Goodweed - you are right about a springform pan leaking. Even the expensive ones that claim they don't actually do - according to the tests they did at America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated. They are better at preventing things from leaking out than they are at preventing things from leaking in. I do what JP described.
As for the water bath - I've tried it with and without and prefer the texture with the water bath, and it's not nearly as likely to crack. I've never used a towel in the bottom of the pan - I use a cooling rack that is about 1/2-inch high and it seems to work just fine.
Below is the recipe I use and how I do it. I'm sorry if it is hard to follow - I've never tried to "write up" a "proper" recipe for it - these are just from my notes over the past few years. It's a mix of the original recipe and my techniques. It certainly isn't the only way to make a cheesecake - just how I do it.
New York Style Cheesecake
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons melted butter
1 1/2 cups sour cream
2 eggs (room temp)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 pound cream cheese (room temp), broken into small pieces
Turn the oven on to 250 to preheat.
You will also need a roaster pan or something else large enough to hold the springform pan to make a water bath, a cooling rack to set the springform pan on in the roasting pan [mine is about 1/2 tall], and an 18x18 inch sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil.
CRUST: Spray an 8 or 9 inch springform pan with Butter flavored PAM. [see note 1 below] Blend the graham cracker crumbs, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/4 cup melted butter [see note 2 below]. Pour into the springform pan and press the crust into shape [I like mine to come up the sides of the pan an inch or two - I use a straight-sided flat-bottomed measuring cup to do this]. Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.
: If you want to serve your cheesecake on a serving plate of some kind ... spray the pan with PAM, line the bottom of the springform pan with parchment paper, and spray it with PAM.
: I use Nabisco original graham crackers (the box with 3 packs per box). I use 1 1/2 - 2 packages - roughly break them up and throw them into my food processor ... and give them a couple of pulses to break them up a little more. I add the sugar, and a couple more pusles to mix. Then I turn it on to LOW while I drizzle the melted butter in until I have the texture I want.
Put a kettle of water on to boil.
FILLING: Cream the cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar. Scrape the bowl down and add the remaining ingredients and mix well.
HOW I REALLY MAKE THE FILLING: Using my KA and the flat beater attachment on Speed 4 ....
1. Add the cream cheese and run on speed 2 about a minute to soften it up.
2. With the mixer running, slowly add the sugar and continue to beat for about 2 minutes. Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides, and beat for another 2-3 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides down again.
3. Add the sour cream and beat for 2-3 minutes. Stop and scrape down again.
4. With the mixer running add the 2-tablespoons butter, and eggs one at a time - allowing them to incorporate before the next addition, and the vanilla. Stop, scrape down, and beat for about 1 more minute.
Remove the springform pan from the refrigerator and wrap the bottom and sides with foil to make it watertight. [I trim the foil so it doesn't stick up more than anout 1/4 over the top of the springform pan] Pour the filling into the crust .... and set in the pan on the rack. Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven and pour boiling water into the pan so that it comes half-way up the side of the springform pan. Bake at 250 for one hour.
[IF you want to brown the top ... at the end of baking open oven door and turn the oven to broil and WATCH VERY CAREFULLY! It can go from lightly browned to cracked and overdone in no time! Then proceed with the rest of the following instructions]
At the end of one hour ... turn the oven off .... open the door for 1-2 minutes ... then close the door and leave the cheesecake in the oven for another hour. At the end of that time ... remove the springform pan from the oven ... and allow to cool before covering and placing in the refirgerator overnight to firm up.
SERVING: Remove the cheesecake from the refrigerator and remove the sides of the springform pan. IF
you are going to serve this on a serving plate rather than from the bottom of the springform pan (and have used the parchment paper on the bottom): (1) Place something lightweight, flat, and slightly larger than the cheesecake on top and quickly, but gently, invert it - I use a sheet of heavy cardboard covered with parchment paper. (2) Remove the bottom of the pringform pan and peel off the parchment paper. (3) Place the serving plate on the bottom of the cheesecake and again, quickly but gently, invert again.
I hope I didn't leave anything out .....