Classic Cheesecake Recipe
Making a Classic Cheesecake Recipe at home is totally doable, and pretty easy once you know these tips and tricks! This New York style cheesecake is rich, creamy, and smooth. Amazing flavor from a secret ingredient makes it the best cheesecake you’ll ever have! Bonus: you don’t even need to use a water bath.
Ten years ago, I sat down at my computer to write the story about this one time when Eric and I knocked on the neighbor’s door to share a plate of cookies. Dude answered the door in nothing but a towel. We all just stared at each other for a moment, eyes wide, and he finally said, “I thought you were someone else.”
Well, here we are years later, and I’m still telling slightly inappropriate stories and throwing my food at strangers. I guess things haven’t changed much??
This month marks 10 years since I wrote my first story and shared my first recipe here on The Food Charlatan. 10 years of blogging you guys!! (Who’s been here from the beginning, or early on? I want to hear from you in the comments!)
Instead of getting mushy and whimsical about all the amazing opportunities, personal growth, friends, income, and ridiculously good food that has resulted from this bloggity-blog, I decided to throw myself a giant party to celebrate!
I wish I could have invited all of you to this party, so that I could show my appreciation for all your support over the years! Google and Pinterest passers-by will come and go, but if you are reading this, you are a cut above the rest. Thank you so much for being here, for all your comments and questions, for every “like” and 5 star review, for sending me pictures of your creations. YOU are the community that I set out to build 10 years ago, and look at all we’ve done together!
Sharing recipes and stories with people who love to cook and connect is still the heart of The Food Charlatan. I feel so blessed to have a space like this where I can spend my time and energy. Isn’t The Food Charlatan a cozy place to be? Thank you so much for hanging out in my virtual kitchen over the years!
Every year I bake a cake for my anniversary. Here are all the posts if you want to take a walk down memory lane!
- The first blog post on The Food Charlatan (2011): Pumpkin Oatmeal White Chocolate Cookies
- 1st Anniversary (2012): Cake Mix Coffee Cake
- 2nd Anniversary (2013): Pumpkin Oatmeal White Chocolate Chip Cookies (I did a reshoot of my first recipe, which I totally regret!)
- 3rd Anniversary (2014): The Food Charlatan’s New Blog Design
- 4th Anniversary (2015): The Best Chocolate Cake I’ve Ever Had
- 5th Anniversary (2016): Death by Chocolate Bundt Cake
- 6th Anniversary (2017): Upside Down Almond Crunch Cupcakes
- 7th Anniversary (2018): Ginger Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake
- 8th Anniversary (2019): Sour Cream Coffee Cake, with a Ridiculous Amount of Streusel
- 9th Anniversary (2020): Homemade Spice Cake
The best Classic Cheesecake of your life!!
Are you a cheesecake person? I feel like it’s a love it or hate it kind of thing, and I LOVE IT. If you are in the hate-it category, might I suggest this recipe? It might just change your mind!! It is a thick and dreamy combination of rich, decadent ingredients, with an extra flavor boost from a secret ingredient. But before we get into that, let’s clear up a few things:
What’s the difference between New York Cheesecake and regular cheesecake?
“Regular” cheesecake, as it was originally made, is nothing more than cream cheese, eggs, and sugar. It is quite simple. (and maybe a lil boring…sorry regular)
New York Cheesecake, on the other hand, is much more decadent and rich. It typically uses even more cream cheese, and often has the addition of either sour cream or heavy cream, making the cheesecake richer and heavier. Extra eggs or egg yolks are also sometimes added. It’s like regular cheesecake 2.0, basically.
If you live in the United States, most cheesecake you have tried is New York style. Because Americans don’t really do simple desserts. It is just not our thing. Go big or go home. Bring on the rich, decadent, over-the-top-flavor! Today’s recipe is a New York style cheesecake, and in addition to the extra sour cream and egg yolks, we’re adding one more flavor element…
Browned Butter makes everything better
This recipe has the classic texture and richness of a New York cheesecake, but there is one unique ingredient that you won’t find in other recipes: browned butter. Yes, I’ve done it again. Browned butter just makes every dessert better, okay??
Cheesecake is no exception. It adds a boost of flavor without distracting from the cheesecakey-ness of it all. When people taste it, they will say, holy smokes, this is an amazing cheesecake. They are not going to ask what your secret ingredient is, because it’s not obvious that there is one. Browned butter just makes your cheesecake next-level-rich-and-tasty.
If you squint, you can see tiny little browned butter bits in the cheesecake itself. Tiny little specks, huge boatloads of flavor!
How to make Classic Cheesecake
I will show you step by step how to make this glorious cheesecake!
First you should know though: cheesecake is a lesson in patience. It is not hard, but there is a lot of waiting involved. So plan ahead! Here’s what you need:
Ingredients for Classic Cheesecake
For the crust:
- Graham crackers
For the cheesecake:
- Cream cheese
- Sour cream
- Lemon juice
Use room temperature cream cheese
Soften your cream cheese! This is really important, otherwise you will end up with lumps in your cheesecake (the opposite of what we’re going for). I like to let my cream cheese sit on the counter for at least 1-4 hours. You can speed it up by microwaving the cream cheese on low power on a plate (be sure to remove all the foil!) But it still is going to soften unevenly. Waiting is really the best option for cheesecake! While you’re at it, set out your 4 eggs to come to room temperature too.
Next make your graham cracker crust! We are browning the butter for the crust, in addition to adding browned butter to the cheesecake itself. You can skip browning butter for the crust and it will turn out just fine! But I truly love the flavor it adds. It provides an interesting and slightly salty contrast to the creamy cheesecake!
Be sure to press it into the pan with a measuring cup to get yourself a nice firm crust that doesn’t crumble when you slice your cheesecake later. Bake it for about 12 minutes and set aside to cool.
In a mixing bowl, add the eggs and egg yolk, the sour cream, vanilla, salt, and lemon juice. This is not a lemon cheesecake, but you need the lemon to brighten up the flavors of all the other ingredients!
Do not over beat your cheesecake batter
Over mixing cream cheese whips too much air into the batter, making your cheesecake bubbly and more likely to fall and crack. We don’t want it to be light and airy. This is CHEESECAKE people. We live for its dense creamy glory.
But! We need to beat those eggs really well to make sure we don’t get any weird egg lumps in our final cake. Solution? Beat all the ingredients together BEFORE adding the cream cheese.
This is the sour cream mixture. Do you see all those lumpy egg whites? Beat it longer. We don’t want any lumps in our cake. Beat the heck out of it until they are gone! You can beat til your heart’s content before mixing in the cream cheese.
Use the same pot from before to brown another stick of butter. If your butter is still hot, add it while the mixer is on so you don’t scramble your eggs!
Then, pour the whole mixture into another bowl, or the pot that you browned the butter in. It’s cream cheese time.
Make sure you buy Philadelphia cream cheese. It really is the best on the market.
Don’t bother washing your bowl, just toss in the cream cheese. Add 2 cups of granulated sugar.
I know I said not to over beat, but you have to get all the lumps out. On the left: not quite beat enough. On the right: dreamy creamy cream cheese perfection.
Add in the sour cream mixture. Mix until it is completely combined and lump free, stopping often to scrape down the sides.
The completed batter isn’t too thick.
Pour it into your (completely cooled!) crust, and shake and smooth it a little to make the batter even on top.
Pick up the whole pan about an inch from the counter and drop it a few times. You want to get rid of all the air bubbles in your cheesecake. Wait 10 minutes for more air bubbles to rise, then use a toothpick to poke as many bubbles as you can find.
Now it’s time to bake! I love to bake this cheesecake with NO water bath.
How to bake cheesecake without a water bath
Water baths are useful because they provide a very humid environment for a cheesecake to bake in. Without this humidity, the eggs in your cheesecake will rise too quickly (and fall too quickly!) It makes the cheesecake dry out and then the texture is all wrong.
The problem with water baths is that you run the risk of making your graham cracker crust soggy if your foil gets a tear in it (this has happened to me and it’s THE WORST.) Plus water baths are just kind of a pain to put together.
The solution? Steam!
Boil a pot of water. Place your cheesecake in the preheated oven. Pour the boiling water into a 9×13 inch metal pan directly below the cheesecake. Shut the oven door and DO NOT OPEN IT AGAIN! Voila! Humidity heaven!
Do not open the oven door while baking cheesecake. Not even once!
A rapid change in temperature is what causes cheesecake to crack on top. Keeping a very steady temperature and humidity level in your oven is going to help your cheesecake bake evenly. Opening the oven door even once can mess with the temperature and humidity enough to ruin your beautiful cheesecake with a crack. Don’t do it! Turn on the oven light and check it through the window. This rule applies for baking in a water bath or using the steam method.
It’s not necessary, but I also recommend baking your cheesecake on a pizza stone if you have one. You can see mine in the photo up there. Pizza stones are designed to help regulate the temperature of your oven, which helps a cheesecake bake evenly. Read all about stones on my Homemade Pizza post! If you don’t have one that’s okay.
How to bake cheesecake with a water bath
If it sounds safer to make your cheesecake using a water bath, here are some more details!
A water bath is made by wrapping the springform pan in heavy duty foil, then placing the whole pan inside of another pan that is filled with boiling water. The cheesecake bakes directly in a pan of water.
Pros: It is much easier to make sure your cheesecake doesn’t crack if you use a water bath. It is also a faster process because you can put it in the fridge to chill only a relatively short time after baking. (Because even when you remove the cheesecake from the oven, it’s still in a nice warm bath for a while. Remember: temperature changes are what cause cheesecake cracks.)
Cons: If there is even a tiny tear in your layers of foil, your crust will be get waterlogged and soggy-sad. This is the bane of my existence. I cannot stand a soggy crust. That is why I prefer to use the steam method rather than a water bath.
How do I know my cheesecake is done baking?
Water bath or steam method, get your cheesecake baked. The next question is when to turn off the oven.
You will know your cheesecake is done when the edges of the cheesecake look set. The whole center of the cheesecake should still be slightly wobbly, but not liquid-y. I know, this is hard to tell when you are not supposed to open the oven door. More details in the recipe! The top of the cheesecake should not be brown when you turn off the oven.
I’m going to make a bold statement here and say that the problem with every bad cheesecake you’ve ever had was OVER BAKING. I can’t emphasize this enough. Write it down in your soul. Etch it into your heart. (There is no such thing as an under baked cheesecake, in my opinion. Those ones are just extra-creamy 😉)
But over baked cheesecakes will ruin your dessert bliss faster than you can say “spongey texture.” (SAY NO TO THE SPOOONGE!)
Why did my cheesecake crack??
Because the temperature changed too quickly. You cooled it down too fast. It’s as simple as that. When you take cheesecake out of it’s warm and cozy oven environment, it starts to fall (all those eggs made it rise up!) Falling creates cracks and imperfections. We want to cool our cheesecake as sloooowwwwwly as possible.
I leave my cheesecake to cool in the oven for hours, even overnight. Leaving it in the oven for a while is really the only foolproof way to make sure your cheesecake doesn’t crack. When the timer goes off and you have determined that the cheesecake is set on the edges (okay fine, you can open the oven door to shake the pan a little bit), turn the oven off but do NOT take the cheesecake out of the oven. Leave the door ajar for at least an hour (or longer!) to slowly let the oven and cheesecake come to room temperature. See the recipe for more details!
Cheesecake topping ideas
With a plain cheesecake like this one, you can really take it in any direction with the toppings! Fresh berries of any kind are always delicious if you want to keep it simple. I jazzed up my raspberries with a sauce similar to this Fresh Strawberry Topping (which would also be delicious!) The recipe is in the notes on the recipe.
You could also top it with this Homemade Lemon Curd, oh my gosh that would be amazing. Or how about make the salted caramel from these Salted Caramel Brownies and drizzle it on top? Make the ganache from this Flourless Chocolate Cake. Or make some of this Easy Dulce de Leche and top with sea salt. If you’re making this for Thanksgiving or Christmas, top it with this incredible Cranberry Sauce!
How to store cheesecake
Cheesecake should be stored in the refrigerator. Make sure you cover it with plastic wrap so it doesn’t dry out. I like to keep mine stored in the springform pan that I baked it in, and stretch plastic over the top.
Can you freeze cheesecake?
Yes, totally! If you want to freeze the whole cheesecake, let it cool completely. Then cover well several times with plastic wrap. Then wrap in heavy duty foil a couple times. Freeze for 3-4 months. Let thaw in the fridge. It will take at least 12-24 hours to thaw completely.
If you want to freeze individual slices of cheesecake, it’s best to flash freeze. Slice completely cooled cheesecake and place each slice on a pan, not touching. Freeze the pan of slices for about 3 hours. (Set a timer so you don’t forget!) Then wrap each individual piece in plastic wrap, and then store in a ziplock bag. Let thaw in the fridge. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t have cheesecake on a random Tuesday afternoon! Treat yoself.
More cheesecake recipes you will love!
- Blackberry Lemon Cheesecake Bars << these are so good with fresh berries!
- Crème Brûlée Cheesecake << truly one of the best cheesecake I’ve ever had.
- Sensationally Smooth Chocolate Cheesecake << chocolate lover’s dream!
- No Bake Pumpkin Cheesecake << so easy!
- No Bake Cherry Cream Cheese Pie << this one is a classic!
- No Bake Lemon Cheesecake Bars from Diary of a Real Housewife
- Double Layer Pumpkin Cheesecake << love this one for Thanksgiving!
- Raspberry Cheesecake Bars << these are easy and fast!
- Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries << the prettiest appetizers
- Cheesecake Pecan Pie << this one is magic!
- No Bake Strawberry Cheesecake Bars from Completely Delicious
- No Bake Cheesecake Bites from Spaceships and Laserbeams
Classic Cheesecake Recipe
For the crust
- 1/2 cup butter, (1 stick)
- 18 full sheets graham crackers, crushed, about 2 cups crumbs
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
For the cheesecake
- 3/4 cup full fat sour cream
- 3 large eggs + 1 egg yolk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 & 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice, about 1 half lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup butter, (1 stick)
- 4 (8-ounce packages) full fat cream cheese, I like Philadelphia brand
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- Cream cheese and eggs. The first thing you must do is set out your cream cheese to soften! It must be room temperature when you beat it, or you will have lumps. Let it sit on the counter at room temperature for at least an hour or two, or up to 4 hours. You can speed it up by microwaving the cream cheese in increments on power level 1 on a plate (be sure to remove all the foil!) But it still is going to soften unevenly. Waiting is really the best option for cheesecake! Set out 4 eggs to come to room temperature as well.
- Make the crust. Add a 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter to a small pot and set over medium heat, stirring occasionally. After a couple minutes it will turn white on top, then it will foam up. Once it is foamy, it will start forming brown colored milk solids, or "bits". They will swirl up when you stir. The scent of the butter will change to a "nutty" or toffee like aroma. Once you see brown bits, remove the pan from the heat and be careful not to let it burn!
- Let the browned butter cool for at least 30 minutes while you prepare the rest of the crust. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.
- Add 18 full graham cracker sheets to a food processor and pulse until they have been crushed to fine crumbs. (Or place them in a ziplock and smash them with a rolling pin.) Add 1/4 cup sugar and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt.
- Once the browned butter has cooled, add it to the food processor (or you can combine it in a bowl) and mix until all the crumbs are moistened. (Don't bother washing the pot you browned the butter in. We need it later.)
- Spray the edges of a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick spray. Press the graham cracker mixture into the bottom of the pan and up the sides using a measuring cup to press it in well. The more tightly packed your crust is, the better your final crust will hold it's shape when you slice your cheesecake later. Make sure you press the crust up on the sides of the pan at least 1 inch.
- Bake the crust at 325 degrees F for 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to let cool completely. (If you choose to bake with a water bath, once your pan is cool, triple wrap your pan with heavy duty foil. See notes for water bath details.)
- Make the cheesecake. Brown another stick of butter (1/2 cup butter) in the same pot that you used earlier to brown the butter for the crust. See step 2 for all the details. Set the second pot of browned butter aside to cool.
- In a large bowl or stand mixer, add 3/4 cup sour cream, 3 large eggs + 1 egg yolk (discard the white), 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 1 and 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice (about half a lemon), and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Use the whisk attachment on your stand mixer (or a hand mixer is fine) to beat this mixture very well for at least 2 minutes, scraping the sides as you go. Check to make sure there are none of those weird jiggly egg solids in the mixture (if there are after a few minutes of beating, discard them). See photos.
- Once your browned butter has cooled, add it to the sour cream mixture. If it is not quite cool, make sure to add it while the mixer is on, so you don't scramble your eggs. Beat well, scraping the sides. Once the mixture is combined, use a spatula to scrape the whole mixture back into the same pot that you browned the butter in (Unless it is hot. If it's hot, add the mixture to a bowl.)
- Don't bother washing your bowl or beaters. Add 4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese to the bowl. Make sure they are completely softened! Beat using the whisk attachment (if you have one) until the mixture is smooth and creamy, scraping the bottom and sides as you go. Get all the lumps out but don't over beat it. If there are lumps in your cream cheese now, there will be lumps in your cheesecake. But we don't want to beat in too much air. See photos! Use discretion!
- Add 2 cups granulated sugar to the cream cheese and beat only just until smooth and combined, then stop!
- Add the sour cream mixture to the cream cheese mixture. Beat only until combined, scraping the sides as you go. Again, if there are lumps in this mixture, there will be lumps in your cheesecake. Beat them out!
- At this point, if you are REALLY dedicated to no lumps, you can strain the mixture through a sieve as you pour it into the completely cooled crust. I never bother! Pour the batter into the crust and don't worry if the batter goes up over the edge of the crust. Smooth the top.
- Pick up the pan about an inch from the counter and drop it a couple times. Shake the pan a little. You are trying to get air bubbles to rise to the surface. Wait about 10 minutes. If you see any bubbles, use a toothpick to poke them to get the air out.
- Meanwhile, while the cheesecake rests, heat a large covered pot of water over high heat until it comes to a rolling boil.
- To bake the cheesecake with STEAM: (see notes for water bath instructions) Place a metal (not glass!) 9×13 inch pan on the lowest rack in your oven. (The oven should still be heated to 325 degrees.) Position the second rack in the center of the oven. If you have a pizza stone, place it on the bottom rack with the 9×13 pan sitting on top of it. (It's okay if you don't have one.)
- Once the water is at a rolling boil, place your cheesecake in the oven in the center of the rack. Pull out the bottom rack and carefully pour the boiling water into the 9×13 inch pan. Make sure the water goes at least halfway up the sides of the pan. Working quickly, carefully push the rack back into the oven and make sure the cheesecake is positioned directly over the pan of water (the crust is going to drip butter into the pan). Shut the oven door as fast as you can to help maintain the oven temperature!
- Set a timer for 70 minutes. Do not open the oven door! Not even once!
- After 70 minutes, turn the oven off, but DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR! Your cheesecake will still be wobbly in the middle but you shouldn't even know this because you haven't opened the oven door to check, right? The cheesecake is not quite baked yet. It's going to finish baking in the cooling oven.
- Leave the cheesecake in the turned off oven with the door shut for at least 4 hours. I leave it in overnight usually. Your oven must be COMPLETELY back to room temperature before you should even consider taking this cheesecake out! The cheesecake may have turned a light golden on the top and edges after it's time in the oven. (This is all to avoid cracks by the way. If you don't care about cracks, you can take it out after 1 hour and stick it in the fridge.)
- After 4 hours of cooling in the turned off oven, remove the cheesecake from the oven and place in the refrigerator for another 4 hours, or 8 hours is even better. You can cover your cheesecake with plastic wrap, but be aware that condensation will form and could get water on the top of your cheesecake. I usually don't cover it for this initial chill.
- Once your cheesecake is completely chilled, carefully and slowly release it from the springform pan. Use a sharp chef's knife to cut the cheesecake into even slices, wiping off the knife for each slice.
- Serve chilled with topping of your choice! See notes for the Fresh Raspberry Topping I made. I also love this Fresh Strawberry Topping, or Homemade Lemon Curd, or how about the caramel from these Salted Caramel Brownies, the ganache from this Flourless Chocolate Cake, or Easy Dulce de Leche, then top with sea salt? If you're making this for Thanksgiving or Christmas, top it with this incredible Cranberry Sauce! You can take classic cheesecake in any direction you want.
- Store leftovers covered in the fridge. Leftovers will last about 2-3 days before the crust gets soggy.
- Freezer instructions: If you want to freeze the whole cheesecake, let it cool completely. Then cover well several times with plastic wrap. Then wrap in heavy duty foil a couple times. Freeze for 3-4 months. Let thaw in the fridge. It will take at least 12-24 hours to thaw completely.If you want to freeze individual slices of cheesecake, it's best to flash freeze. Slice completely cooled cheesecake and place each slice on a pan, not touching. Freeze the pan of slices for about 3 hours. (Set a timer so you don't forget!) Then wrap each individual piece in plastic wrap, and then store in a ziplock bag. Let thaw in the fridge.
To bake the cheesecake in a WATER BATH:Before adding the cheesecake batter to the crust, line the outsides of the springform pan with heavy duty foil. Make sure you don’t tear it! Line it again. Then line it again! Trust me you do not want a soggy crust! Find a pan (I use a 12 inch oven-going high sided skillet) that your springform pan fits comfortably in. Place the foil-lined springform pan into the large pan. Add the batter and follow all the instructions for getting out air bubbles. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Make sure your oven is heated to 325 degrees. Place the cheese cake in the oven on the center rack. Carefully pour the boiling water into the large pan, making sure that the water comes up halfway up the sides of the pan at least. Do not get water on your cheesecake! Close the oven door and do not open it again. Bake your cheesecake for about 70-75 minutes. After 60 minutes, you can open the oven door to check it. It should not be browned at all. The center should be wobbly but not liquid-y. The edges should be more set than the center. The cheesecake is not quite done baking; it is going to finish baking with the oven turned off. Turn off the oven and open the door a crack. Leave it open like that for 1 hour at least. The longer the better to avoid cracks. Remove from the oven but leave it in the water bath for another 2 hours at least. Once it is back to room temperature, remove the pan from the water, discard the foil, and chill for 4-8 hours. Serve with toppings.
Fresh Raspberry Topping:
- 3/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon cornstarch
- 12 ounces fresh raspberries, or frozen raspberries work fine too.
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
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