My love of cheesecake goes way back.
I am lucky enough that my parents often make the time and effort to congratulate me in some way for each of my achievements. I don’t remember them ever saying “If you get top marks on your maths test, we’ll buy you a pony” or anything along those lines, but they did sometimes surprise me with little gifts if they felt particularly proud of me, which I like to think was often.
The most memorable of rewards my parents gave me was my dear dog, Ben, when I was thirteen years old. A huge, playful and loving Labrador who brought us all many years of happiness. I had wanted a dog for many, many years and finally (finally!) got one after having survived my first year in a French speaking secondary school. I only spoke English then so it was quite an achievement if I do say so myself.
Not all rewards were as important as Ben was, though. I remember sticker books and trips to the cinema, a new Betty Spaghetti doll or the latest Jacqueline Wilson novel. I enjoyed each of them immensely, but none proved as useful as the children’s recipe book my mom bought me as a surprise when I passed my SATs.
In England, at the end of primary school, each student has to sit SATs exams (very different from the American version) before entering secondary school. I did not deal very well with the pressure and freaked out accordingly, although I did well in the end. And a few days after the results came in, my mom sidled up to me and produced a colourful recipe book from behind her back: The Walker Book of Children’s Cookery.
I vaguely remember squealing and being very excited. I was very easy to please, so I was extremely happy with my present even though I hadn’t asked for a recipe book or even particularly wanted one. I had no idea how useful it was going to be in the coming years.
We took that book to Mauritius with us when we moved a few months later, and it became my faithful companion as I slowly but surely learned how to cook. It contained pictures drawn by hand for each step of each recipe, and provided a nice range of recipes, going from simple mains like marinated chicken to more complex instructions for recipes like pavlova or cheesecake.
I started out with tomato, mozzarella and basil salad, following the simple instructions diligently, before making my way to a spongey lemon cake. The pages of that recipe have gone yellow in the past 10 years and bear the scars of a hundred perusals: drops of lemon juice and melted butter and probably the odd sprinkle of sugar or flour as well.
The lemon cheesecake was a real keeper, and I made it over and over again for friends and family. It always went down a treat and I really enjoyed making it. I have made it much less often since moving to Paris, as I have less opportunities to make a big dessert for a crowd. But I still remember the how-to and decided to share an adapted version with you today.
Ingredients for no-bake lemon cheesecake (serves 6 generously, 8 reasonably)
- 200 grams of cinnamon biscuits: I use Speculoos but the original recipe calls for digestive biscuits. Any dry biscuit will do.
- 80 grams butter
- 1 big tablespoon of honey
- Juice and zest of one lemon (preferably organic)
- 200 grams cream cheese
- 200 grams plain yoghurt
- 200 grams fromage frais/fromage blanc
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 6 grams of gelatine (one sachet)
Note: When preparing this article, I made the cheesecake again, using less butter and trying agar agar instead of gelatine. The yoghurt mixture didn’t set the first time, I tried a second time after having let the agar agar simmer for longer but it went wrong again. You can’t use agar agar with lemon or any kind of acidic element so I left that out but it still didn’t set. I would like to use agar agar instead of gelatine in the future so if you have any advice, please do share in the comments! I think it has something to do with the fact that the yoghurt mixture isn’t cooked…
That is also the reason I did not take a photo of the finished cheesecake on a pretty plate: it I had taken it out of the tin it would have just spilled all over the place. It was still delicious though, even though it didn’t set!
- Butter a medium sized cheesecake tin (about 15cm in diameter)
- Place butter and honey in a medium sized saucepan and heat on the lowest setting.
- Put biscuits in a large food bag and close with a peg or tie of some kind.
- Smash the biscuits with a rolling pin (or a heavy ceramic flower pot if you don’t own a rolling pin, like me) until you end up with a bag full of biscuit crumbs.
- The butter will have melted by now (watch out so it doesn’t burn! If it melts and you’re not ready yet, just remove from the stove) so you can add the crumbs and mix them with the butter and honey.
- When fully mixed, press the mixture to the bottom of the cheesecake tin and a little on the sides if you’d like. The cheesecake base should be quite compact so don’t hesitate to push down on it before putting the tin in the freezer.
- Sprinkle gelatine over the lemon juice in a mug and put the mug in the microwave for 15 seconds. The gelatine should be liquid. Give a stir and let cool. If you don’t have a microwave, place the mug in a saucepan with about two inches of gently simmering water until it melts. Remove (carefully!) and let cool for five minutes.
- Add cream cheese, fromage blanc and yoghurt to a large bowl with the vanilla extract and the sugar. Pulse on high with an electric beater for two minutes or until the mixture is very smooth.
- Check the gelatine is cool and add to the mixture. Pulse again for about 30 seconds. Add the lemon zest and stir briefly before pouring the mixture into the cheesecake tin, on top of the biscuit base that should be cold and hard by now. Smooth the surface with the back of a spoon and transfer to the fridge. Let set for at least 3 hours.
- When ready to serve, remove the sides of the cheesecake tin and gently slide the cheesecake onto a plate. Or just serve in the dish if it’s easier!
- Optional: you can decorate the cheesecake with slices of fruit, more lemon zest, melted chocolate or just plain biscuit crumbs (my favourite). Enjoy!