Question: When I bake cheesecake, cracks appear on the surface. Why is that?

Answer: Sylvia Thompson, a contributor to "The Joy of Cooking" and author of "The Birthday Cake Book," says cracks on the surface of a cheesecake may result from excess air in the mixture (which makes it rise and then fall like a souffle), high temperature, overbaking or cooling too quickly.There are two types of cheesecake, and the kind you want also affects whether or not it cracks. One is a smooth, evenly baked custard with a comparatively soft crust and no cracks. The other is a dense, creamy custard with deeper flavor, a crisper crust and a crack or two.

For the smooth style of dessert, use a recipe that calls for putting the cake pan in a hot water bath in the oven. Hot water acts as insulation and almost invariably keeps the cake from cracking.

For the creamy style of cheesecake, use a recipe that calls for baking at a high temperature for about 15 minutes, then finishes the cooking at a very low temperature. Cracks often appear on this type of cheesecake, but they are easily, and deliciously, disguised by a glaze and fruit slices.