Confession: I’m a late convert to cheesecake. Call it personal growth or the evolution of my palate, but what I once thought of as a cloyingly rich chunk of sweetened cream cheese disguised as a slice of cake has become one of the first items I look for on any dessert menu. Still, the idea of dealing with cracked tops and water baths is never more unappealing than on a hot summer day. And a failed cheesecake is an expensive mistake to make, given the cost of ingredients. So when I learned that there was supposedly a foolproof way to forgo the entire baking process and still end up with a comparably delicious cheesecake, my interest was piqued.
On the topic of confessions, I’ve always classified no-bake desserts as second-tier shortcuts, an acceptable but rarely memorable Plan B — but let’s just say my first bite of no-bake cheesecake was enough to reverse any preconceived notions about the whole topic and fully sell me on the oven-free life. As a no-bake cheesecake newbie, these four recipes served as my sources and references during recipe development, and though I went into this process with measured expectations, the malted milk no-bake cheesecake I met on the other side turned out creamier and dreamier than I could’ve imagined. Remind me why we ever needed ovens?
The method for no-bake cheesecake is easy-breezy — the only equipment you’ll need is a stand mixer or hand mixer. After making a simple crumb crust (I initially used Nilla wafers, but decided on slightly more nuanced digestive biscuits, an ingredient I discovered through Chetna Makan), room-temperature cream cheese and creme fraiche, which offered a more pleasant tang than mascarpone per my first test, are whipped together until smooth. Powdered sugar, malted milk powder, lemon juice, vanilla, and salt are beaten in, then everything is gently folded with freshly whipped cream to produce a luscious filling. Spread the mixture over the crust, cover the pan with plastic wrap, stick it in the fridge to chill overnight (honestly the hardest part), and tuck into a slice of cheesecake the next day. It’s almost too good to be true.
I love this no-bake cheesecake because not only is it a cinch to make, but it also tastes like cheesecake, not a cheesecake knockoff. Sure, it’s lighter and fluffier than dense New York-style varieties, but it’s still delightfully rich and creamy, and the milk powder lends a malty undertone that pairs perfectly with the creme fraiche (no one-note flavors here). A generous layer of the nutty, not-too-sweet crumb crust rounds it all out, making for a supremely balanced dessert that rivals its painstakingly baked (and babysat) counterparts. This recipe proves that no-bake is no second-rate citizen in the baking world; now that I’m a believer, you can bet that I’ll be giving my oven a break this summer.
Malted Milk No-Bake Cheesecake Recipe
Makes one 9-inch cheesecake
For the crust:
1 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons finely-ground digestive biscuits crumbs (this works out to 200 grams, or a half package; if you can’t find digestive biscuits, use graham crackers)
2 tablespoons (14 grams) powdered sugar
5 tablespoons (71 grams) unsalted butter, melted
For the cheesecake:
2 8-ounce packages full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
6 tablespoons (85 grams) creme fraiche, at room temperature
1 ½ cups (170 grams) powdered sugar, sifted if clumpy
¼ cup (35 grams) malted milk powder
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ⅓ cups (303 grams) heavy whipping cream, cold
Step 1: Make the crumb crust: In a large bowl, mix the biscuit crumbs, powdered sugar, and melted butter until they’re uniformly combined and the mixture holds together when you squeeze it with your hand. Pour the mixture into a 9-inch springform pan and firmly press the mixture into the bottom of the pan, using a flat-bottomed cup or measuring cup to assist in packing the crumbs into an even layer. Transfer the pan to the freezer to chill while you prepare the cheesecake filling.
Step 2: Make the cheesecake filling: In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large bowl with an electric hand mixer) beat the cream cheese and creme fraiche until smooth, creamy, and lump-free.
Step 3: Scrape down the bowl and add the powdered sugar, malted milk powder, lemon juice, vanilla, and salt. Briefly “pulse” the mixture a few times with the stand mixer before increasing the speed (to prevent powdered sugar from flying everywhere; if using a hand mixer, start the mixer on low speed), then whip everything together until smooth. Scrape down the bowl and whip once more to ensure the mixture is well-combined.
Step 4: Thoroughly scrape the cream cheese mixture into a large bowl. Pour the heavy cream into the same bowl that the cream cheese mixture was just in (no need to wash it) and use the whisk attachment (or the same hand mixer) to whip the cream until it forms stiff peaks (don’t take the whipping too far — the cream shouldn’t be grainy). In four additions, gently fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture until uniformly incorporated and no streaks remain.
Step 5: Remove the prepared springform pan from the freezer and scrape the filling into the crust, making sure to spread the filling all the way to the edges. Use a small offset spatula to smooth the top.
Step 6: Carefully cover the pan with plastic wrap, being careful not to let the plastic touch the surface of the cheesecake. Refrigerate the cake for at least 6 hours (I strongly recommend chilling it overnight, if possible), until set and sliceable.
Step 7: When ready to serve, gently release the sides of the springform pan and use a sharp knife to cut the cheesecake into slices. For clean slices, wipe down your knife with a warm, damp towel in between each cut. The cheesecake will keep for 2 to 3 days in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap.
Joy Cho is a freelance writer, recipe developer, and pastry chef based in New York City.
Celeste Noche is a Filipino American food, travel, and portrait photographer based between Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco.
Recipe tested by Ivy Manning