This is an idea that I originally heard expressed by Alton Brown on Good Eats, in the episode "The Trouble with Cheesecake". Most of the information there is from that episode.
Yes, cheesecake isn't cake at all; it's pie. Cakes don't have a crust and they have a fair amount of flour in them. Cheesecakes have a crust but no flour. Cakes also tend to rise a fair amount when cooked and have a lot of air in them at the end; cheesecakes don't.
Cheesecakes bear the most resemblance to a cream pie. Cream pies are basically just pudding or custard in a pie shell. Cheesecake filling is a custard with cream cheese providing the dairy, instead of milk. That makes the result firmer, but it's the same idea.
So? So when you're making a cheesecake, treat it like a cream pie, not like a cake. That means:
- You generally blind bake the crust.
- You have to cook it without heating it too fast or it will curdle. That's why cheesecakes are baked in a bain-marie (water bath). [For cream pies, the custard is cooked separately from the pie shell, so no water bath is needed, just gentle heat.]
- It's eggs that make the whole thing thicken when cooked. Overcooked eggs are bad (in baking, less so at breakfast), so you don't want to overcook a cheesecake.
AB suggests that most cheesecake failures are caused by expecting the cheesecake to behave like a cake, which it isn't. Hopefully, this meme will lead many to better cheesecake experiences.
One more result of this that I'm not so sure about but might experiment with: You can cook a custard in the microwave--it's foolproof, with no possilility of curdling. The same might apply to cheesecake, but I suspect you'd get more of a sticky mess than a nice firm cheesecake.