I have to be honest. I love a no-bake dessert—for their ease, for not having to turn an oven on, and a bit for their camp—like my Chocolate-Creamsicle Pie. But, much as I love a no-bake dessert, one no-bake dessert I can rarely get behind is a no-bake cheesecake. I openly admit to being a cheesecake snob. As some of my other cheesecake recipes would suggest, I’m not exactly a purist, though. You see, the fine line between a snob and a purist is that a snob will commit sacrilege in order to achieve only the finest, or most desirable, results, where as a purist sticks to traditions, and accepts the limitations of a recipe because that’s what makes it. That’s really to say that, when I tinker with a cheesecake recipe and add some flavor by way of some sort of liquid, I don’t think twice about or make apology for adding a tablespoon of cornstarch. It helps to absorb extra liquid without having to add another egg, saving it from being rubbery and eggy. That said, when I make cheesecakes that don’t use any liquid, no cornstarch is in sight—nor should it be—and I certainly don’t add cream and flour. That’s a barbaric way of making cheesecake, frankly (at least a proper springform cheesecake). So, as you see, my inconsistent flip-flopping with these rules is more akin to snobbery than anything else.
Despite my snobbery, I got a bit of a smug satisfaction from making this; something like the sort of joy you get from breaking a rule, only this time it’s my own. What I think makes this no-bake cheesecake work so well is the cranberries. Most no-bake cheesecakes have you use flavorless gelatin to give it some structure. I have two issues with this: for one, I think the gelatin can give these sorts of desserts a little too much snap so they end up with the texture of cream aspic rather than cheesecake, the second being that I have spotty luck with gelatin so I try to stay away from it. The cranberries are what really do it. Because they’re so high in pectin, which is what gives them their jam-like body when you make cranberry sauce/relish at the holidays, they give support and structure to the cheesecake. Once it’s all mixed together, the cranberry sauce cools in the fridge and sets up, the same as it would if you were making a jam, and gives the cheesecake enough structure that it firms up a little but not so much than it shakes like jelly. I wanted it as close to the texture of a real cheesecake without being too firm or soft and this is the best of both worlds. Not to mention, I have a bit of a culinary fetish with cranberries this time of year—I can’t stop buying fresh ones at the grocery store!
I cook some down with just a little bit of sugar and water until they completely burst before pushing them through a fine-mesh sieve so I have a thick and brilliant-red cranberry pulp.
Cream cheese gets whipped a little (make sure it’s room temperature—and don’t do the microwave method), then add some powdered sugar and beat again just to combine. The cranberry gets added in (once cooled) and it’s all whipped together until puffy. Then, heavy cream, vanilla and Cointreau (or triple sec) are added and whipped until medium-stiff peaks.
This gets poured into an 8 or 9” springform pan that’s been pressed with an amaretti cookie crust, the top gets smoothed out, and into the fridge it goes for at least 6 hours.
I make a cranberry syrup to drizzle over the top, much the same way as the cranberry pulp that goes into the cheesecake but with different proportions. Because I always have cranberry juice in the fridge I use that here in place of water, but you could just as easily use it in place of the juice.
So even if you’re not a baker, or not a cheesecake maker, you can still have a great dessert for the holidays that everyone will love (and with very little effort, I might add).
Happy Thanksgiving! And don’t forget to follow me on BLOGLOVIN’!