Baking a cheesecake in a quick-and-easy water bath (sometimes called a bain marie) can be the secret to cheesecake success, ensuring the filling turns out smooth and creamy, well worth the extra step when the recipe calls for one.
Some cheesecake fillings are a type of rich, eggy custard. The finished cheesecake might look substantial, but they're actually delicate. The water bath protects the cheesecake from uneven oven heat while it bakes so that the filling can set up slowly and evenly with little risk of rubbery edges, dark top, or sunken center.
Video: How To Make a Water Bath for Cheesecake (Southern Living)
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Be sure to gather the items for the water bath before you begin the recipe so that it's ready when it's time to put the cheesecake in the oven. All you need is a second baking pan, aluminum foil, and a large container with a pouring spout, such as a kettle, pitcher, or big measuring cup.
Select a sturdy baking pan that's large enough to hold the springform pan and is about the same depth. Most cheesecakes bake in 9- or 10-inch springform pans, so a roasting pan can be the ideal solution. To ensure that no water will seep into the springform pan and turn the crust soggy, wrap the outside in a double layer of heavy-duty foil. If you are certain that your springform pan forms a tight, waterproof seal when latched, you can skip the foil, but it's better to be safe than sorry.
When the cheesecake is ready to bake, sit the wrapped springform pan inside the larger pan. Fill the container with a pouring sprout with very hot tap water. Working quickly so that the oven door is open no longer than necessary, slide out the rack, and sit the large pan on it. Carefully pour water into the large pan to come halfway up the outside of the springform pan, making sure that no water splashes into the cheesecake. Gently push in the rack and close the oven.
In addition to heeding the recipe instructions on determining when the cheesecake is done, pay attention to when to remove it from the water bath. Some recipes are timed for the cheesecake to stay in the water bath as it cools, while others say to remove it immediately.