Cheesecake can be uniformly sleek and dense; airy and wobbly like souffle; or burnt on the outside and molten within. But there’s nothing quite like the New York kind: Dark brown at the surface with a gentle downward slope from edge to center, which acts as a map of the interior’s texture. Its slightly puffed-up perimeter gives way to a more luxurious, plush core that lingers on the palate like rich suede.
Foolproof New York CheesecakeFor the perfect New York slice of cheesecake, we carefully adjusted our oven to achieve a lush texture and a beautiful brown top.
The textural and visual contrast that defines this style is typically produced by a high-to-low oven method: an initial blast of heat that puffs the sides and browns the top before the temperature is turned way down for the remainder of baking to ensure just the right velvety interior.
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But baking cheesecakes in a variety of test kitchen ovens made me realize that this method works only in ovens that lose heat at a particular rate. If the oven is more thoroughly insulated and the temperature falls too slowly, the cheesecake will overcook; if the oven is less well insulated and the temperature falls too quickly, the beautifully browned exterior of the cheesecake is likely to hide a soupy, raw interior.
I confirmed this theory after monitoring the time it took three different ovens in the test kitchen to fall from 500 to 200 degrees. The results were all over the map.
My solution: Eliminate the drop in oven temperature as a variable by reversing the typical high-to-low method. I baked the cake in a 200-degree oven until it was completely set, removed it, and then cranked the heat to 500 degrees. Once the oven came up to temperature, I placed the cake on the upper rack, where in just 10 minutes the top browned and the edges puffed, creating that characteristic slope from edge to center.