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Do you have to use a water bath for cheesecake?

Using a water bath while baking cheesecake is highly recommended to help prevent cracks and achieve the silky smooth texture that makes cheesecake so delicious. The gentle, moist heat from the water bath protects the cheesecake from baking too quickly and drying out. However, it is possible to skip the water bath if needed and still achieve decent results with some adjustments to the recipe and baking method.

What Does a Water Bath Do?

A water bath, also known as a bain-marie, helps moderate the temperature and moisture while baking cheesecake in the oven. Here’s how it works:

  • A bath is created by placing the cheesecake pan into a larger, deeper pan or roasting dish.
  • The larger pan is then filled partway with hot water before going into the oven.
  • As the cheesecake bakes, the water surrounds the pan, providing gentle steam to keep the top from overcooking.
  • This protects against cracks by allowing the cheesecake to bake slowly and evenly from the outside in.
  • The moist environment prevents the delicate cream cheese custard from drying out.

In essence, the water bath regulates the heat so the cheesecake bakes at a lower, more controlled temperature compared to being directly exposed to the oven’s dry heat.

Benefits of Using a Water Bath

Here are some of the key benefits that a water bath provides for baking cheesecake:

  • Prevents Cracking: The moist heat minimizes the risk of surface cracks caused by a dried out top crust baking faster than the inner custard.
  • Smoother Texture: The cheesecake turns out silkier and creamier rather than dry, grainy, or porous.
  • More Forgiving: The water bath allows for more variation in bake times without ruining the texture.
  • No Browning: The steam keeps the top surface from browning so it stays perfectly pale white.
  • Even Cooking: Heat is transferred gently and uniformly into the cheesecake for thorough, consistent baking.

For the velvety creamy decadence that New York-style cheesecake is prized for, a water bath is the best baking method. The moist environment prevents any rubbery, dried out, or cracked sections that can ruin the luxuriously smooth texture.

Can You Bake Cheesecake Without a Water Bath?

It is possible to bake cheesecake without a water bath, but there are some drawbacks to be aware of:

  • Higher risk of cracks on top due to faster surface drying
  • Potential for uneven cooking if thick spots overbake before fully cooking
  • Can turn brown or golden on top instead of creamy white
  • Might develop a coarser, spongy texture
  • Less margin for error if bake time needs adjusting

Without steam to moderate the heat, sections of the cheesecake can end up either underdone and custardy, or dried out and tough. Getting the perfect velvety finish requires meticulous precision.

That said, it is doable with the right adjustments to the recipe and vigilant monitoring during baking. The keys are increasing moisture, preventing a tough skin from forming, and keeping temperature as low and gradual as possible.

How to Bake Cheesecake Without a Water Bath

Here are some tips for achieving decent results baking cheesecake without a water bath:

  • Use a recipe designed for no-bake cheesecake, or reduce oven temperature by 25°F from original recipe.
  • Bake in a low-sided pan to maximize moisture exposure.
  • Wrap outside of pan tightly in foil to mimic steam environment.
  • Add extra egg yolks or cream cheese for more moisture and richness.
  • Reduce baking time to prevent drying out yet cook through.
  • Check frequently and remove once just set in center but still wobbly for food carryover cooking.

Be prepared to keep a very close eye on cheesecake baked without a water bath. The smaller margin of error means it can quickly overbake and develop cracks or a coarse texture if left too long.

Best Cheesecake Recipe Without a Water Bath

This modified recipe minimizes drying and cracking for cheesecake baked without a water bath:


  • 3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks


  1. Preheat oven to 300°F. Grease a 9 or 10-inch springform pan and tightly wrap outside of pan in heavy foil.
  2. Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar and beat until well incorporated, about 2-3 minutes.
  3. Beat in flour, lemon juice, and vanilla until combined.
  4. Add eggs and egg yolks one at a time, beating after each addition until just incorporated. Do not overbeat.
  5. Pour cheesecake batter into prepared pan. Bake for 45-55 minutes until edges are set but center still jiggles slightly.
  6. Turn oven off. Let cheesecake sit in oven an additional 30-60 minutes with door closed.
  7. Remove from oven and allow to come to room temperature. Then refrigerate overnight before removing pan sides.

The lower heat, extra egg yolks, and foil wrap will help prevent cracks. Check often once edges are set to avoid overbaking. The residual oven heat finishes the cooking process gradually for a smooth texture.

How to Modify Any Cheesecake Recipe for No Water Bath

To adapt other cheesecake recipes for baking without a water bath, follow these modifications:

  • Reduce oven temperature by 25°F.
  • Use an 8 or 9-inch pan instead of a 10-inch to increase depth.
  • Tightly wrap outside of pan in aluminum foil.
  • Add an extra egg yolk for more moisture and richness.
  • Decrease total bake time by 5-10 minutes, checking often toward end.
  • After baking, turn oven off and let cheesecake sit inside for 30 minutes.

The lower heat, foil wrap, and extra yolk will help replicate some of the effects of a water bath. Watch carefully near the estimated finish time and remove just before edges seem overdone. The residual heat will finish cooking without overbaking.

Common Cheesecake Baking Problems and Solutions

Here are some common issues that can occur when baking cheesecake along with troubleshooting tips:

Problem Potential Causes Solutions
Cracked top Overbaking; Cooling too quickly Use water bath; Bake at lower temp; Let cool completely before chilling
Wet/uncooked center Underbaking Bake longer; Check frequently toward end
Dry, grainy texture Overbaking Use water bath; Don’t overbeat; Bake less time
Browned top No water bath; Baked too long Cover pan with foil after browning starts
Sunken center Overbaking; Too hot oven Use water bath; Reduce temp 25°F; Bake just until set
Crumbly, won’t slice Not chilled fully before serving Let cool completely; Refrigerate at least 6-8 hours before serving

Cheesecakes baked in a water bath are more foolproof, but baking without one is possible with some adjustments. Keeping temperature low, allowing gradual cooling, and preventing overbaking are the keys to minimizing common issues.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do you put cheesecake in water?

Placing cheesecake in a water bath while baking provides gentle, moist heat to prevent cracks, drying, and uneven cooking. The water moderates the oven temperature and promotes gradual, thorough baking for the creamiest possible texture.

What can I use instead of a water bath for cheesecake?

If you don’t have a roasting pan available for a water bath, you can tightly wrap the outside of the springform pan in heavy aluminum foil. This helps hold in some moisture to mimic a water bath environment. Reducing oven temperature by 25°F also helps prevent overbaking.

Should you bake cheesecake in a springform pan?

Yes, springform pans are ideal for cheesecake. The removable sides prevent the need to flip the delicate cheesecake out after baking. Springform pans also easily fit into a larger roasting pan for a water bath.

Can I use a cake pan instead of a springform pan?

While not ideal, regular round or square cake pans can work for cheesecake. Grease the pan well, line the bottom with parchment, and be extremely gentle unmolding after chilling so the delicate cake doesn’t crack or tear.

What happens if you don’t let cheesecake cool before refrigerating?

Cheesecake needs time to come down to room temperature before refrigerating or the temperature shock can cause cracks. Cooling gradually allows the cheesecake time to gently set up. A one-two hour slow cooling is best.

How long does cheesecake last in the fridge?

An ungarnished New York style cheesecake will keep well refrigerated for around 5-7 days. Added fruit or chocolate toppings decrease fridge life to 3-5 days. Store cheesecake covered once completely chilled.


While cheesecake bakes most reliably and smoothly using a water bath technique, it is possible create delicious cheesecakes without one using careful adjustments. Lower oven temperature, increased moisture, foil wrapping the pan, and preventing overbaking are keys to minimizing cracking and drying without the steamy environment of a water bath. With vigilant monitoring near the end of baking and gradual cooling, homemade cheesecake can still turn out lusciously creamy even when forgoing the classic hot water setup.