I¡¯ve never been a huge fan of key lime pie (too sour, too sweet), which is where this no-bake cheesecake swoops in to save the day. The acidity of the filling, in a way, offsets its sweetness and highlights its perfect "just rightness"; meanwhile, the heavy cream softly finishes the sour lime and cream cheese. It¡¯s important, too, that this isn¡¯t a traditional baked cheesecake: It¡¯s much lighter, sprightlier, which means you can inhale it without chewing. And as soon as chewing is out, the rest is a breeze.
There were many inspirations here when I developed it years ago: Nigella Lawson¡¯s no-bake cheesecake, which she tops with cherry preserves (also very good) and Magnolia Bakery¡¯s single-serving lime cheesecakes, the best parts of which are the little pompadours of whipped cream on top that offer relief from the sharp citrus beneath.
This is my favorite cheesecake to make 1) because I¡¯m lazy, 2) because I enjoy that soft voluptuousness from the no-bake, and 3) because, well, it¡¯s the one I make. Most of all, it¡¯s important to know that you in no way need an electric mixer of any kind (though it certainly makes things easier). I've made the filling in a stand mixer, with an electric hand mixer, and by hand. All methods work (especially if the cream cheese is at room temperature). Only thing is, if you¡¯re doing it by hand, you may want to whip the cream first in a separate bowl before folding into the cream cheese mixture. The idea is that you¡¯re creating volume by adding air, which thickens the cream.
Lastly, a note about candying citrus: You could garnish your cheesecake however you like. Our food stylist Anna Billingskog had the wonderful idea of topping this with candied lime slices, which is easy enough to manage: Just follow this guide. Otherwise, a simple smattering of fresh lime zest will do. —Eric Kim
Make the crust: Process the graham crackers into the texture of dry sand. (If you don't have a food processor, put the crackers in a resealable plastic bag and bash with a rolling pin or heavy-bottomed pan.) Into this, stir the melted butter, sugar, lime zest, and salt until well combined, like wet sand. Tumble into a round 8-inch springform pan and, with a ramekin, wine glass, or anything with a flat base, press and pack the crumbs into the bottom and all the way up the sides. You should be left with what looks like a large, empty Cookie Shot. Fridge this until ready to fill.
Make the filling: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or in a large mixing bowl using an electric mixer), cream together the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and lime juice until smooth and fluffy at medium speed, about 3 minutes. Slowly beat in the heavy cream and continue mixing until the batter increases in volume and thickens considerably. It should form relatively stiff peaks, if that means anything to you (or when you tilt the bowl, the batter shouldn't move much). Pour this filling into the prepared graham cracker crust and smooth off the top.
Refrigerate for 2 hours at least, preferably overnight, before garnishing with optional lime slices and serving.
Eric Kim is a senior editor at Food52, where his solo dining column, Table for One, runs Friday mornings. Formerly the managing editor at Food Network and a PhD candidate in literature at Columbia University, he writes about food, travel, and culture and lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog, Quentin "Q" Compson. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can follow him on Twitter @ericjoonho.