Recipe Review

I Tested 4 Popular No-Bake Cheesecake Recipes and the Winner Was a Rich, Creamy Delight

published Sep 10, 2022
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Four different pans of no-bake cheesecake labeled on a marble background.
Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen; Headshot: Getty
The Best No-bake Cheesecake

Few desserts can offer what cheesecake can. The combination of tangy cream cheese, sugar, eggs, and vanilla makes for a dish that’s creamy, rich, indulgent, and elegant. Yet it’s something that many folks seem to seldom make at home — perhaps because it’s a little intimidating. You run the risk of overbaking the cheesecake, of the top cracking as the dessert cools, of the filling leaking out of the springform pan in the oven. 

For an easier at-home cheesecake there’s no-bake cheesecake, but can this easier version hold a candle to traditional baked cheesecake, with its eggy richness and classically dense texture? How does a graham cracker crust fare when it’s not baked? And how do these cheesecakes set up without eggs to bind the filling? Eager to find out, I dug out my springform pans and readied my mixer. Read on to find out what I discovered.

Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Meet Our 4 No-Bake Cheesecake Contenders

As I searched for recipe contenders to test, I found some intriguing options. I opted for recipes that use different ingredients and methods for setting the filling, and tasted and evaluated based on the cheesecake itself (without any optional fruit topping, if included in the recipe). I went for recipes that veered close to classic cheesecake, meaning no fruit-swirled or chocolate-flavored, for example. The main attributes I hoped for in each contender were flavors and textures as close to traditional cheesecake as possible — cream cheese-forward, dense, and rich. 

Simply Recipes: At first glance, this no-bake cheesecake recipe seems pretty standard, but upon closer inspection, a few things stand out. First, the filling is set with both whipped heavy cream and gelatin. It also gets a double hit of vanilla from extract and a scraped vanilla bean pod. Would there be discernible textural and flavor payoffs? I was excited to find out.

Allrecipes: This recipe promised to be easier than easy. You simply beat together the filling ingredients (softened cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and whipped topping), then spoon the filling into a store-bought graham cracker crust. The recipe calls for canned strawberry pie filling as a topping, but I planned to serve that on the side so I could taste the cheesecake on its own.

Sally’s Baking Recipes: Each of the other recipe contenders called for two blocks of cream cheese in the filling — this one uses three. I was eager to taste what difference that would make in the final dessert. The recipe also calls for a little bit of brown sugar in the graham cracker crust. With a 4.8-star average rating from 252 reviews, I felt confident that this would be a strong contender.

Martha Stewart: This recipe uses one of my all-time favorite ingredients — sweetened condensed milk. As much as I love the milky sweetness of that ingredient, I wondered about how it might affect the texture of the cheesecake. Would I be able to cut clean, well-set slices without something like gelatin, whipped cream, or whipped topping to firm up the filling?

How I Tested the No-Bake Cheesecakes

First, I made sure to use the same brands of any common ingredients to ensure as much consistency as possible. I used Philadelphia cream cheese, Horizon heavy cream, and Honey Maid graham crackers.

I already owned two 9-inch springform pans and bought one more so that I could make all of the cheesecakes on the same day and taste them side-by-side (the fourth recipe uses a store-bought graham cracker crust). I chilled each cheesecake for the recipe’s minimum suggested time and cut into it at that point to see how well it had set. If I chilled the recipe further, I made note of that in my individual reviews. If there was a fruit topping, I served it on the side but did not let that factor into my ratings; those are based on the cheesecake itself.

Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

1. The Easiest Option: Allrecipes’ No-Bake Cheesecake with Cool Whip

I anticipated that this recipe might be a sentimental favorite, reminding me of old-school cafeteria cheesecake, which has a special place in my heart. It’s made by simply beating together softened cream cheese, sugar, and a full three tablespoons (you read that right) of vanilla extract and then folding in whipped topping. The crust is a store-bought graham cracker pie crust. 

Because it’s made in a pie crust, this cheesecake doesn’t have the classic straight-sided shape you expect. But that’s not a big deal. Since the manufacturer no doubt was able to bake the crust before it got to the store, this crust was the crispiest one of the lot. (The other recipes use unbaked crusts made from graham cracker crumbs mixed with butter.) While I fully expected the large amount of vanilla extract to pack a harsh, overwhelming wallop, it somehow didn’t at all. But the flavor of the dessert leaned closer to that of a marshmallow, not a cream cheese–rich cheesecake, and it had a bit of an oily mouthfeel, perhaps because of the Cool Whip. For the ease of prep, it’s a pretty good recipe, but it’s not the cheesecake ideal.

Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

2. The Cheesecake for Citrus Lovers: Martha Stewart’s No-Bake Cheesecake

First, there was simply too much crust; it rose above the filling and — since it wasn’t baked— tended to crumble onto the filling. Only two of the recipe contenders used lemon juice in the filling. The one from Sally’s Baking Recipes used a mere 2 teaspoons, while this recipe calls for 1/4 cup. The result is a very tangy, yogurt-like flavor, which does steer a bit away from classic cheesecake. The recipe didn’t use any sort of “setting” ingredients (thickeners like whipped cream or gelatin) and called for a full can of sweetened condensed milk, which is thick mixture but still a liquid. After chilling for several hours, the cheesecake’s texture was fairly set, but slices wouldn’t exactly hold a point. They were a bit droopy but wonderfully creamy. This is a solid, tasty dessert, but I’m not sure I’d call it a cheesecake.

Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

3. The Fastest: Simply Recipes’ Easy No-Bake Cheesecake

I’ve used gelatin before for panna cotta and know that a little too much can leave you with a rubbery dessert. Because of that, I was wary of the tablespoon of gelatin this recipe calls for, in addition to whipped heavy cream, to set the filling. But I was pleasantly surprised by the cheesecake’s texture: after only an hour in the fridge, it was a bit fluffy and fantastically creamy with no hint of bounce. The recipe includes a pint of heavy cream, which no doubt creates that fluffiness once whipped, but the cheesecake tasted more like whipped cream than anything else. There were lovely layered vanilla notes from both extract and bean, but I ended up wishing for more cream cheese flavor.

Credit: Photo: Dane Tashima; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

4. The Clear Winner: Sally’s Baking Recipes’ No-Bake Cheesecake

The thing that sets this recipe apart is its rich, full-on cheesecake flavor. It’s not too sweet and full of cream cheese goodness. Two main factors create this effect: using three blocks of cream cheese (the other recipes each used two) and adding far less sugar to the filling than the other recipes. There was whipped heavy cream to help the filling set, but only 1 1/4 cups (before whipping), so the cream cheese flavor wasn’t drowned out. Slices of this cheesecake are tall, gorgeous, and very impressive, and the flavor lives up to the appearance. It’s a dessert you’d be proud to serve your friends and family.