How to Bake Using a Water Bath

Some recipes call for a “water bath” as part of the cooking instructions.  A water bath is simply a pan of hot water placed in the oven, and using this method has two benefits when baking.

First, a water bath adds moisture to the oven and this is important for baking foods like cheesecakes, which tend to crack from the heat of the oven, or custards which can become rubbery without moist heat.

Second, using the water bath method also provides a more even, slower heat source than the direct heat of an oven which is also important for preparing foods like cheesecakes and custards.

(For these instructions, we are using a water bath to bake a cheesecake. And, because springform pans are notorious for leaking, we are wrapping the bottom of the pan in foil to avoid any water from seeping into the pan which would make the cheesecake crust too wet.)

To bake using a water bath, you will need a baking pan that is large enough to hold a springform pan (or other baking dish), and is also large enough to allow for water to surround the springform pan.

Next, cut a large single sheet of aluminum foil, making sure that it is wide enough to surround all sides of your springform pan.  (We recommend using extra wide aluminum foil if it is available rather than two narrower pieces of foil to avoid any chance of leaking.)

Wrap the pan, making sure that the sides of the pan are fully covered by the foil.  Also make sure that you don’t tear the foil as you wrap it.

Per your recipe instructions, prepare your cheesecake and place the springform pan into the baking pan.  Then, add about an inch of very hot water to the baking pan so it surrounds the pan.  You want to add enough water to the pan to ensure that the water does not fully evaporate during the baking process.

Bake according to your recipe instructions.  And…you should come out with a perfectly baked cheesecake with no cracks.

You may enjoy these recipes that use Water Bath Baking:

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  • Evvy Jane wrote:

    I just made my first cheesecake, a marscapone cheesecake, using a water bath. PLEASE let people know that you can get hit with a blast of steam when you open the door.
    EXERCISE CAUTION, stand to the side of the oven door, open it and let the steam escape before you remove the cake. I was burned on my lips, cheeks, nose, brow and eyelid from the rush of steam hitting my face. I don’t know if this was a freak thing or to be expected, but I would advise caution to avoid serious injury.

    • Martha wrote:

      Wow Evvy – I’m so sorry to hear this! We’ve never experienced the level of heat or steam coming out of the oven that you described, but if you put a lot of water (more than an inch) in the pan, I suppose it can happen. Either way – thank you for emailing us with the suggestion and I hope you feel better soon.

  • Tom Miller wrote:

    Would baking two nine inch cheese cakes, not submerging them in a water bath, but rather placing a pan of water on the bottom rack work as well? Or are you also relying on the water slowing the cooking of the outer edge of the submerged pan?

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Tom – Great question! I think the answer is specific to your recipe…if you are following either the pumpkin cheesecake or classic cheesecake recipes from our site, I’d say that having the pan of water underneath should work. In both of those cases, the purpose of the water bath is to create enough moisture in the oven so that the tops of the cheesecake won’t crack. (Just make sure you place boiling water in the pan so that the water is already steaming at the start of your baking time. And – make sure that the two cheesecake pans aren’t touching so the heat in the oven will circulate.) We do have a couple of baked pudding recipes on our site that call for a water bath too, and those benefit from the more indirect heat of a water bath around the baking dish (and the water in the pan is filled higher up the side of the dish too) so that the entire pudding stays soft as it cooks through. I’m not sure I’ve completely answered your question – but I hope that helps point you in the right direction.

  • Tom Miller wrote:

    Martha, thanks for the reply! I just heard about special liners being used to keep crockpots clean. I wonder if the 9″ springform pan might fit into one of these crock pot liners and if so, if that might be an effective way to ensure the water bath liquid does not seep into the springform!? We might have to cut down the sides of the bag and wire tie it to the sides of the pan. I think I will buy some and try it out!

    • Martha wrote:

      Please let us know how it works out Tom!

  • kris wrote:

    i have used a baking bag, like one for a turkey, to put my cheese cake pans in so they do not leak when in a water bath. i find it is MUCH safer than foil. , those bags do not leak.

    • Martha wrote:

      Great suggestion Kris! Especially for someone who doesn’t have the wide foil on hand. Thank you for taking the time to write to us today!

  • Al wrote:

    I unfortunately did not have wide foil when I baked my cheesecake, resulting in moisture on the top when taken out of the fridge the next morning. My question is will that moisture hinder the quality of the cake?
    Thank You

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi – You might see some moisture spots but I think the flavor will be just fine!

  • Susie Harrison wrote:

    I came across this because I’m one of those natural’s in the kitchen that comes up with all kinds of ideas. Only this time I put chicken, herbs, and gravy in a smaller baking pan and put that smaller pan inside a large metal baking pan with an inch of water. I did this hoping to cook the chicken but keep it moist without using too much water actually in the meat. So I googled cooking a dish in a pan within a pan. While this page is for deserts, I’ll let you know how my chicken comes out. Just was looking to find if I had to increase my oven temperature when doing this with chicken ‘in bathwater’? I did some.

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Susie – I think as long as you are starting with very hot/boiling water in your roasting pan, you won’t need to increase the temperature. But either way – please let us know how it comes out!

  • Laura wrote:

    Ok I have a question! I am an experienced baker and had made the same flourless chocolate cake recipe dozens of times using a water bath. Today I put it in the metal cake pan in a glass pyrex baking dish and poured boiling water into the dish about halfway up the cake pan. I let it bake and went to put my daughter down for a nap and had to rush downstairs because the oven was smoking because the top of the cake was burnt! The only thing I can think of is that I set the oven to the wrong temperature, but it was set correctly when I looked at it so it seems so unlikely that this was the issue! Do you have ANY idea why that would happen? I have googled to no end without any luck! Could using a glass baking dish for the water bath effect it?

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Laura – I do think it’s the likely cause. While I haven’t personally experimented with water baths in glass vs metal pans, I do know that the general rule of thumb is to reduce the oven temperature by about 25 degrees when baking in a glass or ceramic pan vs a metal pan. I suspect there was enough of a temperature difference for you today. Hope that helps!

  • Martha Ingier wrote:

    Martha can I use a water bath for banana bread mine seems to come out cracked and dark brown in plain oven … your thoughts!!!
    Thank you Martha Ingier

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Martha – You can certainly try…rather than placing the loaf pan directly in a water bath, I’d first try placing a shallow pan of hot water in the bottom of the oven. That way the loaf pan will still get the same circulating direct heat but the pan of water will add moisture. Please let us know how it comes out!

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