Science of cheesecake

Spis treści

Cheesecake is popular all around the world. But how to make the best one? What is cheesecake actually? What ingredients do you need? How to prepare the cheesecake to prevent collapsing? How to bake ? How to cool it down? How to eat? Dive into the science of cheesecake and try the best recipe ever!
jak zrobić sernik z jagodami
Let’s go into science of cheesecake.
Source: Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash (23.07.2022r.).

What is cheesecake?

Probably most of you will reply that cheesecake is a cake but from a scientific point of view (and terminology), a cheesecake is a pudding or custard. If we have a look into the definition of ‘custard’, which consists of milk or cream (or any other liquid), everything is clear and more than obvious! And one more ingredient that plays a crucial role – eggs. Why? Because they make this liquid mixture into a gel by coagulating their proteins.

co to jest sernik budyń custard
From scientific point of view, cheesecakae is a custard.
Source: Karina Zhukovskaya on Unsplash (23.07.2022r.).

What is gel?

Let me explain you what gel is.  It is a type of colloidal system formed by coagulation of a sol. Too complicated? Make it simpler: it is a substance that is formed while bonds between one of the components are created (for example, proteins, such as those in eggs or gelatine, or polysaccharides, such as starch or agar).

As a result, the liquid mixture becomes semi-solid. It can be soft and quite 'wobbly’, stiff or somewhere in between these two states. Examples? Jam, jelly (the sweet or savoury one), pudding or yoghurt. But let’s get back to our main topic 😉 .

sernik galaretka owocowa co to jest żel
Jam and jelly are examples of gels.
Source: Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash (23.07.2022r.).

What is cheesecake made of?

The main ingredient in cheesecake is, of course, cheese. In Polish cuisine, we always choose ‘twaróg’, called ‘quark’ or cottage cheese but it is a different product. You have to try the Polish version 🙃 My favourite is the one with some crumbles of ‘twaróg’ that gives an interesting texture.

Italians choose ricotta or mascarpone, and Americans a creamy ’Philadelphia’. Go for a cheese that you like and what is more important, the one available in your part of the world. In Norway or the Netherlands you will find 'quark’, which actually resembles… yoghurt or cream, it is slightly thicker, but without any specific taste, in contrast to faint sour crumbly ‘twaróg’.

jaki ser wybrać na sernik
You can make cheesecakea from any cheese you like.
Source: Aidana Khabdesh on Unsplash (23.07.2022r.).

Other ingredients

There is not only cheese. Cheesecake consists of other ingredients like cream (sour or sweet, with more or less fat), butter (or another fat, such as peanut butter or burned butter). Of course, there must be eggs (unless we are talking about a cold cheesecake but that I will mention later) and sugar. Sometimes flour or starch is also added to stabilise the gel and absorb any excess moisture, especially in the case of moisty ricotta. But never add a raising agent!  You will find the reason soon.

jak zrobić domowy sernik z malinami
Eggs are the key ingredient of cheesecake.
Source: Aneta Voborilova on Unsplash (23.07.2022r.).

Ratio of perfect cheesecake

According to cooking and baking expert – Harold McGee, you should put one egg for every 250 ml of filling, the same as in custard. However, more sugar, namely 60 g per 250 ml while in custard is only a half. Of course, you can break these 'rules’ and create a recipe according to yourself and your own tastes.

However, it is worth knowing how each ingredient affects the final result. Thus, more eggs will result in a stronger, stiffer cheesecake. Additional egg yolks, on the other hand, will make a softer, creamier cake. Depending on the desired result and method of serving, it is a good idea to take these relations into account. A cheesecake baked in small moulds (mono portions) may not be as stiff as one baked in a large tin (intended for slicing and sharing).

sernik mini serniczki z sosem truskawkowym
Mono portions of cheesecake don’t have to be so stiff.
Source: Max Nayman on Unsplash (23.07.2022r.).

How to make cheesecake?

We already know the golden proportions and the ingredients of cheesecake, so now it’s time to prepare the mixture. It is a common recommendation that all ingredients should be at room temperature. I am a little sceptical about this approach for a couple of reasons. Firstly, how long does it take to warm the cheese from the fridge to room temperature (throughout, not just on the surface)? Certainly not half an hour, but several, so the likelihood of the spoilage increases, as do the other ingredients (rancidity or fat oxidation too). And planning the baking a few hours in advance can be difficult and discouraging.

More important when preparing the cheesecake is to mix the ingredients quickly but gently. It’s best to start with the cheese, cream and butter with sugar, and once these are combined, only add the eggs and mix on low speed and for as short as possible. Why? Because we don’t want to force air into our mixture, as it will expand during baking and then collapse. This is exactly what we want to avoid.

jak zrobić pyszny sernik
Add eggs to the mixture at the end.
Source: Callum Hill on Unsplash (23.07.2022r.).

How to bake it?

Cheesecake can be baked in two ways. The most well-known is simply baking it in the oven, but the temperature should not be too high: less than 165°C. The New York method recommends an initial (15-minute) baking in a very hot oven (as hot as 260°C) and then lowering the temperature to around 150-160°C.

w jakiej temperaturze piec sernik
It is better to bake cheesecake in lower temperature so less probability of collapsing.
Źródło: Didi Miam on Unsplash (dostęp 23.07.2022r.).

The second method, which is gaining in popularity, is baking the cheesecake in bain-marie (water bath). You have to place tin with the cheesecake in a second, larger form filled with hot water. If you don’t have two tins that would suit together, you can place the cheesecake on one level of the oven and a dish filled with water below it, which will steam as the cake bakes.

jak zrobić delikatny sernik
Baking in bain-marie gives more delicate cheesecake.
Source: congerdesign on Pixabay (23.07.2022r.).

When cheesecake is ready?

Although a baking time (and temperature) is usually given in the recipe, oven baking is uneven and you may find that the suggested time is not suitable for your oven. So it’s worth keeping an eye on the cheesecake throughout baking, and certainly towards the end.

The inside of the filling should reach 63°C. However, if you don’t have a thermometer or don’t want to destroy the smooth surface of the cake, you can do a ’shake’ test. Move the cheesecake tin gently (in the oven) and see how the surface behaves. If it’s still runny and very jiggly, then continue heating. On the other hand, when you notice a slight movement of the cheesecake in the middle, it means that you can already turn off the oven. Then open the door and leave the cake inside to cool it down.

jak upiec sernik
Turn the oven off when the cake is slightly jiggly in the middle.
Source: kosmakurlowicz on Pixabay (23.07.2022r.).

How to cool it down?

Remember not to cut the hot cheesecake under any circumstances (although I know it’s hard to resist that smell wafting throughout the house 🤭 ). It needs chilling in the fridge and slow cooling beforehand. This is one way to minimise the risk of the cake collapsing.

sernik jak chłodzić sernik by nie opadł
Remember to cool cheesecake down before serving.
Source: Alexaander Dummer on Unsplash (23.07.2022r.).

How to prevent cheesecake from collapsing?

Why does the cheesecake collapse? As I mentioned earlier, the aeration of the mixture is the reason why it rinses and then falls down. So under no circumstances should you add baking powder or soda. There are several ways to minimise that risk. I’ve already mentioned them but let’s summarize them. What can be done to prevent the cheesecake from collapsing? Here are the golden tips:

  1. Mix all the ingredients gently, slowly (not at the highest speed of the mixer) and as briefly as possible, just enough to obtain a homogeneous mixture. Lively mixing will infuse more air molecules and bind them.
  2. Bake the cheesecake slowly at a low temperature. This will allow the air that has already accumulated (because it got in during the mixing anyway) to spread gradually and evenly throughout.
jak piec sernik przepis na domowy sernik
High temperature makes a nicely browned surface but at the same time, collapsing of cheesecake.
Źródło: orange31 on Pixabay (dostęp 23.07.2022r.).

3) Don’t bake too long. Remember that the mixture has accumulated a lot of energy during baking and will still be transferring it (to other cake particles and to the surroundings) further for a while.

4) Cool the cheesecake slowly, preferably in the oven with the door ajar after baking. Only then transfer the cake to the fridge. Cooling causes the cake to shrink, actually trapping air or steam, when it is gradual, the less violent it will be.

dlaczego sernik opada jak uniknąć opadnięcia sernika
Follow the above rules and minimize the risk of collapsing.
Source: mahyar mirghasemi on Unsplash (23.07.2022r.).

Types of cheesecake

There are countless cheesecakes, it is even difficult to create any specific categories, but in general we can divide them into baked and no-bake cheesecake, which are thickened not with egg proteins, but usually with gelatine or some polysaccharide, for example agar, carrageenan or starch.

Cheesecakes are usually decorated with a topping: chocolate, caramel, nuts or fruit. For those baked, fruit is not added to the mixture, as it can disrupt the uniform texture of the cake or cause local over-coagulation of the proteins. They also leak water during baking, which will dilute and destroy consistency. To remedy such a situation, fruit should be cooked and flour or starch added to bind the excess juice. However, the safest way is to prepare the topping and decorate the cake after it has been baked and cooled. No-bake cheesecake is a different matter: we can blindly add fruit to it.

truskawkowy sernik na zimno jak zrobić
You can add any fruit (ex. berries) you want to no-bake cheesecakes.
Source: Kura Tregenza on Unsplash (23.07.2022r.).

Cheesecakes can be enriched with a crust: shortbread, yeast or from crushed cookies or cornflakes with butter. The crunch makes cheesecake easier to slice (unless you make it very hard 😜). If you’re using biscuits, I recommend soaking them in milk or pouring some of the cheese mixture over them before adding the rest and baking. On the other hand, raw bottoms, i.e. shortcrust or yeast dough, bake without the cheesecake mixture beforehand. The crust also adds to the elegance, as it 'holds’ better.

waniliowy sernik z prażonymi migdałami
Decorate your  cheesecake with roasted almonds in caramel.
Source: RitaE on Pixabay (23.07.2022r.).

The best cheesecake recipe

This is my mom’s cheesecake recipe – the best one I’ve ever tried. It is tasty, easy and fast to prepare.

Ingredients (for a big tin, 15-20 portions):

sernik karmelowy z czekoladą
You can garnish your cheesecake with caramel and chocolate flakes.
Source: Aliona Gumieniuk on Unsplash (23.07.2022r.).

Melt the butter and let it cool down. Mix the quark, butter, sugar and starch in a bowl. Add one by one egg, stirring gently all the time to make a smooth paste. Prebake crust (ex. shortbread) for 15 minutes at 200°C if you use it or line the tin with biscuits, pour out a little of the mixture and wait a few minutes, then put in the rest.

Place in a preheated to 160°C oven and bake for about 75 minutes, until the cheesecake is ready (as described above). Cool it down in the oven with the door ajar. Then cool in the fridge.

You can top with chocolate ganache, fruit sauce, salted caramel sauce or sprinkle with caramel-roasted nuts.


jak zrobić tradycyjny sernik przepis na sernik
Source: ponce_photography on Pixabay ( 23.07.2022r.).

Have you tested the recipe?

Did  you like my cheesecake?

Share with your friends 🤗

Tag @naukanatalerzu on Instagram or Facebook.

I am looking forward to hearing from you soon! 😊


  • In scientific terms, cheesecake is a custard.
  • The basic ingredients for cheesecake are: quark, cream, butter (or other fat), sugar, eggs and flour or starch.
  • Cheesecake can be baked in two ways: traditionally in the oven or in a bain-marie.
  • To reduce the risk of the cheesecake collapsing, the cheesecake mixture must not be aerated (mix gently but quickly), bake slowly but not too long and cool gradually.
  • The cheesecake can be baked on a crust (shortbread, biscuits) and topped with a sauce (chocolate, caramel, fruit).

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McGee, H. (2007). On food and cooking: the science and lore of the kitchen. Simon and Schuster.

Bandurski, K. & Kaminsky, L. (2020). The Ultimate Guide to Baking Cheesecake.

ThermoBlog (2016). How to Make Cheesecake—Thermal Care Makes Better Cakes.

MasterClass (2022). 10 Types of Cheesecake: 5 Tips for Making Cheesecake.

Science Buddies. Choice Cheesecakes: Which Baking Method is the Best?

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