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The Best No-Bake and Gluten Free Strawberry Cheesecake

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It’s strawberry season here in Florida and what better way to celebrate this time of year than with this no-bake strawberry cheesecake recipe! I’ve had my share of strawberry shortcakes and milkshakes. All delicious, but nothing is quite as refreshing as this no-bake strawberry cheesecake.

This recipe comes together with simple ingredients, then gets tucked in the fridge overnight and waits until you get home from class, work, or whatever keeps your family busy during the day. To make it even better, the recipe is gluten-free, making it perfect for sensitive tummies.

I became interested in no-bake desserts in college. Cooking has always been my love language, but when I found myself sharing space with people outside my family for the first time, I wanted options that could get me in and out of the communal kitchen quickly. 

I absolutely adore strawberries and this cheesecake is packed with them. Made with smooth mascarpone and refrigerated overnight, this dessert is a decadent and indulgent way to enjoy central Florida’s signature berry.  

Ingredients

  • Strawberries-We’ll be cooking them down so any shape of frozen or fresh strawberries will work just as well. 
  • Cane Sugar-Regular, white, granulated sugar is all you need.
  • Mascarpone Cheese-You can easily substitute in cream cheese if mascarpone isn’t available in your area. It will change the texture and flavor but it’ll still be delicious.
  • Heavy Whipping Cream-You must use a whipping cream in this recipe for the best results.
  • Greek Yogurt-You can use plain or vanilla greek yogurt, or sour cream in the same amount. These possible substitutions shouldn’t affect the flavor.
  • Vanilla Extract-This is a pantry staple for anyone who makes dessert but if you want to pump up the vanilla flavor, you can substitute with vanilla bean paste in the same quantities.
  • Lemon Juice-This hit of acid is a great way to balance out the sweetness of the strawberries with a subtle, complementary flavor.
  • Graham Crackers-If you want this recipe to remain gluten free be sure to check that your graham crackers are labeled as gluten free.
  • Butter-I recommend using unsalted butter for desserts and baked goods but for this recipe salted butter can be substituted if it’s all you have. Melt it in the microwave for easy mixing.
  • Water-Tap water works just fine but you can use filtered water if you’re fancy.
  • Unflavored Gelatin-For this recipe use individual packets of gelatin, not gelatin sheets.

Can I substitute cream cheese for mascarpone?

You absolutely can if that’s what you have available. Mascarpone is an Italian version of cream cheese made from whole cream. The biggest difference between the two is the amount of milk fat each contains. 

Since mascarpone has a higher fat content it will taste richer and creamier than American cream cheese, which tastes slightly acidic by comparison. If you want to use cream cheese as a substitute in this recipe, let it come to room temperature before using it. This will help the cream cheese incorporate better into the batter and save you some heartache.

Is No-Bake Cheesecake better than baked?

This is completely up to personal preference. A baked cheesecake uses eggs as a binder activated during the bake, while a No-Bake cheesecake typically uses gelatin which requires chilling to finish. Both cooking methods have their own challenges and benefits.

 Both versions are equally delicious but there is a textural difference. A baked cheesecake is more dense and rich, while the No-Bake version is softer like a mousse.

Why is my No-Bake Cheesecake not firm?

If your No-Bake Cheesecake isn’t firm there are two possible reasons. One possibility is that it didn’t have enough time to set in the fridge. A No-Bake Cheesecake will typically take 6-8 hours to fully set. To ensure that your cheesecake holds together when sliced, I recommend making it the day before you intend to serve it so it can chill in the fridge overnight.

The other possible reason a No-Bake Cheesecake isn’t firm is if the gelatin wasn’t properly incorporated. To avoid this issue, be sure to dissolve each gelatin packet in half a cup of water, let it stand for 1 minute, then microwave it for 15 seconds and give it a stir. This is a crucial step to getting a smooth, firm texture to the finished cheesecake.

Step-by-step instructions

Before getting started, set out all the tools and ingredients and measure the amounts you’ll need. This is called mise en place – it is the act of getting set up before you start cooking. This is very helpful in ensuring that you aren’t scrambling around during the cooking process.

Once you’re ready to begin, we’ll start cooking down half of the strawberries for the cheesecake layer. In a small saucepan add half of the strawberries, half of the sugar and one tbsp. of lemon juice. Cook over medium heat until the liquids reduce and the strawberries begin to break down. Remember to stir frequently because there’s a lot of sugar in this pan and sugars can burn if left undisturbed.

Now we’re going to prepare and incorporate the gelatin to give this layer more structural integrity. In a small bowl add 1 gelatin packet to a 1/2 cup of water, let stand for 1 minute, then microwave it for 15 seconds. Stir the gelatin mixture to incorporate, then add the gelatin to the strawberries that are cooking on the stove. Continue to cook down the strawberries until they have completely broken down and the mixture is thick. Turn off the heat and set the pan aside to cool.

While the strawberry mixture cools, we’ll start the buttery graham cracker crust. In a food processor finely grind the graham crackers. If you don’t have a food processor, you can break the graham crackers down by putting them in a plastic bag and crushing them with a rolling pin. If that’s what you go for, be sure to squeeze the air out of the bag before sealing it and try to crush the graham crackers as finely as you can. Then transfer the ground graham crackers to a medium bowl and add the melted butter and mix it together. The result should have the texture of wet sand.

We’re going to transfer the mix to a 10” springform pan. I would highly recommend springform pans for all cheesecake recipes as releasing the spring will make them easier to cut and, with this recipe, reveal all three beautiful layers. Spread the crust mixture evenly and press the mix firmly into the bottom of the Springform pan to form a sturdy crust. Then transfer the pan to the fridge to chill.

Next we’ll finish the cheesecake layer. In a large bowl whisk together the yogurt, mascarpone cheese and vanilla extract until well combined. In another bowl whip the heavy cream to soft peaks. This is easily achieved with any electric mixture but if you don’t have one it can be whipped by hand with a whisk. Add the whipped cream to the bowl of cheese mixture. Use a spatula to fold the whipped cream into the cheese mixture, and then add the cooled strawberry gelatin mixture and mix with the spatula until incorporated. Pour the mixture over the graham cracker layer and transfer it back to the fridge.

For the last layer, blend the remaining strawberries with water then transfer to the same saucepan you cooked the first strawberry mixture in. Add the remaining lemon juice and sugar. Cook until the mixture is reduced and then add the second packet of gelatin following the same steps as before. In a small bowl add 1 gelatin packet to a 1/2 cup of water, let stand for 1 minute, then microwave it for 15 seconds. Stir the gelatin mixture to incorporate, then add the gelatin to the strawberries that are cooking on the stove. Set it aside to cool to room temperature before adding to the cheesecake layer. This cooling step is vital so as to not melt the cheesecake layer. Refrigerate for at least 6 to 8 hours, preferably overnight, until thoroughly chilled and set.

First, gather your ingredients: 

  • 25 oz. of frozen or fresh strawberries
  • 1 cup and 1/2 cane sugar
  • 8 oz. of mascarpone cheese
  • 1 cup of heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup of plain or vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 1 tbsp. of vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp. of lemon juice
  • 10 oz. of gluten free graham crackers
  • 10 tbsp. of melted butter
  • 1 1/4 cup of water
  • 2 packets of unflavored gelatin

Instructions

  1. In a small saucepan add half of the strawberries cut in any shape.
  2. Add half of the sugar and one tbsp. of lemon juice, and cook over medium heat until the liquids reduce and the strawberries begin to break down.
  3. In a small bowl add 1 gelatin packet to a 1/2 cup of water, let stand for 1 minute, then microwave it for 15 seconds.
  4. Stir the gelatin mixture to incorporate, then add the gelatin to the strawberries.
  5. Cook down the strawberries on medium heat, stirring occasionally. Once the strawberries have broken down and the mixture is thick, set aside to cool.
  6. Start the buttery graham cracker crust. In a food processor finely grind the graham crackers.

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