Why It Works
- The bittersweet crunch of chocolate cookie crumbs, whether store-bought or homemade, will offset the lightness of the filling.
- Swiss meringue provides a thick and stable base for a no-churn ice cream that's airy and light.
- Greek yogurt gives the cheesecake a tangy character, much like cream cheese but far more fluffy.
While visiting Iceland, I stopped at a tourist cafe on the black sand beach in Vik for a slice of skyr cheesecake, and I can't stop thinking about it. I mean, that's the life of a pastry chef; visit one of our planet's most iconic basalt formations, and walk away with indelible memories of cheesecake.
But it was a great cheesecake, okay?
It had an almost cloud-like consistency, underpinned by the tang of skyr, and it was rich enough to suggest whipped cream folded in. It reminded me of vanilla mousse crossed with a no-bake cheesecake, but with a presentation more in-line with that of a New York cheesecake (tall, straight sides, and crust along the bottom alone).
Slowly, I've been working toward a version of my own, a dessert that's as light as mousse, as tangy as cheesecake, and visually impressive enough to be a centerpiece dessert—all without even glancing at an oven. Because it's so airy and tart, it provides a wonderful counterpoint to the richness of a hearty meal, making it a natural contender for the holidays.
Before I dive into the recipe and technique, please note that I'm making no claims of authenticity here. I've had exactly one (1) slice of skyr cheesecake, so the best I can do is replicate my own memory of that experience. That's doubly true given the lack of traditional skyr in the US, where most (if not all) brands are rennet-free formulas that are much like Greek yogurt.
Thanks to that quirk of localization, both skyr and Greek yogurt will get the job done in this recipe—which isn't to say all brands are created equal! Look for those that contain nothing but milk and active cultures; spotting any sort of gum or pectin in the ingredients list is a sure sign its water content is too high (in other words, its consistency is controlled by thickening agents rather than straining).
I've tested this recipe across two brands of Greek yogurt (Fage and Chobani) and two brands of skyr (Siggi's and Icelandic Provisions), and all perform well, with subtle differences in flavor and volume apparent only in side-by-side tastings. What's important is to start with a brand you enjoy; the cheesecake will magnify, not disguise, its character.
I like this cheesecake best with the bitterness of dark chocolate wafers in the cookie-crumb crust, but feel free to start with whatever sounds best to you.
I used my own DIY Oreos as wafers, as I tend to have a stockpile of scraps hanging out in my freezer (again, that's the life of a pastry chef), but there's no shame in store-bought.
If you can't find Nabisco's Famous Chocolate Wafers, do take the time to scrape out the filling in store-bought Oreos or try chocolate grahams instead; gluten-free alternatives to any of those options will do nicely as well.
As with my New York Cheesecake, I like using an 8- by 4-inch non-reactive loose-bottom pan to give the cheesecake some dramatic height, but, of course, you can adapt the recipe to whatever equipment you have on hand.
After lining the bottom insert with foil, I prepare the crust right in the pan by gently mixing the cookie crumbs with salt and melted butter, then compressing everything into an even layer.
With the crust ready to go, it's time to start on the filling. It may be a no-bake affair, but like any mousse, it takes a few bowls to prepare and hold the individual components. In this case, bloomed gelatin, whipped Greek yogurt or skyr, and Swiss meringue.
Here, I bloom unflavored powdered gelatin with vanilla extract and water, but other liquids (like milk or cream) will work equally well. As sheet gelatin is not readily available in American supermarkets, and its bloom strength can vary wildly by brand and grade, I have not tested it in this recipe.
The next step is to whip Greek yogurt or skyr with cream until stiff, at which point it can be popped in the fridge while making the Swiss meringue.
If not, it may help to click around to familiarize yourself with the technique, which I've written about extensively in the articles linked above. It's not a difficult process—egg whites and sugar are warmed over a water bath and then whipped until fluffy and light—but managing the water temperature can be tricky for beginners, who may fear increasing the heat as needed to cook the meringue in short order.
The idea is to quickly cook the meringue to about 175°F (79°C), a process that should absolutely not take any longer than 10 minutes. It's okay for the timing in a recipe to vary by a minute or two here or there, based on the equipment in a given kitchen, but if things seem to be moving more slowly than that, feel free to turn up the heat.
During this time, continually scrape and stir the mixture of egg whites and sugar to ensure nothing scrambles against the sides of the bowl. As the mixture warms, it will transform from a dark and translucent mixture, to an opaque, almost white syrup. It should be totally creamy, with no lumps of cooked egg (which will either indicate insufficient stirring or excessively strong heat from the water bath).
Once the meringue is fully cooked, toss it on a stand mixer and whip until thick and roughly tripled in volume, but still a little warm. Meanwhile, carefully melt the bloomed gelatin until liquid and quite warm, anything above 100°F (38°C) but below 212°F (100°C) will be fine.
Transfer about 1/3 of the meringue to a large bowl, then add the warm gelatin all at once, whisking quickly to combine. From there, the remainder of the meringue can be added, followed by the mixture of whipped cream and Greek yogurt or skyr.
At this stage, the "cheesecake" can be seasoned to taste with additional salt or an extra splash of vanilla extract if it seems too sweet. From there, the filling is scraped into the prepared pan and smoothed into an even layer.
Cover and refrigerate the cheesecake until fully set and no warmer than 40°F (4°C); the exact timing can vary, but I'd budget at least six hours to be safe.
In practice, however, this is always an overnight process for me as I'd rather take advantage of its make-ahead nature than race the clock to prepare and serve it all in the same day.
When fully set, unmold the cheesecake by loosening the sides with a thin knife or offset spatula. Place the pan on a wide jar (or some similarly sized object), then pull down on the sides to drop the outer ring away from the bottom.
With a springform pan, the cheesecake may tear a little as the outer ring expands when the latch is released (another reason I love my loose-bottom pan).
Finally, I use an offset spatula to loosen the cheesecake from the bottom insert, so I can slide it onto a cake stand or serving platter.
From there, the cheesecake can be served immediately or wrapped in plastic and refrigerated until needed, up to one week from the day it was made (a shelf life that has more to do with flavor and freshness than food safety).
Because the cheesecake itself is so tangy, thanks to the Greek yogurt or skyr, I'm not wild about pairing it with fruit. Instead, I enjoy it with bittersweet toppings; think caramel sauce and chocolate shavings or garnishes like Valrhona crunchy pearls, malt balls, or classic chocolate sprinkles.
Between its tangy flavor, airy texture, no-bake technique, and long shelf life, this simple cheesecake is a strong contender for any holiday menu. It won't compete with other recipes for the oven, it can be knocked out well in advance and is almost a palate cleanser after a rich and heavily spiced meal.
Cooking spray, for greasing the pan
For the Crust:
8 3/4 ounces chocolate cookie crumbs (about 2 cups; 250g) (see notes)
2 ounces unsalted butter (about 4 tablespoons; 55g), melted and very warm
1/8 teaspoon (0.5g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight
For the Filling:
1/2 ounce unflavored gelatin powder (about 4 1/4 teaspoons, though volume may vary by brand; 14g), such as NOW Foods (see notes)
1 ounce water, milk, or cream (about 2 tablespoons; 30g)
3/4 ounce vanilla extract (about 4 1/2 teaspoons; 22g), or more to taste
24 ounces strained Greek yogurt (about 3 cups; 680g), such as Fage or Chobani, or skyr such as Siggi's
12 ounces heavy cream (about 1 1/2 cups; 340g)
6 ounces egg whites from about 6 large eggs (about 3/4 cup; 170g)
7 ounces sugar (about 1 cup; 200g)
1/2 teaspoon (2g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight, or more to taste
Chocolate shavings, sprinkles, or candies, such as Valrhona Crunchy Pearls, Callebaut Crispearls, malt balls, etc
Getting Ready: This recipe requires an 8- by 4-inch nonreactive aluminum pan, preferably a loose-bottom style like this custom piece from LloydPans Kitchenware. Otherwise, a springform pan of similar dimensions will work, although it will require more care in handling. In either case, wrap the bottom insert in foil before assembly, then tear away the excess, so the pan sits flat. Lightly grease the pan with cooking spray.
For the Crust: Add the cookie crumbs, melted butter, and salt to the prepared pan, and stir gently with a fork (or your fingers) until well combined. If needed, season to taste with additional salt. With your fingers, or the bottom of a small glass, compress into an even layer along the bottom of the pan.
For the Filling: In a small bowl, whisk the gelatin powder, water, and vanilla together with a fork until well combined. Meanwhile, combine the Greek yogurt and cream in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and whip until thick and able to hold medium-stiff peaks, about 5 minutes, although the timing will vary depending on both the power of the mixer and specific moisture content of the Greek yogurt. After whipping, transfer to a separate container, cover, and refrigerate until needed, up to 1 hour. Before proceeding, make certain the stand mixer bowl and whip are meticulously clean, as trace amounts of fat may inhibit aeration of the meringue.
For a Stand Mixer With a Bowl-Lift Design: Tear off a long strip of foil and crumple it into a thick ring. Place it in the bottom of a 3-quart saucier, or similarly large, wide pot, and fill with roughly 1 1/2 inches water. Place over high heat until bubbling-hot, then adjust the temperature to maintain a gentle simmer. In a stainless steel stand mixer bowl, combine egg whites, sugar, and salt. Set over the steaming water so that the bowl is resting on the foil ring and touching neither the water nor the pot itself. Cook, stirring and scraping constantly with a flexible spatula, until egg whites register 175°F (79°C) on a digital thermometer; this should take no longer than 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer bowl to a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.
For a Stand Mixer With a Tilt-Head Design: Fill a large pot with a few inches of water. Place over high heat until bubbling-hot. In a large heatproof glass or ceramic bowl, combine egg whites, sugar, and salt. Set bowl over steaming water, then cook, stirring and scraping constantly with a flexible spatula, until egg whites register 175°F on a digital thermometer; this should take no longer than 10 minutes. Scrape mixture into the stand mixer bowl and fit stand mixer with a whisk attachment.
Whip the meringue on high speed until glossy, stiff, and thick, but still warm to the touch, about 4 minutes (again, the timing can vary substantially, so use the textural cues as your primary guide). Near the end of that time, melt the prepared gelatin with a few careful 10-second bursts in the microwave or over the water bath. In either case, it's important that the gelatin is liquified and warm, but no hotter than 212°F (100°C).
Place about 1/3 of the warm meringue in a large bowl, then whisk in the warm gelatin with a balloon whisk, working quickly to be sure the gelatin does not have an opportunity to congeal against the sides of the bow. Whisk in the remaining meringue, followed by the whipped Greek yogurt in 2 or 3 additions. Adjust to taste, with additional salt, or extracts of any kind. Immediately scrape into the prepared pan, and smooth into an even layer. Cover with foil and refrigerate until the cheesecake is fully set, with an internal temperature no higher than 40°F (4°C), at least 6 hours.
Unmolding the Cheesecake: Loosen the sides of the cheesecake from the pan with a thin knife or offset spatula. Place the pan on a large can of tomatoes or a similarly sized object; something tall enough to lift the cheesecake 4 inches from the counter and wide enough to form a stable base. With both hands on the sides of the pan, pull downward to drop the outer ring away from the bottom. Place the cake onto a flat work surface, loosen it from the bottom of the pan with an offset spatula, and transfer to a large, flat serving plate. Wrap thoroughly with plastic and refrigerate until needed, up to 1 week.
To Serve: Top the cheesecake as desired and cut with a large chef's knife dipped in hot water; for clean and tidy portions of cheesecake, pause to clean the blade under hot running water between each slice. Serve chilled.
Troubleshooting: While the approximate cooking times for the water bath are estimations, and will naturally vary from kitchen to kitchen, substantially missing the mark in terms of timing indicates heat levels that are vastly too high or low. When the meringue cooks much too fast, it is prone to scrambling, regardless of how thoroughly the bowl is scraped, resulting in a lumpy texture and eggy flavor. When the meringue is cooked too slowly, excess evaporation will dry the meringue, making it grainy and dense. In either event, adjusting the heat as needed will resolve the issue.
This tangy vanilla profile of this cheesecake pairs best with the bitter contrast of a crust made from dark-chocolate cookie crumbs or chocolate graham cracker crumbs, whether store-bought or homemade, traditional or gluten-free. The crust pictured here was made with our homemade Oreos (wafers only). Of course, this is a matter of personal taste, so feel free to use whatever sort of cookie crumbs sound best.
Not all Greek yogurts are created equal, which can make a big difference in a recipe where it's the main ingredient. Look for brands that contain nothing but milk and active cultures, such as Fage and Chobani, or try skyr instead (we've tested this recipe with both Siggi's and Icelandic Provisions). Steer clear of any yogurt or skyr artificially thickened with gums or pectin, as its high moisture content will destabilize the cake.
Any brand of powdered gelatin will work quite well in the finished product, but be aware that outside the US, gelatin may be formulated to a slightly higher strength. Take care when adapting the recipe to sheet gelatin, as the exact bloom strength of a particular grade may differ substantially from that of powdered American gelatin. For more information, please see the unexpected variables that may cause gelatin to misbehave.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Wrapped tightly in plastic to protect it from odor-absorption, this cheesecake can be refrigerated up to one week.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 14g||18%|
|Saturated Fat 8g||40%|
|Total Carbohydrate 27g||10%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||2%|
|Total Sugars 22g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||1%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|