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Remains of a burned cheesecake

A friend of mine's wife was baking a cheesecake, which she does somewhat regularly. The house filled up with smoke, and when they opened the oven, they observed that it had caught fire. Apparently it was a fairly standard cheesecake, not a unique petrol-flavored version, nor even spiked with a healthy dose of brandy. She proceeded to remake the same recipe immediately after with no further conflagration.

I did a bit of googling and the only conjecture I saw that somewhat jibes with the circular burn mark is that somehow liquid fat separated from the filling, pooled, and caught fire.

Any idea why specifically that would happen, or alternative explanations?

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Whoa. There's not any evidence to suggest the oven for some reason got too hot, is there? (Oven malfunction or user error?) I'm pretty sure most food fats have combustion points well above normal cheesecake baking temperatures. – Jefromi Feb 7 '12 at 22:49
That's not true - butter burns at 250 F for example. – Michael at Herbivoracious Feb 7 '12 at 23:19
Hm, true, but isn't that because of all the other things in it? I figured we could be confident that the combustion point of homogenous cheesecake batter is below its baking temperature, so either something did separate, or the oven was too hot. – Jefromi Feb 7 '12 at 23:28
I can't tell from the picture—did she forget to fill the water bath? – derobert Feb 7 '12 at 23:56
Is it bad that I was disappointed there wasn't a video...:) – Jay Feb 8 '12 at 0:38

I know it sounds like a stupid question, but are you sure the oven wasn't in "broil" or "clean" mode? It seems unlikely that a regular shape of flammable would emerge from a fairly homogeneous mixture. It seems more likely that a heat source in the shape of the burn marks on the top of the cheesecake was radiating directly onto it. It could have been an intermittent malfunction with the oven, too.

Other than that, I'm lost. It's quite a mystery you have on your hands there.

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I wasn't there, but I'll check with the remote O.P. ;) – Michael at Herbivoracious Feb 8 '12 at 0:36
I've confirmed with the O.P., they are quite certain there was no broil or self-clean going on. – Michael at Herbivoracious Feb 8 '12 at 18:39

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