Cheesecake is the kind of dessert that requires you to fully commit well before you flick on the oven. It takes a lot of time, specific tools, and an unholy amount of cream cheese. Providing everything goes right, removing a sloshing tray of 350-degree water along with a three-pound cheesecake is rarely a pretty sight. The stress is enough to make you squeeze your eyes shut and exclaim, “I wish there was a way to have an evenly baked cheesecake with no water bath!” (If you are the dramatic sort, anyway.) And legend has it that if you wish hard enough, an air fryer will appear.
I normally limit my cheesecake adventures to the holiday season because of how many accommodations the dessert needs to actually turn out right. You can certainly throw caution to the wind and embrace a cracked cheesecake, a dry or fallen cheesecake, or tell people you made a Basque burnt cheesecake on purpose. (It’s supposed to be burnt on top, I swear!) If, however, you want a silky smooth cheesecake with no cracks, a lightly tanned top, and even cooking from edge to center, then you need to plan every single thing, from ingredients to cooling time.
The ingredients, especially the cream cheese, need to be room temperature so they blend easily and well. The cheesecake will probably need to be in a springform pan that’s mummified in aluminum foil so water doesn’t seep in. Seep in from where, you ask? The giant casserole dish with a two-inch flood of water in it, of course! To ensure even cooking, a water bath (or bain-marie) is employed. This helps keep the edges from overcooking and drying out before the center sets. It makes sense logically, but that doesn’t keep it from sucking. Even if you have an easy protocol for dumping a gallon of hot water into your oven without burning yourself or making a mess, you still need to bake it for about an hour, topping up the water bath every time too much evaporates.
After reading the New York Times’ recipe for an air fryer cheesecake (which is subscription locked, but this one is the same recipe), I was incredulous…at first. They claim that you can make an uncracked, evenly cooked, not burnt cheesecake without a water bath. Ha! Furthermore, all of this fantastical magicianry will occur in 30 minutes or less? Now I’ve heard it all. To put these apparently bold-faced lies to rest, I needed to try it out for myself.
The recipe was incredibly easy, and otherwise nothing special: A typical New York cheesecake with cream cheese, eggs, and condensed milk over a graham cracker crumb crust. Make sure to check that your intended springform pan fits in the air fryer before outfitting it with parchment paper. I used a 6-inch springform pan which fit easily in my air fryer, although I think I could get away with an 8-inch pan if I had one. With the crumb crust pressed in, I placed the pan into the basket of the machine, and poured in the batter. If you have a door version, then you would fill the pan first and carefully slide it in the air fryer. I clicked on the “bake” setting and let it do its business for 25 minutes at 350 F.
Since I have a basket model with no window, I had to operate on faith. It could have been burning or overflowing and I would have never known. Once the time was up, I yanked open the machine and shook my head. The darn thing was gorgeous. It was puffed, and jiggled perfectly when I shook it—not just in the center, like a cheesecake baked in the oven that might sink because of uneven cooking; it jiggled nearly across the entire surface. (A highly sought after movement in the cheesecake world.) I cooled the cheesecake overnight to ensure it was set, and removed the springform sleeve with unusual ease.
No easier, faster, more perfect New York-style cheesecake was ever made. My first reaction was actually irritation; apparently, I have been doing too much work making cheesecakes in the past. Not only was the texture even and silky, but the entire process entailed but a fraction of the trouble I face doing things the classic way. I did not need to fuss with a water bath at all, nor clean it up, and the air fryer did not make my entire apartment hot like my oven will after it’s been baking something for an hour.
Since an air fryer is a countertop convection oven, the fan feature ensures even heating and speeds up the cooking process. For the cheesecake, this worked perfectly, and I am looking forward to testing it with my traditional Friendsgiving pumpkin cheesecake. In fact, since it’s so easy, I’ll be experimenting with other cheesecake recipes to see how universal the air fryer method is. Adding the air fryer to your baking tool kit is indispensable during the holidays, when the oven is jam-packed with numerous casseroles and roasts that cook at a variety of temperatures. It’ll save time and space, so, just maybe, you can have an extra 15 minutes to enjoy your own party.
Air Fryer Classic New York Cheesecake
(Adapted from The New York Times)
- 1 cups graham cracker crumbs
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 24 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
- 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- A squeeze of lemon juice
Butter a 6, 7, or 8-inch springform pan, and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.
In a small bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter. Stir and press until the mixture resembles wet sand and loosely clumps together. Press the mixture into the bottom of the springform pan.
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Blend the cream cheese with one egg. Scrape down the walls of the bowl and add the second egg. Scrape down the bowl and mix one more time to make sure the cream cheese and eggs are smoothly incorporated. Add half of the condensed milk and mix until blended. Scrape down the bowl and mix in the second half of the condensed milk. Mix in the vanilla and the lemon juice until smooth. (By the way, you can’t over-scrape the bowl.)
Place the prepared springform pan into the basket of the air fryer. Pour the cheesecake batter over the crumb crust until it’s a ¼-inch from the top of the pan. (You might have a small amount leftover if you are using a 6-inch pan.) Gently slide the basket into the machine and set it to “bake” at 300°F for 25 minutes. The cake is done when it jiggles and is lightly browned on the top, but it should not be watery.
Remove the pan gently from the air fryer and allow it to cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Cool in the fridge for four hours or overnight before you unmold it. Serve cold. This cheesecake will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week if well-wrapped, or in the freezer for up to two months. Defrost frozen cheesecake overnight in the fridge.
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