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Cracked Cheesecake at bakery

I recently started working at a bakery as a counter boy. I have worked at a Japanese restaurant and at some Mexican restaurants, but never at a bakery. I must admit that it's new and there are many things that I don't know, but even with my inexperience I can see not everything is right in the bakery. Messy cakes with strawberries of all sizes that make decorations look sloppy, usage of trays without subsequent washing (the baker only tears off the wax paper and reuses the tray with a fresh one), frosting you can clearly taste the grease on and isn't smooth, etc. However what seems to me an obvious mistake is the presence of huge cracks on the cheesecakes. Now I must admit that I do not eat or bake cheesecake, I do not like it. But I always thought that cracks were a no-no, especially in a professional bakery. Am I crazy? Or is this normal?

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  1. Cheesecake cracks happen. Often they are filled in with a topping or sour cream - they are there, you just don't see them. The cheesecake expands as it heats and forms a skin that contracts and cracks as it cools. Are the bakers happy with the cheesecake? If they (and the customers) like the recipe and production methods, you should stay out of it.

    Do you have a source for perfectly uniform sized strawberries? At the price the bakery wants to pay?

    Not washing sheet pans between uses is common, even customary. If the sheet pan was covered with parchment the first time it was used, then covered with a fresh sheet of parchment the next time it was used, what do you think is going to be left on the sheet pan and bleed through the parchment? Wet sheet pans suck for baking.

    It may or may not be a good bakery, but those practices are normal.

    1 Reply
    1. re: babette feasts

      Thank you for your response! I feel better knowing it's normal, mostly because at the restaurants I worked at things were done very very differently, but I should have known bakeries and restaurants are a completely different thing.

    2. Does the bakery use a water bath for the cheese cakes. The most common cause of cracks is high heat and low surrounding moisture. I agree, that most are covered with some fruit compote where the smaller cracks get hidden. Grease or lard in a frosting is a cheap way to make it, not something from a texture standpoint that I like. As for the reuse of a sheet pan, it was lined so I have no problem with that practice.

      4 Replies
      1. re: treb

        treb..........
        The commercial bakery I worked in (80,000 sq ft of production) never used water baths for baking cheesecakes. The commercial ovens had a function which allowed the release of steam into the oven if humidity level was too low. They baked about 300 each day. The spring form cake pans were placed on parchment on sheet-pans. The sheet-pans went on shelves that revolved in a cake oven. The cake oven had 6 shelves, each shelve could hold 4 sheet-pans. Our revolving tray bread ovens could hold 100 sheet-pans and the tunnel bread oven could hold 600 loaves at a time.
        As noted below cake tops were baked separately on parchment covered sheet-pans (they required about 12 minutes) and the cakes were assembled when cooled. Looking at the pictures I see cakes that baked too long or at too high a temperature. Looks like this bakery bakes a variety of items at the same time, might not have separate ovens for cake and breads and could use a better trained oven man.

        What consumers don't realise: commercial bakers don't bake, they mix and assemble the items to be baked. Oven men bake the assembled product.

        1. re: bagelman01

          Yah, I get the commercial side, maybe not enough humidity coming from the ovens.

        2. re: treb

          We do not use a water bath. The baker leaves the oven doors slightly open, and says the cheesecakes get enough moisture from the outside. Is this correct or could it influence the cracks on the cheesecakes?
          I do not have a problem with the reuse of a sheet pan per se, what bothers me is that sheets used for cake bars and brownies that leave residue in the sides unprotected by the lining are not washed thoroughly, there is usually still greasiness left.

          1. re: Monigote

            I don't agree with your baker that the cheesecakes get enough moisture from the oven door being left slightly open. That said, a water bath is not common in commercial baking. The cakes look like they are:
            1. overbaked-in oven too long
            2. baked at too high a temperature
            3. have too dry a batter to begin with
            4. any combination of the above

            The greasiness on the side of the sheet pans should not matter. Fir example the cheesecakes go in springform pans on the sheet pans. Chances are that when you make sheet cakes the baker inserts a rectangular frame into the sheet pan and then fills it. The residue on the side of the pan doesn't touch the batter. The pan is constantly rebaked and there is no health issue with the residue.

            At home you might scrub and use steel wool on your sheet pans after each use, I do. But not in a commercial operation. We tended to put sheet pans through the commercial washer about once per week unless there was a particular bad burnt on drip that could ruin the next item being baked.

             
        3. Back in the 1970s when I worked in the bakery business. Our cake department used to bake the tops for Cheesecakes separately, so as to avoid the cracking problem. The cakes would be assembled after cooling and then be put in the retail showcases.

          No problem reusing sheet pans by changing parchment paper, it's industry standard. In fact my daughter does it at home when baking batches of cookies.

          As for the frosting, it's a matter of taste. To you it tastes bad, but maybe it is what the customers like..........No accounting for taste,,,or lack thereof.

          1. Those cheesecakes look overcooked, especially in the oven. They're ready to come out of the oven when the outer 1/3 is fully cooked, center very slightly jiggly (I turn off my oven at that point, crack the door open and let it sit for an hour). The cheesecake will continue to cook until it's done. Given what you're saying about the bakery, I wonder what kind of experience the owners have w/ professional baking. Sometimes cracks come together in the refrigerator and cheesecakes do better w/ overnight refrigeration.

            1. Sounds like a Dump. Messy Sloppy Dirty Greasy Lumpy should not be adjectives for the place you work.

              1. I bake alot and when I was a teenager I worked in a Jewish deli that had a baking dept. Cracks on the top of cheesecakes are normal. Sometimes it happens even if you use a water bath method, but I agree that the photo of the cheesecake in the dairy case is one that is overbaked. If I were the owner, I would not put that cake in the case without beautifying it with a glaze & fruit but even still, the sides are chipped off. That's how you know it stuck to the pan.

                25 Replies
                1. re: Cherylptw

                  I think the picture of the cakes in the oven is especially telling because of the crack and puffiness. Cheesecakes can crack after cooling (although there are ways around it) but not in the oven unless it's overbaked. Plus, the sides of the cheesecake look so dry and the crust is uneven for a bakery (it's also dark--is it chocolate?). It looks like the cakes are placed on a baking sheet to bake but it doesn't look like there's water.

                  More important, Monigote, how does it taste to others? BTW, using wax paper to line the sheets is odd--is it parchment? I do think it's fine to slide one sheet off the baking pan and put on a clean one, as long as long as it's the same type dough. No cross contamination of potential allergens.

                  1. re: chowser

                    I agree with everything you said except the part about cheesecake not cracking in the oven unless it's overbaked. A cheesecake can crack in the oven even if it's not overbaked. It's happened to me plenty of times over the years; the cakes had a water bath and they were not over baked.

                    1. re: Cherylptw

                      I know you're an experienced baker so that's interesting. I've only had one crack after removing but not after making all my changes. I do stop cooking early, though, as I said when it's barely cooked on the outer 1/3.

                      1. re: chowser

                        It's very hard to compare home baking techniques with commercial operations. Drastically different conditions and equipment....

                        As a former owner/operator of a commercial bakery with retail operations as well; I was more appalled by the cream layer cake in the plastic clamshell in the picture than the crack in the cheesecake top. This says to me that the bakery is not doing sufficient volume and is attempting to prolong shelf life artificially. I might accept seeing a cream cake in a clamshell in a supermarket self service bakery, but OP states he's a counter boy (implying full service) and this doesn't look fresh.

                        I'm also curious where OP and the bakery are located. Counterboy is not common USA English, and while the cheesecakes may look overdone to me, they me be baked to the doneness that is common/preferred in his locale.

                        1. re: bagelman01

                          You hit it right on the head when you mentioned freshness. These cakes are baked maybe once a week, they are usually left in the case until they sell. We have some cake loaves that I have had to throw away on several times because they are baked and left on the floor until they grow mold.
                          Since you're a former owner/operator I want to ask, was all your bakery made and then frozen until it was needed? That is what we do with our cookies and brownies, and I honestly don't know if this is good practice or not. Is it still considered fresh if it's baked, frozen and then defrosted?
                          The bakery is in the US, I am from out of the country. English is my second language.

                          1. re: Monigote

                            Baking, freezing, then defrosting can work sometimes. I've worked in a bakery where we did that with things like banana bread loaves that we baked many at a time but only sold 1 or 2 sliced up per day and they were fine, but those are also items that don't have crispness or flakiness to be preserved.

                            More often, we would prep things, freeze, then bake as needed. Cookie doughs, danish, croissant, etc., can be frozen after prepping and baked as needed. Many muffin batters can be made in big batches and stored in the refrigerator for a few days and scooped and baked as needed, and cake layers can be baked in big batches, frozen, then filled and assembled as needed. I would definitely prefer a frozen then baked fresh cookie to a baked then frozen then thawed cookie. With brownies it sort of depends on the recipe, but also prep-freeze-bake works better for individual pastries than for pastry baked in sheets.

                            I think the real issue for you is whether the bakery owners want feedback from the new counter boy who admits to not having any baking experience. You might think they should want to know how to make things better, and there is a chance they would welcome a reality check, but I think it is more likely that they are struggling to manage production and would find it offensive to have the new guy who doesn't understand either professional baking or why they do what they do telling them they should change everything. Definitely call attention to moldy items, and find a way for the counter staff to track dates. You will have to decide for yourself whether this place is worth working at.

                            1. re: babette feasts

                              Thanks for the explanation on freezing, it was very informative. It always pleases me to learn new things, it was in fact the reason I took this job in the first place. On the same note, what about freezing, defrosting stuff and then freezing it again? It's not something I do with my own food, but it happens almost every day at work.
                              I really wish we did the prep and then the baking, like you said. I feel dishonest when the owner sells something as fresh, or baked the day before, when sometimes it's actually been baked a week prior, give or take a few days, and sometimes has even been out of the freezer for that long.
                              It never crossed my mind to give them feedback to be honest, I do not think it's my place to do so. I simply like to be informed, and since some practices seem iffy to me I thought I would ask others more knowledgeable than I. I have decided to look for another job as soon as possible, because there are other practices I definitely do not agree with that I cannot change and that are definitely sloppy-- Leaving open containers of ingredients out in the open for over a week in a place where they may easily get tainted, for example.

                              1. re: Monigote

                                Getting out of there sounds like your best bet.
                                If as an inexperienced Baker you can see their crap practices, you are not going to learn anything good there, and may well learn something bad instead.
                                Get to a place that has high standards and respects it Customers if you want to further yourself and your Career.

                                1. re: Monigote

                                  It sounds like this is an old-school place with older clientele that has not hopped on the artisan bandwagon. That's no excuse for selling bad product or being sloppy, so maybe they just don't care anymore, hard to say. This place needs Gordon Ramsay!

                                  It sounds like the product could be made better by just changing some some simple practices, like freezing then baking fresh instead of serving product that was simply thawed. Fresh out of the oven vastly improves most pastry. That said, some items do have a few days of shelf life. Spice cakes can actually improve with a day or two of aging, and I would feel comfortable serving cheesecake that was a week old as long as I knew how it had been handled. Most pies and cakes are good for a few days. But if people are taking them home and not eating them for a few more days, you can end up with a poor product.

                                  You said your clientele was mostly older. Do you sell by the slice or have smaller versions? I can't imagine people like my parents having much demand for a 9" cheesecake, but they might go for a slice and a cup of coffee.

                                  I've become sad for these people. Are the bakers the owners? I have this vision of a struggling mom & pop operation, been doing the same thing forever, but gradually cutting more corners, sooner or later all of their old clientele will die and they'll be replaced by a gluten-free cupcake bakery.

                                  1. re: babette feasts

                                    And lying to customers, serving spoiled products and passing on these values to the people they are hiring.
                                    They do not deserve your sorrow.

                                    1. re: chefj

                                      You're right, after OP's last update, I'm only sad because bad food makes me sad. No reason to make cupcakes the day before, and why would you even keep week-old cupcakes around? Sounds like the owners are not bakers, and even if the baker does make good product, the owners are more concerned about making a sale than selling something good.

                                      1. re: babette feasts

                                        Babette, we do have smaller versions of things as well as the whole cakes. We have slices of pies, cheesecakes, etc. It’s the same thing however… Yesterday for example I cut a pie that had been sitting on our main case all week and packaged it in individual slices. The cake slices usually take at least a week to sell, so they stay in the refrigerator for that long.

                                        The owner is not a baker— he however hired a guy that always boasts he has been baking for quarter of a century and is so confident in his abilities he doesn’t even taste his product to assure quality. He often repeats with great pride that he hasn’t even tried his own cheesecake, but knows it’s delicious because he is a master chef and can do anything.

                                        As you assumed, it is a small mom & pop bakery that has been there for a long time but is now struggling, even though the owner works very hard. That is why I am torn— I want to help but I am not learning anything, and it’s hard to smile and sell things to people when in many cases I do not think they should be sold. I haven’t considered at any point to give suggestions, the owner would blow me off and the baker would not take it kindly. As for the way things work in the bakery— The baker has freedom to do whatever he wants, he could do anything in the bakery and the owner wouldn’t even bat an eye, but he is not objective. That’s why he will even take the baker’s side even when there is something clearly wrong. I mean, how could anyone think that it’s ok to just change the color of frosting a customer asked for just because it doesn’t go with your color sensitivities? He’s not the one paying for the cake and he was in the wrong. It was also clear that the strawberries were past their prime and there was no excuse for that— he bought them that morning precisely for that cake and the strawberries around here are beautiful this time of year. He almost had to go out of his way to get some that were as bad as these.

                                        The cupcakes are baked the day before and frozen, the baker explained this makes them easier to frost. He sometimes doesn’t even frost all of them— we still have six cupcakes from the last batch unfrosted in the freezer, waiting for Thursday again.

                                        1. re: Monigote

                                          Maybe you should recommend they apply to this show:

                                          http://www.foodnetwork.com/shows/save...

                                          It sounds perfect.

                                          1. re: chowser

                                            Hi, have you watched that show? I was excited about it and have watched several episodes now.

                                            The problem with it is that Kerry focusses entirely upon the decoration/appearance/display of the baked goods rather than taste or quality or production methods of the bakery.

                                            It's a show about appearances, not good food.

                                            Sad.

                                            1. re: sandylc

                                              No, I've only seen the commercials. I haven't liked any of the business "improvement" shows so never made an effort. FWIW, in my area, good appearance is far more important than taste, unfortunately. This OPs place looks like it has neither!

                                        2. re: babette feasts

                                          And to temper my comment a bit,
                                          It is sad to see a Mom and Pop Business have a tough time and not knowing how to save it. But for me that sentiment evaporates when standards and ethics are abandoned.

                                  2. re: babette feasts

                                    Babette...back in the 70s I worked for one of the first developers of frozen bake off product. We made the dough, portioned and shaped the loaves, froze them using conveyor blast freezers and shipped all over the country. this is what enabled the supermarket in store bakeries to emerge.

                                    while it grew our mom and pop bakery into a multi million dollar operation later sold to a conglomerate, it helped destroy thousands of independent mom and pop bakeries in the US and Canada. I didn't own the place or develop the concept, but I'm sorry now that it was so successful.

                                    1. re: bagelman01

                                      It is sad how many bakeries now use frozen, processed products and mixes. Why bother with going to a bakery at all, if they're taking shortcuts that anyone can do at home?

                                      1. re: sandylc

                                        Why bother to buy any food prepared by others? #1 reason convenience.
                                        The day of the stay at home mom, who did wash on Monday baking on Tuesday, etc. disappeared 70-+ years ago when moms went to work during WWII.

                                        1. re: sandylc

                                          Not around here. We are blessed with many great Bakeries

                                    2. re: Monigote

                                      Customers paying bakery prices expect that most cakes are baked the over-night before the purchase is made. Cheesecakes and cream cakes/pies could be fresh for 2 days in the refrigerator showcase, but are stale after that.
                                      Baking and immediately freezing danish and brownies is an old baker's trick. Selling them as fresh is a bit dishonest. To avoid getting the formerly frozen items never buy the iced danish or frosted brownies. The icing/frosting are used to cover the effects of the freezing. Sort of like the way car manufacturers used Vinyl tops to cover roof flaws in the 1970s.

                                      In our day we pulled all unsold room temperature displayed cakes at 7 PM closing, and day 2 refrigerated cakes and sent them back to the pastry department. They would be crushed together and infused with rum flavor and either baked as rum squares (like brownies)or rolled into golf ball sized balls and rolled again in chocolate or colored sprinkles and sold as rum balls. Neither item could be made with freshly baked cake, not enough body.

                                       
                                       
                                      1. re: bagelman01

                                        That's a great tip on the danishes and brownies. It explains the difference in flavor I've felt when buying unfrosted brownies and frosted! I will keep that in mind next time, thank you.
                                        Those squares and rum balls look good-- I like that mentality of not letting things go to waste while still maintaining standards. As of closing today, the cheesecake in the case that I photographed is still there, and has been since Wednesday. We have had a couple people look at it, but it seems to me that once they see the cracks they change their mind and get something else.
                                        Thank you very much for your responses, they have been extremely helpful.

                                      2. re: Monigote

                                        Now THAT'S pretty gross... baked goods should be disposed of daily if they don't sell - a good bakery should either sell out entirely, reduce prices before closing to move the old stock (or sell it for half-price the second day as 'day old'), or preferably know how much they're likely to need each day and only have that much product in the cases to begin with. Who would knowingly buy a five-day-old cake?

                                      3. re: bagelman01

                                        I rarely go to bakeries but that's good to know about the clamshell boxes. Obviously we see it all the time at Safeway and all but now that I think about it, I don't remember seeing it at the bakeries. I'll pay attention now.

                                  3. re: chowser

                                    The cheesecake's taste seems to please most people but I must say that the large majority of our customers are older-- over 65 I would say. It is not chocolate-- That is a NY Cheesecake. When the cheesecakes come out like that they are not fixed with sour cream, nor is there fruit used to beautify them. They are just put out as is to sell.
                                    You are right, it is parchment paper that is used. I always confuse the two when speaking-- I have only confused them once when baking and there was so much smoke in my oven that it really drove the lesson home.

                                2. As of today, I am starting the hunt for a new job. We had two incidents at work today that convinced me it is not the place I want to work at.
                                  We have cupcakes every weekend-- they are baked on Wednesday and in the case by Thursday. Today, the owner sold last week's cupcakes to a very nice old lady saying they had been baked the day before, when he knows for a fact it is not true.
                                  We also attempted to sell a last-minute cake with brown-tailed strawberries to another very nice lady, who rightfully complained. She was also upset at the fact that she asked for a "Happy Birthday!" in pink frosting and yet the baker decided to write it in red because he thought the pink would clash with the (almost spoiled) strawberries. The owner, instead of understanding, defended the baker and told her she was forbidden from purchasing the cake. It was petty and not pretty, so I have decided to look for another job.
                                  Thank you for all your help and responses, I have learned more from this thread than from my actual job.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Monigote

                                    Good on You! I hope you can find a real Bakery to work at. Your best and most valuable experience will come from working in the best places.

                                    1. re: Monigote

                                      Good luck in finding a new job. It sounds like the smart decision.