This sour cream cheesecake recipe is a family favorite! Sour cream adds a wonderful tang to this perfectly sweetened baked cheesecake. An easy graham cracker crust and a simple method of prep (no water bath!) round out this classic dessert staple.
This post has been a long time coming! It’s my mom’s cheesecake recipe, which has been a mainstay in my dessert memory for decades.
As the story goes, many years ago my mom misread a recipe that called for a layer of sour cream to be added to the top of the cheesecake. Instead of reserving some of the two cups of sour cream, she added it all to the batter, only realizing her “mistake” once the cheesecake was already in the oven.
We say “mistake” in quotes because the end result turned out to be the best cheesecake she ever made. With a few additional tweaks, it’s now our beloved family cheesecake recipe.
Perfectly sweetened and creamy with a complementary tang, this sour cream cheesecake is always the star of the dessert table.
One of the (many) things I love about cheesecake is the simplicity of the ingredients, in both the crust and the filling.
The crust features just two: graham crackers and melted butter.
Give the graham crackers a whirl in the food processor to break them up into fine crumbs, then combine them in a bowl with melted butter. Press them into the bottom and sides of a springform pan, then bake for 16-18 minutes, or until set and slightly browned.
Technically you don’t have to pre-bake the graham cracker crust, but I prefer to as it crisps it up that much more. Homemade cheesecake isn’t exactly an instant gratification type of dessert anyway, so I find this extra step worth it.
For this iteration of sour cream cheesecake I used regular graham crackers, but I’m a *big* fan of using chocolate graham crackers for the crust, too. Either one works!
Psst – if you’re a fan of them, these homemade chocolate graham crackers are always a hit. I wouldn’t go through all that trouble to make them for a cheesecake crust, but they’re a great standalone treat.
As for the rest of the ingredients, the simplicity continues. You’ll need:
- cream cheese
- vanilla extract
- sour cream
Plus whatever you’d like to serve as a topping/decoration. Fresh berries are my pick.
While the ingredients are simple, the steps admittedly get a little finicky.
I’m about to wade into dicey waters here by my next statement, but here goes: I reliably make this crack-less cheesecake in the oven — without a water bath.
Not that I think a crack in a cheesecake is the end of the world. Far from it. My mom never uses a water bath and isn’t as finicky as I’ve become with the method, and if a crack develops in the middle? Well, just throw some berries over top to hide it and keep on moving.
That’s my cooking style most of the time, but I challenged myself to see if I could have the best of both worlds, producing a crack-less cheesecake without the hassle of a water bath.
The answer is yes.
Baking a cheesecake without a water bath
There are several important steps to cheesecake baking for best results and to help ward off a crack.
- Bake it at a low temperature. We’re going with 325°F here.
- Mix up all the ingredients in a food processor, and/or make sure they’re at room temperature and not cold straight from the fridge.
- Don’t overbake! It might look a little underdone when it’s time to take it out of the oven.
- Immediately loosen the edges from the sides of the pan once it’s out of the oven.
- Let the cheesecake sit at room temperature for a few hours before refrigerating.
A lower temperature isn’t anything new when it comes to cheesecake, but using a food processor might be. A food processor works less air into the batter when it comes to mixing things up than a hand mixer does.
Less air in the batter = less rising in the oven = less contracting out of the oven = less chance of a crack forming
If you don’t have a food processor (or one big enough), you can use a hand or stand mixer, but go for room temperature ingredients. This way they get combined together quicker, with less opportunity for for air to be incorporated in there.
If your first instinct is anything like mine, you won’t want to remove the cheesecake from the oven if the center looks a little liquid-y. It just goes against what we’ve come to know works with baking, you know?
But power through that feeling! This sour cream cheesecake is done baking when the very center is still looking a bit liquid-y and jiggles. The residual heat will continue cooking it as it sits at room temperature to cool down, so waiting until the top is firm firm will likely overdo it.
Once the cheesecake is out of the oven, right away you’ll want to carefully run a thin spatula or paring knife along the edges to gently separate the cake from the pan. This way as the cheesecake cools, it can contract with the surface intact.
Otherwise the sides of the cheesecake will stick to the pan, causing a crack to form in the middle.
After that’s done, let the cheesecake have ample time to cool gradually out at room temperature before chilling in the refrigerator. And that’s it! After being sufficiently chilled, your (hopefully crack-less) cheesecake will be ready for slicing, serving, and enjoying.
- See the body of the post above for in-depth notes about avoiding cracks in your cheesecake without using a water bath.
- Full-fat versions of cream cheese and sour cream are my picks here. It’s dessert, after all. 🙂
- An easy and delicious switch-up is using chocolate graham crackers for the crust.
Sour Cream Cheesecake
- 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 14 1/2 full sheets)
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted (8 tbsp)
- 24 oz cream cheese, ideally room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 4 eggs, ideally room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 16 oz sour cream, ideally room temperature
For the graham cracker crust:
- Preheat oven to 325°F. Coat the bottom and sides of a 9"-round springform pan generously with cooking spray.
- Roughly snap 14 1/2 sheets of graham crackers into smaller pieces to fit in the bowl of a food processor. See recipe notes if you don't have a food processor.
- Pulse until fine crumbs, scraping down the sides as needed to break up all of the pieces. Wipe out food processor to use later.
- Add graham cracker crumbs to a mixing bowl. Pour in melted butter and stir together until combined.
- Turn out graham cracker crust mixture into the prepared springform pan and evenly press it onto the bottom and sides of the pan very well. You want the crust mixture to be as dense as you can make it. Aim to bring the crust about halfway up the sides of the pan.
- Bake for 16-18 minutes, or until the crust is set and slightly browned. Let the pan cool on a wire rack while you prepare the cheesecake filling.
For the cheesecake:
- Add cream cheese, sugar, and salt to the bowl of a large (at least 7-cup) food processor. See recipe notes if you don't have a food processor. Process for one minute, scraping down the sides to incorporate all of the ingredients as needed.
- Add the eggs one at a time, pulsing for several seconds after each addition to mix them in. Add the vanilla extract and pulse in, as well.
- Add the sour cream and and process for 20-30 seconds, or until fully incorporated.
- Pour out the cheesecake mixture into the cooled crust.
- Bake for 65-70 minutes, or until the edges and *most* of the top is set. The very 2"-ish of the center may appear liquid-y still and jiggle, but will firm up from residual heat as the cheesecake cools and sits out at room temperature.
- Immediately once you remove the cheesecake from the oven, take a thin knife or spatula and carefully run it along the edge to completely loosen the cheesecake from the pan. This helps prevent the cheesecake from cracking when it contracts as it cools.
- Let the cheesecake sit at room temperature for 2 hours (or until close to room temperature), then transfer to the refrigerator to chill very well, for at least 4-5 hours, before slicing and serving.
- For the crust: Add graham cracker sheets to a large, sealable bag and crush into fine crumbs using a rolling pin or a meat tenderizer.
- For the cheesecake filling: You can use a hand or stand mixer, but I recommend if going this route that you use room temperature ingredients. This way they don't take as long to mix together, which lessens the amount of air that gets incorporated into the batter (which can lead to cracking).
Nutritional information is provided as an estimate. As it can vary due to many factors (brands used, quantities, etc.), we cannot guarantee its accuracy.