No-bake cheesecake bars are a crowd-pleasing dessert to make for your next party or summer picnic. Made with a graham cracker crust and dreamy filling that's light and sweet, like a cheesecake mousse.
Can't bear to turn on the oven during those hot summer months, but need a dessert that feeds a crowd? No-bake cheesecake bars to the rescue. These cheesecake bars are easy to make with a handful of simple ingredients, with no need to turn on the oven.
First, you'll start with a graham cracker crust. Melted butter and granulated sugar hold the crust together like glue. By pressing it firmly into the pan and refrigerating, this crust doesn't need to be baked.
The creamy cheesecake filling is truly delightful. Light, fluffy, rich, and tangy - this filling is best described as a cheesecake mousse.
While not dense like a traditional cheesecake, it's the perfect light treat for summer picnics and Fourth of July parties. For a more traditional cheesecake for a crowd, try my easy mini cheesecakes!
Ingredients and substitutions
- Graham cracker crumbs - For this recipe, you'll need 2 and ¼ cups of graham cracker crumbs. This (for me) was 16 full rectangle graham cracker sheets. Honey, cinnamon, or chocolate graham crackers all work in this recipe.
- Melted butter - Unsalted butter can be substituted with salted butter (omit the salt listed in the crust). Do not reduce the amount of butter, just enough is used to moisten the graham cracker crumbs and hold the crust together.
- Granulated sugar - Sugar helps retain moisture in the crust and acts as a glue with the butter to hold the crust together. I do not recommend omitting the sugar. Granulated sugar can be substituted with brown sugar for a caramelized flavor.
- Salt - I like to add a small amount of salt to the crust to contrast the rich, sweet filing. However, it can be omitted if desired.
- Cream cheese - It's important to use regular, block-style cream cheese for this recipe. Whipped cream cheese or spreadable cream cheese will not set up properly.
- Confectioner's sugar - I like to use confectioner's sugar in no-bake cheesecake because it incorporates seamlessly into the filling and helps add structure. More sugar can be added for a sweeter filling. As is, this recipe is lightly sweetened.
- Sour cream - Adds a bit of tangy flavor and creaminess to the filling. Can be substituted with plain Greek yogurt.
- Vanilla extract - Adds depth of flavor to your cheesecake.
- Heavy cream - Whipped cream is a must for this recipe. You'll be whipping heavy cream to make whipped cream, which makes your filling light and fluffy and adds stability. The heavy cream can be substituted with an 8 ounce container of Cool Whip if desired (skip the step of whipping and fold the Cool Whip into the cream cheese mixture as directed below).
Cheesecake vs. no-bake cheesecake
So, what's the difference between traditional cheesecake and no-bake cheesecake? Here are a few of the biggest differences:
- Structure: Traditional cheesecake is made with eggs for stability, then baked in the oven with a water bath. No-bake cheesecake is made by folding in whipped cream and refrigerating until set.
- Texture: They're both made with similar flavor profiles - tangy, sweetened cream cheese - but have different textures. Traditional cheesecake is dense and rich, and no-bake cheesecake is fluffy and light.
- Toppings: Traditional cheesecake can be served with warm toppings like hot fudge and warm fruit filling, whereas no-bake cheesecake will wilt and melt (it's basically a cheesecake mousse).
If you truly want a classic cheesecake taste and texture, you may be disappointed by no-bake cheesecake. The two really only share a similar flavor, but otherwise feel different texturally. Try my mini cheesecakes recipe for a classic cheesecake experience. They're perfect for a feeding a crowd!
Tips for a sturdy graham cracker crust
Properly measured graham cracker crumbs: Too many crumbs make a dry, crumbly crust, and too few crumbs make a soggy crust. I used exactly 16 Honey Maid brand graham cracker rectangles for 2 and ¼ cups of crumbs. However, different brands can be made slightly smaller or thinner, so I recommend measuring your crumbs with a measuring cup.
Do not reduce or omit the butter or sugar: The combination of melted butter and sugar helps create the glue that holds your crust together. Melted butter solidifies when refrigerated, and sugar helps attract moisture, which holds your crust together. I do not recommend substituting or omitting either of these ingredients.
Press your crust firmly into the pan: I recommend using a flat bottom measuring cup to help press the crust very firmly into the bottom of your pan. Make sure every inch of your crust is pressed down firmly - in the corners, around the sides, and in the middle.
Refrigerate: The magical last step of this process is refrigerating (or freezing) your crust. Refrigerating solidifies the butter in the crust, making it nice and firm (without the need for baking).
How to prevent runny cheesecake
Whip your heavy cream to stiff peaks - Arguably the most important step in this entire recipe! Don't skip the step of whipping your heavy cream to stiff peaks. Adding heavy cream directly to your cheesecake filling will 100% result in a runny, liquid filling. It will never set up if it's not whipped first. Whipping adds air and creates whipped cream (like an unsweetened Cool Whip), which gives the cheesecake filling its mousse-like texture.
Or, substitute with Cool Whip - If you're concerned about making your own whipped cream properly, or don't have the proper tools to do so, heavy cream can be substituted with an 8 ounce container of Cool Whip.
Use room temperature, block-style cream cheese - Room temperature cream cheese mixes seamlessly with the other ingredients, creating a smooth filling. Block style cream cheese (the rectangular brick type) is needed because it's thick, dense, and adds structure to your cheesecake. Whipped or spreadable cream cheese is too loose and fluffy.
Use confectioner's sugar - Confectioner's sugar, or powdered sugar, thickens your cheesecake filling and adds stability.
Don't overmix the filling - By folding the whipped cream gently into the cream cheese mixture, this ensures the whipped cream doesn't deflate. Part of the stability of no-bake cheesecake comes from the addition of the whipped cream.
Chill the cheesecake for the listed amount of time - Your no-bake cheesecake bars need several hours in the refrigerator to set up properly. I highly recommend letting your cheesecake set overnight, or for 8 to 12 hours.
Keep your cheesecake refrigerated until ready to serve - Just like any dairy based dessert, cheesecake needs to be kept cold until ready to serve. Leaving no-bake cheesecake bars out in hot weather will cause it to melt and wilt over time.
Toppings for no-bake cheesecake
Sweet fruit toppings are the perfect addition to this no-bake cheesecake. The cheesecake itself is lightly sweetened, which makes it the perfect vessel for your favorite toppings!
One important tip - do not add hot toppings to your no-bake cheesecake. It's basically like a whipped mousse. Warm sauce will cause it to wilt and deflate.
- Strawberry Topping for Cheesecake (pictured above)
- Lemon Blueberry Topping for Cheesecake
- Raspberry Sauce For Cheesecake
- Lemon curd
- Homemade Whipped Cream
- Sliced fresh fruit
- Homemade Cherry Pie Filling (room temperature or chilled)
No-Bake Cheesecake Bars
Graham cracker crust
- 2 ¼ cups (248 g) graham cracker crumbs, about 16 rectangles
- 9 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt, omit if using salted butter
- 24 ounces (681 g) block-style cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 cup (120 g) confectioner's sugar
- ¼ cup (57 g) sour cream
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 ½ cups (341 g) heavy cream, very cold
Graham cracker crust
- If making graham cracker crumbs from whole crackers: Place graham crackers into a food processor and process until finely ground. Or place crackers in a large plastic bag and use a rolling pin to finely crush.
- If using a food processor: Add melted butter, sugar, and salt (optional) to food processor with graham cracker crumbs and pulse until fully incorporated. Or, add crumbs, butter, sugar, and salt to a bowl and mix until evenly combined. Your mixture should be thick and sandy.
- Line a 9x13 baking pan with parchment paper. Pour graham cracker mixture into prepared pan. Use the flat bottom of a measuring cup and/or your hands to press crust firmly into the bottom of the pan. Transfer to refrigerator while preparing filling.
- In a large mixing bowl, add cream cheese. With a hand mixer, blend unto smooth and creamy, about a minute. Add confectioner's sugar, sour cream, and vanilla extract. Beat until smooth and creamy, about a minute.
- In a separate large bowl, add cold heavy cream. Using a hand mixer with a whisk attachment, whip for 2-3 minutes on medium speed until stiff peaks form. Once you begin to see ripples in the cream from your mixer and it appears to be holding its shape, stop the mixer and pull the whisk out of the bowl. If the tip of the whipped cream holds its shape without drooping, your whipped cream is ready. Take care not to over-mix or your whipped cream will separate.
- Using a spatula, gently fold whipped cream into cream cheese mixture until fully incorporated. Pour cheesecake filling over prepared graham cracker crust and using a spatula, spread to the edges of the pan in an even layer.
- Cover and refrigerate 8 to 12 hours, or overnight, until firm. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Slice and serve cold.
- 1.5 cups of heavy cream can be substituted with an 8 ounce tub of Cool Whip. Skip the step of whipping your cream, then fold Cool Whip into cream cheese mixture as directed.
- No-bake cheesecake will keep for 5 days in the refrigerator in a sealed container, and is best after resting for at least 8 hours. A great dessert to make a day or two ahead of an event.
- For tips on making a sturdy graham cracker crust and preventing a runny filling, please see tips in the post above.
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