Using a Cheesecake Water Bath (Baking 101)

So you’re making a cheesecake and the recipe calls for a water bath. If you’re confused, don’t worry, I’m going to teach you all about using a cheesecake water bath: why, when, and how.

I bake all of my cheesecakes in a water bath. It’s an extra step (or three) but I find that using this method ensures a crack-free soft and silky cheesecake. Not sure how to do a water bath (or how to keep it from leaking)? Read on!

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collage photo baking 101: pouring batter into pan and pan in oven in water bath

What is a water bath and why does my cheesecake need one?

A water bath is basically when you place your cheesecake pan in a larger pan (i.e. a roasting pan) and add it to your oven, then add water to the larger pan. The water surrounds the cheesecake pan while the cheesecake is baking.

Cheesecake is a custard and it can be finicky. There are three main reasons to use a water bath:

  1. Allow the cheesecake to bake with even heat: the even heat of the water helps the cheesecake cook evenly so there are no hot spots or overly done areas.
  2. Prevents excess browning: without a water bath the cheesecake will cook faster around the edges. This is often why cheesecakes crack.
  3. Texture: the steam from the water bath creates a moist environment and keeps the cheesecake nice and creamy.
wrapping pan in foil

Preparing your pan for a water bath

Cheesecakes call for springform pans, which have a removable bottom and ring that locks and unlocks for easy removal. The problem with that removable bottom: it’s not sealed.

If you’re using a water bath for your cheesecake but don’t prepare your pan adequately the pan will leak, causing a soggy cheesecake.

Using Foil

Foil is the main way I prepare my pan. I use 2 or 3 layers of heavy duty foil and wrap the pan as shown, up the sides of the pan at least 2 inches.

It’s very important that the foil is the same all the way around the sides – with no “low” spots – so the water doesn’t leak in.

springform pan with foil around the edge

Use an Oven Bag

Another way to prepare your pan is with an oven bag. I like to do this in addition to the foil.

You can use a slow cooker liner OR oven bag (any size). I use Reynold’s oven bags to make my Thanksgiving Turkey, so I always have them on hand.

You can do this one of two ways:

  1. Place the bag around the pan and tie any excess in a knot, then cover it with foil.
  2. Do the foil wrap and then place the bag in the larger pan (making sure the plastic reaches up over where the water goes).

**I highly recommend using the oven bag method if your pan has a bottom that sticks out from the ring. (See what I mean here.) I have a few of those pans and they ALWAYS leak with just foil.

For a visual, check out Lindsay’s post on how to avoid leakage in a water bath.

How to prepare a water bath

Here’s what you need to make your water bath:

  • Your cheesecake, in the properly prepared pan
  • A pan that is larger than the springform pan
  • Kettle of boiling water

What pan to use

You can use any pan that is larger than the original cheesecake pan. I recommend something that is at least 3-inches in diameter wider so you have room for the foil, bag and water and it’s not too tight.

I often use a roasting pan or large cast iron pan, or even a very large round cake pan would work.

pouring water into a water bath in the oven

While you’re baking your cheesecake, boil water in a kettle or pot on the stove. I recommend a kettle because it’s easier for pouring.

How much water do you need? It depends on the size of your larger pan: you want to fill it up about 1 inch around your springform pan, so I’d say at least 4 cups, probably more. Just fill up your kettle and you’ll have enough.

Place the pan in the preheated oven. Carefully pour the boiling water around the cheesecake, being careful to avoid the foil/bag so it doesn’t get inside your pan.

Then just bake your cheesecake according to the recipe directions. Carefully remove the baked cheesecake from the water bath and let it cool. Discard boiling water carefully.

How you know your cheesecake is done

You never want to over bake your cheesecakes or you’ll end up with a dry one, water bath or not.

Your cheesecake should pass the wiggle test: it should wiggle a bit in the center (like Jell-O) when it’s done. The outer part of the cheesecake won’t move – the wiggle test is just for the center. If the cheesecake ripples or wiggles entirely, then it’s not done.

Then enjoy your delicious and crack-free cheesecake, thanks to your water bath!

slice of key lime cheesecake on white plate

Using a water bath might seem confusing but it’s easy to do and is the perfect way to get a creamy and crack-free cheesecake every time!

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