The bourbon-infused blueberry compote on this airy no-bake cheesecake is a star in its own right

If there are two foods synonymous with late summer, fresh blueberries and no-bake desserts might just be it

By Joseph Neese

Deputy Editor in Chief

Published August 8, 2019 6:00PM (EDT)

My fondest childhood memories of growing up in the Deep South took place after the school bell rang at three o'clock. I'd begin the ten-minute walk to my grandparents' house, where an after-school snack was always waiting under the shade of a giant oak tree.

I used to work for Martha Stewart. But to this day, I'd argue that my grandpa had the greenest thumb my eyes have ever seen. Nestled on an acre of land were an assortment of fresh vegetables, fruit trees, a green house and a compost heap — the best soil, after all, is nurtured.

I never began school after Labor Day until I moved nearly 1,500 miles north to Boston for college. In the south, kids are always back in their uniforms by August. The dog days of summer aren't over and yet they're already starting to dream of fall.

In late summer, blueberries still ripen daily on the vine. When I arrived at my grandparent's house on August days, grandpa and I would grab plastic milk jugs with the tops cut off and head straight to his prized blueberry bushes. We'd fill them until they were overflowing — except for what we ate straight off of the vine. (That was our little secret.)

Back in the kitchen, grandma would freeze excess berries for the winter days when we'd be longing for summer again. (Isn't interesting how we always anticipate the change in season?) The oven already pre-heated, she'd proceed to bake fresh wonders like blueberry bran muffins or blueberry cobbler with a lattice crust. A cold scoop of vanilla ice cream would always melt on top like a crown. Ice cream was grandpa's favorite.

These days, I spend summers on the beaches of Long Island. And, after a hot day in the sun, the last thing I want to turn on is the oven. That's why I opt for no-bake desserts as the weather heats up. My favorite end of summer recipe is pastry chef Meghan McGarry's no-bake blueberry gingersnap cheesecake pie. It perfectly marries all of my traditions old and new, and soon you'll see why.

If you search online for a no-bake cheesecake recipe, the truth is the recipes you come across may be simple and dull. After you mix cream cheese and sugar together, there never seems to be enough filling for the endless graham cracker crust. Not with this recipe.

"It looks beautiful, it comforts you and it packs a big punch of flavor," McGarry tells Salon of her cheesecake pie. "Yet it's so low-maintenance."

This is a dessert that's perfect to break out at the beach or bring along to an outdoor barbecue or picnic — smiles on all who dig in, guaranteed.

An exceptional cheesecake is built on a strong foundation. For the crust, McGarry nods ahead to the fall baking season by replacing ordinary graham crackers with ginger snap cookie crumbs. Hints of cinnamon and spice instantly make the dessert more inviting and also provide balance to the sweetness of the filling, which is so light and airy that it almost resembles a mousse.

"I'm all about no-bake desserts in the summer," McGarry says. "To elevate the no-bake factor of the cheesecake, I added a vanilla bean to the mix. Light brown sugar is another ingredient that adds to the overall warmth of this dessert, and of course, the bourbon."
One ingredient, in particular, makes everything pop: orange zest. The added puff of citrus brightens the flavor of this dessert, which can easily be adapted for any palette.
"The beauty of this recipe is that it's very easily adaptable," McGarry adds. "If you don't have orange zest, throw in a lemon peel. If you don't have bourbon, toss in a little whiskey or throw in Grand Marnier. It's completely adaptable so that you can use what you have on hand."
The true star of the show, however, are freshly-picked blueberries in a compote so tasty you'll want to make it by itself to mix into oatmeal, garnish waffles or top two scoops of plain vanilla ice cream.
"Another splash of bourbon goes in here as well, because why not?" McGarry says with a grin. "And let me tell you: Blueberries and bourbon make the perfect pair."
To take your compote to the next level, add a few slices of fresh peaches to your sauté pan once the compote is about ready. (You don't want want them to break down all the way — just get a little soft.) Then, you have a double serving of late summer fruits.
"I always let mine sit overnight. That gives all of the flavors time to get to know each other," McGarry says. "The finished product is so perfectly light and so lush at the same time that I'm almost tempted to call it a mousse — almost."

Recipe: No-Bake Blueberry Gingersnap Cheesecake Pie


Gingersnap Crust
    • 2 cups gingersnap cookie crumbs
    • 3 Tbsp. granulated sugar
    • Pinch of salt
    • 4 ounces unsalted butter
Cheesecake Filling
    • 16 ounces cream cheese
    • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • Pinch of salt
    • Zest of 1 orange
    • 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
    • 12 ounces heavy cream
    • 2 Tbsp. bourbon
Blueberry Compote
  • 12 ounces blueberries, about 1 full pint
  • 3 Tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. fresh orange juice
  • 2 tsp. bourbon


Gingersnap Cookie Crust
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray pie plate with non stick spray.
  2. Mix crumbs, sugar, salt and melted butter together. Press into pan evenly.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees for about 8-10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Head over to Buttercream Blondie for the rest of the recipe — and other ways to reimagine your favorite blueberry and no bake-desserts.

By Joseph Neese

Joseph Neese is Salon's Deputy Editor in Chief. You can follow him on Twitter: @josephneese.

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All Salon Blueberries Cheesecake Desserts Food No-bake Desserts Pie Recipes