Recipe: No-Bake Lemon Cheesecake

I love lemon no-bake cheesecake. Here’s the one I put together recently. I’d looked at recipes online and found three main methods: mix sweetened condensed milk with the cream cheese and let that set; fold the cream cheese mixture with whipped topping and let that set; or use gelatin and liquid to set the cream cheese mixture. This recipe uses all three methods. As for why I prefer no-bake? I find baked cheesecakes to be overly dense, sticky, and dry. I like the smooth creaminess of a no-bake cheesecake.


  • 14 sheets of graham crackers
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 11 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 (8 oz) packages of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • Zest of 3 lemons
  • 1 teaspoon food-grade lemon oil*
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1 envelope gelatin
  • 1 (8 oz) package whipped topping, thawed in the refrigerator**

Spray your springform pan or deep dish pie plate lightly with cooking spray.

Pulverize the graham crackers into crumbs and combine with sugar, salt, and melted butter. Mix until everything is damp with the butter. Press mixture into the bottom and sides of your pan. Refrigerate while you do the rest.

Put cream cheese in a bowl with sweetened condensed milk, lemon zest, and lemon oil. Beat on low to medium speed with a hand mixer until thoroughly combined.

Put the 2 tablespoons sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan, add the pinch of salt, and sprinkle the gelatin overtop. Allow to soften for three minutes. Place over heat and bring just to a boil, stirring occasionally. Pour into the cream cheese mixture a bit at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stop when it’s all mixed in and the mixture is smooth.

Fold the whipped topping into the cream cheese mixture. Scoop it into the prepared crust, place a sheet of plastic wrap overtop, and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight. Slice and serve!


*I’ve found lemon oil available at two sources: King Arthur Flour and Boyajian Mini Citrus 3 Piece Set [Amazon]. (Same brand at both sources.) If you don’t have any and don’t want to get some, leave it out and taste before adding the whipped topping to see whether you need more lemon juice or not. The oil just adds an indefinable something that the juice lacks, I find, but including the zest will give you some of that anyway.

**For the whipped topping, if you can get So Delicious “Coco Whip,” made from coconut milk, it adds an extra touch of flavor that I really like. Your call, however.

Make sure you’re using a type of zester that makes really thin, tiny zest bits, not long strands, or you’ll feel like you’re eating string. I’m partial to the Microplane 40020 Classic Zester/Grater, Black [Amazon].

Alternative 1: Plain/Vanilla Cheesecake:

Leave out the lemon zest and oil. Replace the juice with a half-cup of water. If desired, add a splash of vanilla to the cream cheese mixture. Follow the rest of the recipe as-is.

Alternative 2: Lime Cheesecake:

Replace the zest of 3 lemons with the zest of 4 limes.

Replace the teaspoon of lemon oil with a teaspoon of lime oil.

Replace the 1/2 cup lemon juice with 1/2 cup lime juice.

Alternative 3: Orange Cheesecake:

Replace the zest of 3 lemons with the zest of 2 large oranges.

Replace the teaspoon of lemon oil with a teaspoon of orange oil.

Replace the 1/2 cup lemon juice with 1/2 cup orange juice (no pulp–strain if necessary).

Alternative 4: Orange-Maple Cheesecake

Follow the recipe for the orange cheesecake, but don’t add the 2 tablespoons sugar to the orange juice. After blending the cheesecake and sweetened condensed milk mixture, add 1/2 teaspoon maple flavoring and drizzle in 1/2 cup maple syrup while continuing to mix until smooth. Finish with the whipped topping as directed.

Alternative 5: Coconut Cheesecake

Leave out the zest. Replace the oil with 1 teaspoon natural coconut flavoring.

Increase the 2 tablespoons of sugar in the filling to 1/4 cup.

Replace the juice with 1 cup coconut milk.

Use coconut-based whipped topping (SO Delicious brand is excellent).

Optional: sprinkle toasted coconut around the edges of the pie after it’s been poured into the crust.

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