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I have found a cheesecake recipe which says, for the cooking phase:

Place springform pan in a large baking pan; add 1 in. of hot water to larger pan. Bake at 325 °F (160 °C) for 60--65 minutes or until center is just set and top appears dull.

I have done it so (I mean, it's in the recipe which I followed), but I wonder what is this for? I suppose that the water layer prevents things from going much over 212 °F (100 °C) since the water stays at this temperature. But I don't understand the motivation for this set-up. Couldn't I just use a lower temperature setting?

  • It's just like when you boil milk. Special pots have inner space to for water so it technically boils in hot water. Not having direct contact with the unevenly hot metal, it does not go over a certain temperature and keeps it from getting burnt. – CodeAngry Sep 6 '15 at 15:47
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Couldn't I just use a lower temperature setting?

No, you can't. Ovens are very bad at keeping a constant temperature. Not only is the oven thermostat usually off, it also cycles around its mean temperature a lot. So your food is subjected to constantly changing temperature.

If you were to set your oven to 100C, you 1) won't get really 100C, and 2) won't get the crust to brown, as the temperature is too low. Instead, you can use the water bath described. In combination with a temperature setting higher than 100C, it will keep the bottom portion of the cheesecake at a constant temperature, and will allow the surface to bake well.

You will see water bath (i.e. bain marie) recommendations for many types of baked goods, including custards. But when it comes to a cheesecake, it has a second function. At each temperature, there is an equilibrium moisture in the oven air. As long as the equilibrium has not been reached, moisture evaporates at a high rate from every moist surface (your baking good). When this happens to a cheesecake, its top cracks. But when you have an open water surface, it is sufficient to saturate the air, and no (or very little) evaporation happens on the cake surface. You end up with a smooth cheesecake.

  • Thanks, this is very explanatory. However, I got the cheesecake very moist, but that may be a technical problem (and also, it may be undercooked and also I have a different type of cheese available in my country than the one that's in the recipe). I'll keep experimenting! – yo' Sep 5 '15 at 15:55
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    Possibly helpful side note: The second pan will also save you a lot of time and aggravation if the springform pan fails or leaks; the run off will be safely contained. – apaul Sep 6 '15 at 23:37
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    @apaul34208 I always place a second wide pan / place below the springform pan, no matter what I use it for, but you're right, this is important since my springform pan is over 20 years old .... :-) – yo' Sep 7 '15 at 6:23
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You are creating a bain-marie. It is used to gently heat the food and to stop the food scorching or boiling. When used for custards it stops them curdling. For cheesecakes the technique is used to stop the centre cracking.

  • There's a secondary function for custards as well. It keeps the custard from burning to the dish. – RubberDuck Sep 5 '15 at 16:34

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