This cheesecake is luxuriously creamy and decadent without even needing to turn on the oven! The tangy and brilliantly-colored elderberry sauce is a perfect match for this simple yet elegant dessert.
The summer has blazed on for months with its undulating heat waves and long, sticky nights. Wildfires are erupting in the hills, surrounding us on all sides and choking the air with thick smoke. Ash has been raining from the sky for weeks. The sun, whenever it momentarily manages to peek through the haze, is an unusual bright pink.
Who wants to turn on an oven for hours during this kind of weather? Not me.
I must admit, the abundance of Oregon wildfires this season has put a bit of a damper on my baking. It has also prevented me from my usual foraging escapades that should be taking place around this time. As the blackberries and huckleberries reached their peak season, the entire region of Southern Oregon became shrouded in one gigantic gray blanket. Going outside feels a little like being inside a bonfire. Your eyes sting; your lungs burn; and your hair picks up that smell that says you’ve been roasting marshmallows somewhere.
But I’m not trying to complain too much about my inability to gather berries. Meanwhile, beautiful forests are burning down. Friends are on evacuation notice. Farmers are wondering how to evacuate their livestock while the possibility of losing their entire salary for the year is hanging over them.
Ok, we don’t need to get much more grim than that for today. Maybe we should talk about cheesecake, and delicious sauces that pair perfectly alongside. Luckily for me, I actually happened to come across some elderberries without really trying. I went on a drive around the surrounding countryside to try to capture the strangely beautiful new landscape painted by the smoke and haze. I ended up on top of the mountain where I pick elderberries every year, and they were there, just waiting for me. Plump and perfectly ripe, taunting me with their deep blues and purples shining through the drab background of a world on fire.
It only takes minutes to grab enough elderberries to make something – anything. You really only need to know about one good tree in your area. Within five minutes, I had a gallon bag full of berries. I had no plan, but was dying to bake something.
And that’s when my boyfriend mentioned something I would’ve never considered. No-bake cheesecake. I’d honestly never made one before. And you know what? It’s delicious; luxuriously creamy and decadent. What’s more, it’s about 200% easier and quicker to make than your typical cheesecake. Those guys need special care and attention. You need to bake them sometimes for as long as one and a half or even two hours. There’s a hot water bath involved. They take hours and hours to cool down. And there’s all kinds of things that can go awry along the journey.
A no-bake cheesecake is whipped up in minutes. The ingredients are easy to acquire, and there’s very few of them. The crust is pressed into the pan with your fingers. Then, the filling is poured in. Next, you let it chill while you go about your day. That’s all! It may be a bit more gooey than a baked cheesecake. But it’s still just as – possibly even more – delicious. And the elderberry sauce? It’s natural tartness cuts right through the rich, creamy filling. The brilliant magenta color swirls into each bite of ivory cheesecake, mixing with buttery graham cracker crust to make the most amazing, yet simple, dessert. I’m in love.
If you don’t have any elderberries near you, try huckleberries or blackberries. You may need to adjust the sugar in the sauce, depending on the berry you use. However, I obviously recommend you find some elder trees, or maybe a forager at your local farmer’s market. This elderberry sauce is absolutely stunning, both in appearance and flavor.
This cheesecake recipe is based on one by Martha Stewart. It would be pretty easy to add or substitute an ingredient here or there to mix it up. Try using chocolate graham crackers or vanilla wafers in the crust instead of classic graham crackers. Or, swirl a little of your favorite jam on the top. The possibilities are only limited to your imagination.
No-Bake Cheesecake with Elderberry Sauce
Luxuriously creamy and decadent cheesecake with buttery graham cracker crust is perfectly paired with a tangy elderberry sauce
graham cracker crust
- 20 full sheets honey graham crackers
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 11 tbsp butter melted
- 16 ounces cream cheese room temperature
- 1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 3 cups fresh elderberries
- 1/4 cup sugar
for the crust:
Place the graham crackers in a gallon-size freezer bag and seal. Crush gently with a rolling pin until very fine crumbs. Alternatively, pulse in a food processor until very fine crumbs. Put crushed crackers into a medium bowl and toss thoroughly with sugar. Stir in melted butter, stirring with a spatula until completely moistened. Press into the bottom and about 1 1/2" up the sides of a 9" springform pan. Chill in the freezer for at least 20 minutes.
for the filling:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until completely smooth. With mixer running on low, gradually pour in the condensed milk, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula every once in a while. Once thoroughly incorporated, add lemon juice and vanilla; mix briefly. Pour filling into chilled crust. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours, until firm.
Un-hinge sides of springform pan and remove.
for the elderberry sauce:
While cake is chilling, make the sauce. Cook berries in a saucepan on medium-low until juicy and berries are burst, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Place berries in a jelly bag or cheesecloth and strain over a bowl. When cool enough, squeeze out any remaining use before discarding berries. You should have about 1/2 cup of juice. Place juice, sugar, and 1/4 cup water in a saute pan and cook on medium, stirring frequently until thickened. This may take anywhere between 2-5 minutes. Sauce will thicken more once cool. Remove from heat and pour into a small jar or bowl. Chill until cheesecake is ready.
Eat cheesecake cold, drizzled with plenty of elderberry sauce.
hint: Make sure cream cheese is completely smooth before adding additional ingredients to filling. It there are lumps in this step, there will remain lumps in the final cake. You can always place your mixing bowl on top of a pan of simmering water briefly to help warm the cream cheese up a bit more. This will ensure a lovely, smooth texture.