We love a tall New York-style cheesecake, but there's no denying it's a bit of a project. It's also incredibly rich and decadent. Sometimes we want the essence of a cheesecake with less fuss, and we want the tang of a cream-cheese-based cake without the weight — something lighter and creamier to finish a meal.
Enter no-bake cheesecake: The filling is lightened with whipped cream, and the absence of eggs makes for a less rich cake. We achieved the best flavor and texture when we stuck to the tried-and-true combination of heavy cream and cream cheese thickened with gelatin.
Allowing the gelatin to hydrate in a portion of the cream and then bringing it to a boil in the microwave fully activated its thickening power. Lemon juice, lemon zest and a little vanilla added just enough spark to perk up the tangy cream cheese.
Serve with Fresh Strawberry Topping (recipe follows), if desired.
Start to finish: 45 minutes active cooking time
8 whole graham crackers, broken into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
1 pound cream cheese, cut into 1-inch pieces and softened
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest plus 2 tablespoons juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the crust: Adjust oven rack to middle position, and heat oven to 325 degrees. Pulse crackers and sugar in food processor until finely ground, about 15 pulses. Transfer crumbs to bowl, drizzle with melted butter, and mix with rubber spatula until mixture resembles wet sand. Using your hands, press crumb mixture evenly into bottom of 9-inch springform pan. Using bottom of measuring cup, firmly pack crust into pan. Bake until fragrant and beginning to brown, about 13 minutes. Let crust cool completely in pan on wire rack, about 30 minutes.
For the filling: Sprinkle gelatin over 1/4 cup cream in 2-cup liquid measuring cup, and let sit until gelatin softens, about 5 minutes. Microwave until mixture is bubbling around edges and gelatin dissolves, about 20 seconds; whisk to combine and set aside.
Using stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whip remaining 1 1/4 cups cream and sugar on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to high, and whip until soft peaks form, 1 to 3 minutes. Fit stand mixer with paddle, reduce speed to medium-low, add cream cheese, and beat until combined, about 1 minute, scraping down bowl once (mixture may not be completely smooth). Add lemon juice, vanilla and salt, and continue to beat until combined, about 1 minute, scraping down bowl as needed. Increase speed to medium-high, and beat until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add dissolved gelatin mixture and lemon zest, and continue to beat until smooth and airy, about 2 minutes.
Pour filling into crust, and spread into even layer with spatula. Wrap cheesecake tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until set, at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours.
To unmold cheesecake, wrap hot, damp dish towel around pan and let stand for 1 minute. Remove sides of pan, and slide thin metal spatula between crust and pan bottom to loosen, then slide cheesecake onto platter. Serve.
Fresh Strawberry Topping
Makes about 3 cups
Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
This topping is best the day it's made. Do not use frozen strawberries in this recipe.
1 1/4 pounds strawberries, hulled and sliced thin (4 cups)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup strawberry jam
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Toss strawberries, sugar and salt together in bowl, and let sit, stirring occasionally, until berries have released their juice and sugar has dissolved, about 30 minutes.
Process jam in food processor until smooth, about 8 seconds. Simmer jam in small saucepan over medium heat until no longer foamy, about 3 minutes. Stir warm jam and lemon juice into strawberries. Let cool completely, about 1 hour. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Nutrition information per serving: 346 calories; 263 calories from fat; 29 grams fat (17 grams saturated; 1 gram trans fats); 95 milligrams cholesterol; 196 milligrams sodium; 18 grams carbohydrate; 0 grams fiber; 16 grams sugar; 4 grams protein.