Do you get tired of recipe sites that claim their recipe is “the best”? I admit, I’m always a bit skeptical myself, but also admit I’m willing to give the claim a chance to see if I agree. And here I am telling you this is The Best No-Bake Cheesecake, I expect and welcome those who doubt and maybe you even rolled your eyes at the title. S’all right.
Going in, I wanted the best tag to be worthy so I’ve been very, very diligent. I searched many of my favorite sites, the internet in general, and my favorite baking cookbooks at home. Let me first state that I was looking for the best ‘Classic Tasting’ no-bake cheesecake, not cheesecake in a cup or fruit added something or other. I narrowed my search to three distinctly different recipes.
These were the major differences that I found between most no-bake recipes out there:
Powdered sugar vs. granulated sugar- Powdered sugar helps with body because of the cornstarch added while granulated sugar provides a cleaner sweetness.
Sweetened condensed milk vs. whipped cream- I tried a recipe using sweetened condensed milk from a largely famous, (very famous) Hollywood-type expert. So I was quite surprised when the recipe using this ingredient was a major fail for me and many others who commented on the site’s recipe.
Adding unflavored gelatin or agar-agar- Gelatin (or agar-agar for vegetarian option) claims to add firmness and structure to the recipe. I tested recipes with and without gelatin several times! and the unanimous preference, from all who compared these side-by-side, preferred the recipe with gelatin added. The cheesecake with gelatin provided better texture and the firmness that more closely copied that of a baked version best.
Freezing the crust vs. baking the crust- Baking the graham cracker crust kind of destroys the ‘no-bake’ claim but hear me out. Freezing the crust before adding the filling is perfectly adequate, but only that. The frozen crust turned soft and a little too soft for our liking after a day in the fridge with the filling. Taking just a little time to bake the crust turned out a crust that hardened enough and the tablespoon of sugar that gets added in not only sweetens the crust a tiny bit more but when the sugar and crackers bake together, the process provides a barrier from the filling and keeps the crust just-right. I give instructions for freezing and baking the crust in case you’re totally against turning on your oven.
Important tips- Use good quality, full-fat cream cheese. And if you’re lactose intolerant, try Green Organics Lactose-free cream cheese. It’s amazing.
I made more cheesecakes than I can remember over the course of my search, and solicited opinions from the most critical of my friends. Strangely, I never had anyone refuse the offer of tasting cheesecake. After tweaking the recipes many times, with taste and success of preparation being paramount, I am serving to you a recipe which, in my world at least, is the best no-bake-tastes-close-to-classic cheesecake I’ve ever made. Let’s talk about serving this beauty. Of course you’ll have great success in serving it naked.
But if you want to pretty it up a bit, adding a swirl of homemade easy Lemon Curd is fun and tastes amazing with the cheesecake. As you can see, precision is not necessary. I also pipe a little whipped cream around the edge. Sour cream smoothed over the top is luxurious and any seasonal berries are pretty and pretty tasty.
I love baked cheesecake but find it sometimes problematic and pretty time consuming. This no-bake version, though super easy to put together and chill, does require pre-planning. The cake is set after six hours but I insist you let it chill for 24 hours. Tasting this beauty at six hours versus after an entire day (or even two days!) makes all the difference. At six hours, it’s a good cheesecake but “no thanks, I don’t want another bite”. At 24 or 48 hours, it’s irresistible.
If you’re still reading, thanks for indulging me in my ramblings about all the cheesecake. This endeavor for the best cheesecake was so interesting and a lot of fun. So fun that I’ll have more cheesecake variations coming your way soon, in fact I’m working on a strawberry version with chocolate crust as we speak. Be ready, taste testers! 😉
- 12 whole graham crackers, crushed with rolling pin or processed to crumbs in food processor (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup heavy cream, divided
- 1 envelope unflavored gelatin, about 2 1/2 teaspoons
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 pound cream cheese (2 8-oz. containers), cut into 1-inch chunks and softened 45 minutes to an hour at room temperature
- 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice from fresh lemon
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- pinch salt
The crust may be frozen or pre-baked. (See notes for my preference) If baking your crust, preheat oven to 325F degrees and adjust oven rack to middle position. Stir graham cracker crumbs and sugar together in medium bowl, then add butter and stir well with fork until mixture resembles wet sand. Transfer crumbs to 9-inch springform pan and use your hand or a glass to firmly press the crumbs into an even layer on the bottom and slightly up the sides.
For frozen crust: Place pan in freezer for 30 minutes.
For baked crust: Bake for 13 minutes or until edges just start to turn golden. Cool completely on wire rack, at least 30 minutes.
Pour 1/4 cup of the heavy cream into a microwave-safe measuring cup. Add gelatin and whisk to combine. Let stand until gelatin is softened, about 3 minutes, then microwave on high power for 20 seconds, or until cream is bubbling and gelatin is completely dissolved. Set aside to cool.
Using an electric mixer and medium bowl, beat the remaining 3/4 cup heavy cream and sugar on medium-high speed until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes.
In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or with the electric mixer using a separate medium bowl, beat the softened cream cheese at medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the whipped cream/sugar mixture and beat at medium-low until combined, about 1 minute. Scrape bottom and sides of bowl well with rubber spatula.
Add lemon juice, vanilla, and salt and continue to beat at medium-low speed for another minute, scraping the sides of bowl again. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until airy, about 1 minute. Add cooled, dissolved gelatin (if a film has formed on the gelatin, stir briskly and remove any excess film), also add lemon zest at this time. Continue to beat on medium-high speed another minute until completely combined. Give everything a quick stir with the rubber spatula one more time. (If the filling has lumps in it, see bulletin #4 in the Recipe Notes for solution)
Pour filling into crust and, using an offset or icing spatula, spread filling out evenly. Refrigerate for 24 hours.
To unlock the cheesecake and serve, wrap a hot, damp kitchen towel around the pan for 20 seconds. Unlock the pan and remove the sides. Slide a thin spatula under the crust and transfer the cheesecake to a serving platter.
You may serve the cheesecake plain, decorate with unsweetened (or sweet) whipped cream, sour cream, or serve with fruit or fruit curd. This lemon curd is a fabulous accompaniment.
For neat, clean slices, wipe the knife on a damp towel between each cut.
- The crust may be either frozen or baked for this cheesecake and I've test both methods: The frozen crust is perfectly fine but will soften quite a bit during refrigeration of the completed cheesecake. It was too almost-mushy for me. Baking the crust resulted in a perfect crust that will not absorb the cheesecake and over-soften it thanks to the sugar that's cooked and hardened into the baked graham crackers. So, if you have time, bake the crust.
- Since gelatin is not vegetarian, you may substitute it with agar-agar. If using this ingredient, microwaving is not necessary. Just add to the 1/4 cup cream, stir and let sit until needed. Optionally, you may omit the gelatin or agar-agar altogether. The cheesecake will taste great but will not stand up as firmly, which was a great preference among tasters when I made it both ways.
- If you want your cheesecake a little more tart, add 2 full tablespoons of lemon juice, rather than 1 1/2 tablespoons.
- If after mixing all the ingredients into your filling, you still have tiny lumps, you can press the the filling through a sieve strainer with a rubber spatula to finish smoothing it out. I haven't had to do this ever but it is a trick that I've been told for when cream cheese hasn't softened smoothly enough.
- PLEASE use good quality cream cheese and I highly recommend full-fat cream cheese, but reduced fat cream cheese will work just not taste as luxurious. Speaking of the cream cheese, soften it at room temperature rather than trying to do so in the microwave.
- Make sure the gelatin-whipping cream mixture is cooled before adding to the recipe or your cream cheese will separate and basically look like a cottage cheese cake.
- The cheesecake will be firm enough to serve after 6 hours but I promise you it will only taste "okay". Please make this recipe a full 24 hours before serving, you won't be sorry. It just gets better and better with time in the fridge. I absolutely love it after 2 days.
- When wrapped in plastic wrap or completely covered, the cheesecake stays fresh in the refrigerator for up to one week. Experts do not recommend freezing cheesecake that contains gelatin as the gelatin doesn't take well to freezing.