No-bake cheesecake

Fresh lemon cheesecake garnished with lemon slices is a great way to appreciate citrus in desserts.

Summer may be coming to an end, but in much of the country the weather is still warm enough to appreciate the refreshing zing of citrus and the ease of a no-bake dessert. So, before we move on to pumpkin spice everything, let’s enjoy the sweet, tart flavor of lemon cheesecake once more.

This technique has been around forever so I can’t take credit for creating this recipe. I first recall seeing it made by Martha Stewart, so I’ll credit her for the inspiration, made more frugal by yours truly.

Lemon cheesecake is the perfect finale to so many meals. Even though it’s assertively sweetened, it’s not cloyingly sweet because of the tart lemon. But make no mistake, this cheesecake is sweet, rich and indulgent. I recommend small slices and letting people come back for more.

To make this economical, store-brand graham crackers, cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk are perfectly fine for this recipe.

NO-BAKE FRESH LEMON CHEESECAKE

Total: 3 hours Active: 25 minutes

Yield: 8-12 servings

For crust:

2 packages (18 full sheets) graham crackers

2 tablespoons sugar

Big pinch kosher salt

11 tablespoons (1 3/8 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

For filling:

2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature

1 (14-ounce) can (1 1/4 cups) sweetened condensed milk

Juice and zest of one large lemon (about 1/4 cup juice)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Place graham crackers in a large zip-top plastic bag and crush them with a skillet or rolling pin until they’re the texture of coarse sand.

2. Into a medium bowl, stir together the crumbs, sugar and salt. Melt butter and add to the crumbs, stirring until well-combined.

3. Into a 9-inch springform pan, spread the crumb mixture. Press the crumb mixture 1 1/2 to 2 inches up the side. Use the bottom of a measuring cup (or something similar) to flatten the crust and really press it into the sides. Chill crust in freezer while you make the filling, or at least 10 minutes.

4. In a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer, beat the cream cheese until aerated and smooth. Continue beating the cream cheese as you gradually add the sweetened condensed milk, scraping the sides of the bowl, as necessary. Add the lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla, mixing until combined. Resist the urge to eat this right now.

5. Retrieve your semi-frozen crust and carefully add the filling, ensuring there are no air pockets. Smooth the top with the back of a spoon. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, about 2 1/2 hours.

6. To serve, unclasp sides of pan and remove cheesecake. Slice into 8 to 12 slices. Serve while cold for best presentation.

Although already beautiful in its pale-yellow simplicity, for the photo I garnished the cheesecake with paper-thin lemon slices, lemon thyme leaves and edible viola flowers.

This recipe is divine exactly as written, using fresh lemon juice and zest and a homemade graham cracker crust. But when lemons are out of season, shriveled and two bucks apiece, here is a shortcut that reduces both cost and time:

Feel free to use 1/4 cup bottled reconstituted lemon juice and a purchased graham cracker crust. Depending on the size of your crust, you may have a little leftover filling. Should you be faced with such a terrible dilemma, you can use the filling as a dip for sliced fruit, to make layered parfaits with fruit or to fill croissants or other pastries. Or just eat it with a spoon.

Now, when life gives you lemons, you know what to do.

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is the penny-pinching, party-planning, recipe developer and content creator of the website “Divas On A Dime — Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at divapatti@divasonadime.com

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