Traditionally, cheesecakes are baked in a springform pan, and a purist may insist this is the only true way to bake a cheesecake. But cheesecakes will turn out just fine when baked in a pie pan or other baking dish, although you may have to adjust the baking time or filling quantity. Call the dessert "cheesecake bars" to appease any foodies at the dinner table.
At its simplest, cheesecake is a sweet custard made with cream cheese -- or sometimes ricotta or cottage cheese -- and egg, most often baked in a graham cracker crust. Cheesecake may also be made with nut crust, cookie crust, shortbread crust or no crust at all. When making a cheesecake, always start with the filling ingredients at room temperature and do not over-beat the mixture. Cold ingredients won't blend well, and if the cheesecake filling is mixed too much it won't rise, or will rise and then fall. Cheesecakes are usually cooked slowly at low heat so the filling stays creamy and does not crack. Some recipes call for a water bath. The water insulates the cheesecake from the extreme temperatures of the oven and helps the filling bake evenly.
Types of Baking Dishes
Most recipes ask you to bake your cheesecake in a springform pan. A springform pan is made up of two pieces, a round, flat base and a removable collar that forms the walls of the pan. Springform pans come in a variety of sizes, but a 9-inch diameter is the most common. Pie pans are also round and most often 9 inches in diameter, but the walls of a pie pan are sloped and much shallower than springform pans. Cheesecakes can also be baked in square or rectangular baking dishes, or even in muffin tins.
Using a Pie Pan
Depending on how high it is, a 9-inch springform pan will hold 10 to 12 cups of filling, while a 9-inch pie pan will only hold 5 cups, or up to 8 cups if it is a deep-dish pie pan. To convert a springform pan cheesecake recipe to be baked in a pie pan, you will need to either cut the filling amount in half and bake it in one pie pan, or double the amount of crust and make two cheesecakes. Because pie pans are shallower, your cheesecake will bake more quickly, and you will likely have to dramatically reduce baking time. If your springform recipe calls for you to bake it for 45 minutes, start checking the pie pan cheesecake after 25 minutes. If you are using a glass pie pan, reduce the heat by about 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
Flavors and Toppings
Classic cheesecake is often topped with fresh strawberries or cherry pie filling, but cheesecake works well with many flavors. Try adding cooked pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices to the cheesecake filling before baking, and top the cooled cheesecake with caramel and candied pecans. Make a chocolate cookie crust and fold in miniature chocolate chips to the cheesecake batter. Add vanilla extract, lemon juice or maple syrup to the batter for subtle hint of flavor.