I've heard of two separate ways to use a water bath when cooking a cheesecake: placing the cheesecake in the waterbath, or placing a roasting pan full of water on the bottom rack of the oven, with the cheesecake on the top rack. I like the idea of not putting my cheesecake in the water, which avoids the need to wrap the pan in foil. Do these two separate methods create any discernible difference in the final result? Is one better than the other?
The purpose of the water is to cook the custard slowly- essentially poaching it. It takes out some insurance against it overheating and breaking.
Suspending the cheesecake over the water would not have the same effect- steam can get hotter than the curdling temperature of eggs. It would be a thermal mass that might even out some temperature variation in your oven and it would keep things humid. If your oven is working well these effects aren't needed.
Plenty of cheesecake recipes don't take out the water-bath-insurance. My opinion is that suspending the cake above the pan would not be helpful.
I have to disagree with Sobachatina in this case: the thermal mass is not the sole purpose of the water bath. Cheesecakes are prone to cracking, because the moisture of the outer layer of the filling evaporates. They don't just form a skin the way a standard custard would, they get dry enough to crack later.
So, if you just suspend the cheesecake, you get half the benefits of the water.
It is entirely possible to bake the cheesecake without submerging it, or without using any water at all. But you will get better results with water than without, and you will get better results if you submerge than if you just suspend. You have to know for yourself whether the difference is large enough to matter to you, and whether the convenience gain would be worth it.
I have baked cheesecakes both with and without waterbaths. I also have used the direct in water method and the pan under the rack with the cheesecake. By far, wrapping and placing the springform pan directly in the water is the best. Even, non-burnt, and no cracking. There's no comparison. I will never cook a dry cheesecake again. :)
ok i treid last night. baking pan full of hot water my spring form pan in a glass pie pan. baked twice as long to get the top "crust" to brown, 2 hours instead of 1 hour. oven set at 350 like i do with water bath. results looked to be good as i inserted a long toothpick into thecenter that looked to be "set". Oven off for 1 more hour with cake in oven. i looked great however noted these differences: -outer side what would have been a darkend "crust" (since I use buttered pan coated with powdered sugar, no bottom or side crust) was just darkened on the part that rose above the pan edge while cooking. seems like the metal side did not get enough heat to carmelize the sugar. - thecenter was very custard like though solid enough to cut slice that held together, however the part of the cake closer to the pan edge had been cooked more and was more like what i get in a water bath cooking cycle so now I move to use a metal pan between the spring form and the baking pan water. I figure it would get a little warmer than the glass pan but still not as warm as a direct water bath. I might do another after that one using my convection oven cycle with a lower oven temp say 300. i love my NY cheesecake an don't mind eating all of my experimantal bakes. My wife however wants the water bath ones that is the goal to be measured against. i may need to have friends over as 3 or 4 cheesecakes to eat by myself might be very ostentatious. CI