What Is a Water Bath and Why Do I Need It for My Cheesecake?

Updated: Apr. 10, 2024

Making cheesecake? Water bath baking can help you prevent cracks and create the gorgeous dessert of your dreams. One of our Test Kitchen experts explains the ins and outs of the bain-marie.

Not all cheesecake recipes are the same. Some are rich and chocolatey, some are fresh and fruity and others are just plain good like this New York cheesecake. But there’s one thing that all these Taste of Home recipes have in common: They’re all baked in a water bath.

New bakers or folks that don’t bake many cheesecakes might be asking what is a water bath? and why do I need to use one? We’ll answer all those questions and more!

What is a water bath?

A water bath is simply a pan of hot water that you place in the oven. Also called a bain-marie, a water bath helps more delicate bakes—particularly cheesecakes—bake more evenly.

Our prep kitchen manager and cheesecake baker extraordinaire, Catherine Ward, explains that to make a water bath, all you need is a large pan and hot water. A high-sided roasting pan works great for cheesecake, but you can use any large, deep dish you have. Fill the pan with hot water just about an inch up the side because the pan you fit inside will displace a lot of water.

What does a water bath do for cheesecake?

A water bath is crucial for the success of a good cheesecake. The hot water surrounds the pan and bakes the filling gently and evenly—exactly what slightly fussy bakes like cheesecake need.

But the water bath has other benefits when it comes to cheesecake. According to Catherine, “The water bath creates a moist atmosphere that keeps the cake from drying out and cracking.” And we all know that a crack in a gorgeous cheesecake can be disappointing, so using a bain-marie is a good way to avoid that common problem.

Cheesecake water bath tips

Using a water bath in baking is fairly straightforward, but Catherine has a few tips to ensure successful cheesecakes:

  • Always, always, always use hot water in your water bath. “Using cold water will change your oven temperature and bake time,” Catherine warns.
  • Don’t overfill the pan. An inch or so of hot water should be plenty. Large cheesecake pans displace a lot of water. (Or you can fill the pan after you’ve set in your cheesecake, too.)
  • Be careful not to splash! You don’t want any water getting into your perfect cheesecake batter, so be careful as you fill.
  • Protect your cheesecake by either setting your springform pan inside a slightly larger cake pan before placing in the water bath or wrapping your pan in foil—yes, even if it’s “leak-proof.” You don’t want any water seeping inside.

Be sure to check out even more cheesecake tips here.

What else can I use a water bath for?

Water baths are commonly associated with cheesecakes, but they do come in handy for plenty of other tasty recipes. Baked custards like flan and creme brulee benefit from a water bath. The same goes for souffle.

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