When cooking or baking, food scientists (that’s me!) like to disseminate their food and all what’s going on. So when you’re baking a cheesecake and it’s in the oven, you start thinking about what’s happening in that oven.
A cheesecake filling tends to be sugar + cream cheese a/o sour cream + eggs. There may be some more flavours or some starches or flour. You quickly figure out that the eggs (and flour/starch if present) are cooking the cheesecake filling and transforming it from a liquid into a wobbly solid like gel.
Cheesecakes can have this tendency to turn somewhat dry though, especially the outer layers, if they are exposed to the dry heat of an oven. Instead, I prefer a soft, smooth and moist cheesecake filling. So, continuing the food science train of thought, how could I to do that?
In comes the recently purchased InstantPot! Pressure cooking a cheesecake can actually help to get this super smooth soft cheesecake structure we’re looking for.
Why make cheesecake in an InstantPot?
Plenty of cheesecake recipes call for cooking the cheesecake in a water bath in the oven instead of stand alone in the center. The water will ensure that the outside of the tin will not become any warmer than 100C (boiling point of water). This way it reduces the risk of overheating the outside while under cooking the inside. It help get that soft wobbly cheesecake structure.
Nowadays though, other solutions should be available, isn’t it? It seems that all you need is a humid but very hot environment for the custard/cheesecake to set. In comes the new Instant Pot (or another pressure cooker). The pressure cooking setting of the InstantPot is such a humid but hot environment.
When you pressure cook (as we describe in more detail here) water vapor cannot escape the InstantPot when it starts boiling. If you still continue heating though the pressure will start building up and the temperature of the water will go up (related to the gas law!). The pot will be full of very hot water vapor (the exact temperature depends on your pressure cooker and on how much pressure it can contain for the InstantPot it’s a little lower than for dedicated pressure cookers). This so happens to be a perfect environment for a cheesecake to be cooked in!
The high temperatures (well above 100C) even speed up cooking compared to baking in a water bath. Moreover, since it’s so humid in the pressure cooker, the cheesecake won’t really have a chance to dry out.
What desserts can be made in an Instant Pot?
Of course, you can’t just make a cheesecake in an InstantPot. Just about any dessert that needs a high temperature environment (but not higher than about 120C) and a humid moist environment can be made in the InstantPot. This will include a lot of custard based desserts, rice puddings and even some cakes. A good rule of thumb would be anything that is normally baked in a boiling pot of water in the oven (e.g. British puddings!).
What desserts can’t be made in an InstantPot?
Since the InstantPot doesn’t really get that hot (compared to an oven) and since it is very moist in there, not everything can be made in an InstantPot.
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Anything that needs some good browning during baking, e.g. your regular cake that turns a nice golden colour, won’t work that well in the InstantPot.
Also, products that need to become crispy won’t work. In order for the food to become crispy it has to be dry enough in the pressure cooker for the moisture to escape from the product. Only when the product is dry enough will it become crispy (as we saw for chicken skins!). So a muffin with a crispy outside won’t turn out as good in the InstantPot. The cheesecake that we made in the InstantPot (see recipe below) didn’t have a super crunchy crust either (although it wasn’t soggy).
- 135g plain cookies of your choice (e.g. Graham crackers, Digestive biscuits)
- 25g pecan halves(*)
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon(^)
- 45g sugar
- 75g butter (softened or melted)
Cream cheese filling
- 280g cream cheese(#)
- 150g sour cream
- 2 eggs
- pinch of salt
- zest of one lemon
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1,5 tbsp cornstarch (")
- 100g sugar
- Add the cookies, pecans, cinnamon and sugar to a food processor. Process them until it's become a fine crumb.
- Add the butter to the mixture in the food processor and mix until it has become homogeneous.
- Take a spring form, cover with a thin layer of butter. Add the cookie crust mixture to the spring form and, using your fingers, cover the bottom and the sides with the mixture. Ensure it has an even thickness and that there aren't holes for the filling to sink through.
- Cool the crust in the freezer to make the butter set and the whole crust to firm up.
Cream cheese filling
- Take the food processor you used for the crust (no need to completely clean it). Add all the ingredients to the food processor and process for a couple of seconds to mix it all together.
- Take the cold crust and pour in the filling. Take care that the filling cannot leak through the crust. It is worthwhile to put the spring form in some aluminium so any moisture that looks out doesn't get out. Cover the spring form with some aluminium foil, you don't want moisture dropping in from the top.
- For your pressure cooker, place the steaming rack that lifts the spring form from the bottom of the pot and place it in the pot. Add water, approx. 350 ml but this depends on your pressure cooker, you need to make sure the spring form doesn't stand in the water and that there's enough to create pressure with the steam.
- Place the spring form on top, close the pressure cooker and pressure cook for 60 minutes.
- Leave the pressure on after those 60 minutes and only release the pressure after another 25 minutes.
- Take from the Instant Pot and leave to cool down before cutting in. The filling should have a nice 'wobble'.
* The pecans give the crust a bit of a nutty character, if you don't want to use nuts in this recipe you can leave them out.
^ Feel free to add more spices! You can add pumpkin spice in fall, gingerbread spices in winter. A combination we liked: 1 tsp cinnamon + 1/2 tsp ginger + 1/2 tsp nutmeg + 1/2 tsp all spice
# If you want to add some fresh fruit juice (we tested with orange juice) you can leave out approx. 60g of the cream cheese and replace with, e.g. fresh orange juice or even some orange pieces. Just make sure it passes through the food processor and all the fruits are broken down.
" The reason we use corn starch is to help set the cheesecake. If you don't want to use corn starch you will have to add at least one extra egg to help set the cheesecake. You could theoretically also make the cheesecake without any eggs and more corn starch, however, it will lose some of its richness and airiness.