Classic cheesecake with graham cracker crust is silky smooth, ultra rich, and very creamy. Plus, I’ve got all the top tips for the BEST homemade cheesecake ever!
I have been developing recipes for over 10 years, but this is the first time I’ve attempted a real, true classic cheesecake. What have I been waiting for?? If I’m being honest, cheesecake has always seemed a bit intimidating and so I guess I just kept putting it off.
But after some guidance from this month’s cheesecake spread in Bake From Scratch magazine, and a few other blogging friends, I decided to tackle it myself. And you know what? It wasn’t hard! Cheesecake can be finicky, and there are a few special directions you have to follow, but it really is a dessert anyone can make.
And I promise, you’ll be so glad you did. This creamy vanilla cheesecake is so rich and flavorful, and so indulgent. Get ready to impress your friends and family!
Classic Cheesecake Ingredients
Cheesecake is not exactly a light dessert. (That’s why we love it, right?!) Here’s all you’ll need for this recipe, I do not recommend making any substitutions:
- Full-fat cream cheese— 3 whole bricks of it!
- Heavy cream
- Vanilla bean
- All-purpose flour
- Granulated sugar
- Graham crackers or graham cracker crumbs
- Ground cinnamon
How to Make Cheesecake
- Prepare and bake graham cracker crust. Combine crust ingredients in a food processor, then press into a greased 9-inch springform pan. Bake at 350°F for 10 minutes, then cool.
- Prepare cheesecake filling. Use an electric mixer to combine filling ingredients, then pour into cooled crust.
- Bake in a water bath. Set springform pan into a water bath (keep reading for more info on this) and bake at 325° for nearly 2 hours, until only the center 2-3 inches wobble slightly when gently shaken.
- Let cool. First, turn off the oven and crack the door open and keep the cheesecake inside for an hour. Then transfer to a wire rack to cool for another hour or so, and then move to the fridge to cool completely (4-8 hours or overnight).
Cheesecake Tips for Success
For a silky smooth and crack-free cheesecake, I highly recommend you follow these suggestions. As I’ve mentioned, cheesecake is NOT hard to bake! And these simple tips will ensure success and a beautiful (and delicious) cheesecake:
- Start with room temperature dairy and eggs. Cold cream cheese will not whip or incorporate well, resulting in a lumpy filling. Room temperature ingredients help ensure a smooth batter and finished product. Pull ingredients out at least 1 hour before baking, though I’ll often let cream cheese sit at room temperature for a few hours to be sure it’s soft enough. See also my tips for how to quickly bring cream cheese and eggs to room temperature.
- Scrape down the bowl often. The other important step to getting a lump-free batter is to scrape down the mixing bowl often. Beat the cream cheese, sugar, flour, salt, and vanilla until light and creamy, pausing to scrape down the bowl completely 2-3 times. Also scrape down the bowl after each egg addition.
- Don’t overmix the eggs. Once the eggs are added, one at a time, only mix until they’ve been incorporated into the batter. Now is not the time to try to beat out any lumps. Over mixing the batter at this point will incorporate too much air, which will cause the cheesecake to deflate as it cools.
- Bake in a water bath. This is non-negotiable! I tested this recipes both ways and baking the cheesecake outside of the water bath resulted in cracked cheesecake. Don’t panic though, because it’s actually really easy. Keep reading for specific instructions on how to bake in a water bath.
- Let cheesecake cool gradually. Changing the temperature too quickly can also result in cracks on the cheesecake. I like to very gradually cool the cheesecake— first in the oven with the door open, then on the counter, and finally in the fridge. Don’t try to rush it!
- Chill cheesecake completely before serving. Cheesecake requires refrigeration after baking for it to set up properly. Slice it too soon and it will be soft and messy. For best results, chill it for a minimum of 4-8 hours or preferably overnight.
How to Use a Water Bath
And, what is a water bath anyway? A water bath is a method of cooking a dish within a pan of hot water. It creates a moist environment in the oven and provides even and gentle cooking. It’s used for cheesecake so that the filling sets gradually and evenly, resulting in a smooth crack-free surface. It may seem like an intimidating step, but I promise it’s actually quite easy!
Here are the materials you’ll need. Nothing too fancy here, you should have everything already in your kitchen:
- 9×3-inch springform pan (recommended) or round cake pan in which to bake the cheesecake.
- Large roasting pan to hold the hot water.
- And since most springform pans are not airtight and will leak water, you’ll need a waterproof barrier. You can use foil, a slow cooker plastic liner bag, or even another slightly larger pan (my preferred method).
Now that you’ve got everything you need, here’s how to make the water bath:
- Prepare crust and filling as directed.
- Protect pan as desired with foil, liner bag, or another pan. (If using foil, I like to prep pan before adding crust and filling. If using the other options, do it after cheesecake is in the pan and ready for the oven.)
- Set prepared pan into large roasting pan.
- Transfer to the oven.
- Pour hot water into the roasting pan so it comes up 1-2 inches of the springform pan.
That’s it! Not too hard, right? And well worth the effort. If you follow these suggestions, I promise your cheesecake will be silky smooth and exquisite.
What do I do if my cheesecake cracks?
It happens! If you use a water bath and follow my other suggestions, you shouldn’t get cracks. But we’re not perfect, and even I mess up sometimes. If your cheesecake cracks, do not despair! It will still be delicious. Simply cover the cheesecake with a layer of whipped cream or chocolate sauce and no one ever has to know.
This cheesecake is incredible all on its own, but here are a few topping suggestions to take your cheesecake to the next level:
More Cheesecake Recipes to Try
- Brownie Bottom Mini Cheesecakes
- No-Bake Lime Cheesecake Bars
- Caramel Apple Cheesecake Bars
- Cheesecake Swirled Carrot Bundt Cake
Shop Tools for this Recipe
Graham cracker crust:
- 2 cup graham cracker crumbs (215 grams, 14 full sheets crackers, almost 2 envelopes)
- 5 tablespoons butter (79 grams)
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar (38 grams)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 24 ounces full-fat cream cheese , cubed and softened to room temperature (3 bricks, 680 grams)
- 1 ½ cup granulated sugar (300 grams)
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (24 grams)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 vanilla bean , scraped (or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract)
- 4 large eggs , at room temperature
- ¾ cup heavy cream , at room temperature
- 9-inch springform pan
- Hand-held mixer or Stand mixer
- Food processor
- Large roasting dish
To prepared the crust:
- Preheat oven to 350°F and grease a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick baking spray.
- Pulse graham crackers in food processor to crumbs (or place in a ziplock bag and crush with a rolling pin). Add butter, sugar, salt, and cinnamon and pulse till combined.
- Use the underside of a measuring cup to pack graham crackers into prepared pan in an even layer on the bottom and up 1 inch of the sides.
- Bake for 10 minutes. Let cool completely.
To prepare filling:
- Reduce oven temperature to 325°F. Make sure top rack is in the center of the oven.
- With an electric mixer, beat cream cheese together until smooth, 1-2 minutes.
- Add sugar, flour, salt and vanilla bean seeds and beat until smooth and light, 2-3 minutes, stopping to scrape down the bowl at least 2 times. Mixture should be completely smooth with no lumps.
- Add eggs one at a time, mixing after each. Add heavy cream and mix until combined. Scrape down bowl as needed when adding eggs and cream.
- Pour filling into cooled graham cracker crust and prepare for water bath (see Notes).
- Set springform pan inside large roasting pan and place in oven. Fill roasting pan with hot water 1-2 inches up the sides of the springform pan.
- Bake for 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours, until edges are set but center 2-3 inches wobble slightly when gently shaken. Top should be light golden brown (if yours browns too quickly, cover with foil while baking) and an instant thermometer inserted into the center reads about 155°F. Do not over bake!
- Turn oven off and crack the door open. Let cheesecake cool in oven for 1 hour.
- Transfer to a cooling rack on the counter and cool for another hour. Then transfer to fridge and chill for 4-8 hours or overnight (recommended).
- Serve with desired toppings. Store leftovers in the fridge.
- To prepare for water bath: Cover bottoms and sides of springform pan with 2 layers of heavy duty foil (it's easier if done before pouring filling into the crust). Or you can set springform pan into 10-inch baking pan or a slow cooker liner (rolled down and left open at top) instead of lining with foil.
- To avoid cracks in your cheesecake, read tips in blog post above and follow recipe instructions as written.
- Cheesecake will last in the fridge for up to 1 week.