a steam bath:
Turn the oven down to 325°F. Place a 9x13-inch baking dish on the lower rack of the oven and fill with boiling water; this will create a steamy environment for the cheesecake to bake.
Make the batter:
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or using a mixing bowl and hand mixer) beat the cream cheese until smooth and creamy, scraping the sides of the bowl a few times so there are no lumps of firm cream cheese. Beat in the sugar, lemon zest, and salt, then scrape down the sides.
Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing until each egg is combined and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl after each addition. Resist the urge to whip the mixture too much; just beat in each egg until mixed well—over-beating can pull too much air into the batter, resulting in a cracked cheesecake.
Add the sour cream and spread the filling over the crust:
On low speed, beat in the sour cream until just combined. Spread the cheesecake filling into the pre-baked crust.
Bake the cheesecake:
Put the cheesecake onto the foil-lined baking sheet. Press the foil up and around the outside of the springform pan.
Place the baking sheet with the cheesecake on it, on the center rack of the oven, above the pan of hot water, for 1 hour or until the cheesecake appears set and dry on top but still jiggles in the center like Jello.
Allow the cheesecake to cool slowly:
Turn off the oven and allow the cheesecake to cool for 60 minutes with the oven door closed.
Crack open the oven door (place a wooden spoon between the door and the frame of the oven to keep it just cracked) and allow the cheesecake to cool for an additional 45 minutes before removing from the oven to cool on a baking rack, until it reaches room temperature.
The cheesecake may have domed slightly while baking but should deflate to a flat top with a small ridge around the edge, as it slowly cools.
Remove the foil once the cheesecake has cooled to room temperature (anytime after the cheesecake has pulled away from the edges of the pan and it's cool enough to handle).
Transfer to the refrigerator:
Once the cheesecake is at room temperature, transfer it to the refrigerator to chill for at least 6 hours before serving.
Top with lemon curd and serve:
To create the petal pattern as shown in the photos, pipe or dollop small blobs of curd in a ring around the perimeter of the cheesecake, leaving about 1/2-inch border.
Using an offset spatula or the back of a teaspoon, gently smash and drag the blobs toward the center of the cheesecake. If you have leftover lemon curd, serve the rest when you slice the cheesecake.