Cheesecake is the best summer dessert. Here's why

Erin McDowell gives three reasons to make cheesecake your go-to dessert this summer

By Erin Jeanne McDowell
Published July 18, 2021 1:30PM (EDT)
Prop stylist: Jessica Faria. Food stylist: Sam Seneviratne. (Julia Gartland / Food52)
Prop stylist: Jessica Faria. Food stylist: Sam Seneviratne. (Julia Gartland / Food52)

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The way to my heart is through all things doughy: bread, pie, and biscuits. But I've baked a lot more cheesecakes since meeting my husband, because they are his favorite dessert. The way to his heart is through creamy custards, preferably with a tart hint of tang — add a cookie crust, and he's done for. I've been experimenting more with cheesecakes ever since learning this, and along the way I fell in love by proxy. (And since cheesecakes are really custard in a crust — they sound a bit like a pie to me! #teamcheesepie.) In the most recent episode of Bake It Up a Notch, I dived deep into cheesecakes and shared a ton of recipes, as we head into my favorite season to make them. While I bake cheesecakes of all flavors year-round, they truly are a perfect summer dessert. Here are three delicious reasons that may convince you I'm right.

1. Cheesecake is served chilled.

One of my favorite things about cheesecakes is that they are usually served cold. This alone makes them ideal for summer — what's better than something chilled and sweet when it's hot outside? (I've also heard of folks who enjoy eating frozen cheesecakes without letting them thaw, for an extra-cold twist.) This also speaks to me as a lover of make-ahead options. It's a dessert that can be made whenever you have time to bake, then enjoyed for many days to follow (assuming it lasts that long). Since it can be made ahead, it's also perfect to take with you — maybe pack some slices for a summer picnic or try some easy-to-serve cheesecake bars or mini cheesecakes to bring to a barbecue. It's refreshing, it's a crowd-pleaser, it's the definition of creamy and delicious.

2. Fruit + cheesecake = A match made in heaven.

As a serious lover of fruit desserts, this is the real reason I've fallen for cheesecake. My husband's favorite fruit flavor is lemon — and it's an easy one to add to cheesecake. You can add zest, juice, or even incorporate lemon curd; any of these adds that beautiful hint of sourness that helps to cut the richness of the custard. Of course, other citrus is just as dreamy: Limes, grapefruits, and tangerines are a few of my faves.

But don't stop there! I also reach for other fruity ingredients to spike my cheesecake batters with. The rhubarb cheesecake from my first book, "The Fearless Baker," is a super-special one for me. Rhubarb is cooked down with vanilla sugar until soft, then blended right in to the cheesecake batter. The result will be a lovely, pale shade of pink, with a perfect hit of tartness in the mix.

But even beyond overtly tart options, the flavor of so many fruits is beautifully highlighted in the form of a creamy custard. The blackberry cheesecake from this month's episode of Bake It Up a Notch is another lovely example — the ripe blackberries (sans seeds) are blended and baked into a smooth, creamy custard. I've also loved cheesecakes made with blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries, and I am dying to try it with some stone fruit options like peaches, plums, and cherries this summer. Of course, fully blending the fruit into the batter isn't the only option; it's wonderful to add a fruity swirl or topping to cheesecake with the help of jam or fruit purée. In short, when you've got really good fruit on hand this summer, consider making a cheesecake to show it off!

3. No-bake cheesecakes are NOT a gimmick.

As a bit of a cheesecake late bloomer, I was initially slow to join the no-bake-cheesecake club. But now I am a proud member, and I'm actively recruiting any other nonbelievers to join me. I guess I assumed that no-bake cheesecakes were largely a summer "hack" — something to make when you're desperate for dessert but can't bear to stand any heat. But with some practice, I've found that this method is actually incredibly versatile and produces reliably delicious results with very little effort, to boot.

So yes, this is for those of you reading who are unwilling to turn on your oven this summer for what can be the admittedly long bake times for classic cheesecakes. And sure, also for those of you never willing to fuss with a water bath, or the slow cooling process that's most likely to yield a smooth, uncracked cheesecake. But it's also for those of you who truly love cheesecake and are looking for a high-payout summer dessert.

No-bake cheesecakes have got it going on: all the flavor, creaminess, and make-ahead friendliness of the baked version, without all the worries that come with properly baking a cheesecake. No-bake cheesecakes can be made a variety of ways — most utilizing whipped cream. When you combine the room temperature (softened) cream cheese with whipped cream, the mixture becomes light and aerated. When you chill it, the fat firms back up, and the mixture becomes firmer and more sliceable. The texture is smooth and creamy like a well-baked cheesecake, but in an even lighter way. It's lovely, so simple, and endlessly adaptable: This method is perfect for full cheesecakes, bars, or mini cheesecakes. Some no-bake cheesecakes utilize gelatin to help them set a bit firmer (this can be helpful if you desire a firmer structure), but I typically skip it to keep things easy and because I happen to favor that extra bit of creaminess over structure. I've offered two versions in this month's episode of Bake It Up a Notch because I love them so—a triple-chocolate stunner and super-cute pistachio mini cheesecakes.

Cheesecake recipes:


Erin Jeanne McDowell

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