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Key Lime Cheesecake

This key lime cheesecake combines the bright, fresh, tangy flavor of key limes and lusciously smooth, sweet and creamy cheesecake to create perfectly balanced, perfectly addicting key lime cheesecake all nestled on a buttery Graham cracker crust crowned with silky whipped cream.   This key lime cheesecake recipe can be made 100% ahead of time, including the whipped cream (thanks to my stabilized whipped cream technique) for a stress-free dessert!  I’ve included detailed instructions on how to make key lime cheesecake so even if you’ve never made cheesecake before, it will be a runaway success – and it’s so much easier than you think!
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours 20 minutes
Servings 12 -14

Ingredients

Special Equipment

Crust

  • 14 full sheets graham crackers (2 scant cups crumbs)
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 8 tablespoons butter melted

Cheesecake Filling

  • 4 8 oz. pkgs. cream cheese, very soft (full fat is best)
  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup sour cream at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup key lime juice at room temperature (see notes)
  • 1 teaspoon key lime zest (or regular lime zest)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk at room temperature

Whipped Topping

  • 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (optional see notes)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons water (optional see notes)
  • 1 cup cold heavy whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Toppings

  • fresh raspberries, sliced strawberries, lime wedges, lime zest and fresh mint (optional)

Instructions

Prep

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Begin boiling a large pot of water (about 4 quarts) for the water bath (you may not need all of it).
  • Line the bottom of a 9" spring form pan with parchment paper and lightly grease the inside of your entire pan with nonstick cooking spray. (The parchment will allow you to transfer your cheesecake later.)

Crust

  • Add Graham crackers to a food processor and pulse until finely ground (or crush in a bag with a rolling pin). Add butter and sugar and pulse (or stir) until evenly combined.
  • Add to the greased springform pan and firmly press the crumbs down on the bottom of the pan using the bottom of a small bowl or measuring cup until you have a compact, even layer.
  • Bake crust at 325 degrees F for 10 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack. (You can prep filling while the crust cools.)

Waterproof pan

  • Waterproofing step 1: Place 2 large 18" x 18" pieces of aluminum foil on a flat surface underneath the pan in the form of a “+.” Gently fold (to make sure you don't create any holes) up the sides of the foil around the pan. If you don't add the bag in the next step, then double wrap the foil.
  • Waterproofing step 2 (optional but HIGHLY recommended): Place foil lined springform pan in the center bottom of slow cooker liner or oven roasting bag. Bring the liner bag up to the top of the pan then gather excess to one side and tie it in a knot.

Cheesecake filling

  • Add cream cheese to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes (no less!). Add sugar and cornstarch and beat 5 additional minutes on medium speed.
  • Add the sour cream, lime juice, lime zest, vanilla, and beat until blended. Add the eggs one at a time followed by the egg yolk, beating as little as possible, just until combined after each addition (overbeating once you add the eggs can cause cracks and the cheesecake to deflate).
  • Pour mixture onto cooled crust. Drop the pan on counter a few times to get rid of any air bubbles.

Water Bath

  • Place cheesecake in a large roasting pan then place the roasting pan in the preheated oven. Using a glass liquid measuring cup or pitcher, carefully pour in enough boiling water (add it low in the corner of the pan) until it reaches halfway up the side of the springform pan.

Bake

  • Bake the cheesecake at 325 degrees F for 70-85 minutes or until edges are firm and the center 2-3 of the cheesecake is still wobbly. (DON'T open door before 70 minutes, this can cause cracks.)

Chill

  • Turn off the oven and crack the oven door open. Allow the cheesecake to cool in the oven for 60 minutes, then remove it to a wire rack.
  • Gently run a hot knife along the edges of the cheesecake and unclamp the cheesecake (to prevent cracking). Continue to cool for 2-3 hours or until cheesecake is completely cooled.
  • Cover the cheesecake with foil or transfer to a cake caddy and chill in the refrigerator overnight, best if 24 hours.

Whipped Topping

  • Optional for stabilized whipped cream: Add unflavored gelatin to a microwave safe bowl then pour the cold water over top; let stand for 5 minutes. Microwave for 10 seconds. Stir the mixture, then set aside to cool.
  • Add heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract to a large mixing bowl. Whip using an electric hand mixer just until soft peaks form.
  • Turn the mixer to low and slowly pour in the gelatin mixture. Mix until well combined then increase the speed to medium and continue mixing until stiff peaks form.
  • Transfer whipped cream to a piping bag fitted with a large tip. You can pipe the stabilized whipped cream onto the room temperature cheesecake before you pop it into the fridge or any time after that.  The beauty of stabilized whipped cream is it will hold its shape indefinitely.  If using regular whipped cream, top just before serving. Garnish cheesecake with berries, lime wedges, lime zest and mint if desired.

Video

Notes

Baking Tips for Success

  • Key lime juice and zest:  You can also use bottled key lime juice traditionally located next to the regular lime juice and the zest of either key limes or regular/Persian limes.  
  • Key lime juice substitute:  If you can't locate key limes, use 6 TBS regular/Persian lime juice + 2 TBS lemon juice.
  • Stabilized whipped cream: My goal for this key lime cheesecake recipe was to create a dessert that was 100% make ahead friendly and stress free for Easter/entertaining – that includes the whipped cream.  Stabilized whipped cream is heavy cream that has been whipped with sugar and gelatin in order to give it structure but it doesn’t alter the flavor - it's magic!  It can be added to the cheesecake at any point after it’s cooled and it won’t deflate or weep and will hold its shape long after the last bite of cheesecake is gone.  
  • Unflavored gelatin:  Is a common baking ingredient and can be found next to the packages of Jell-O and pudding at your grocery store. It is what makes this “stabilized” whipped cream and not just whipped cream.
  • Room temperature ingredients:  Room temperature eggs, sour cream, key lime juice and softened cream cheese allow them to mix more easily which means you’re less likely to overbeat the eggs which causes cracking (more on that below). 
  • Don’t overbeat eggs:  Eggs trap air, which can rise up and cause cracks and/or the cheesecake to deflate, so mix the eggs/cheesecake filling as little as possible once they’re added.
  • To quickly bring eggs to room temperature: Fill a bowl with warm water (not hot) and add eggs and let sit 10-20 minutes.
  • Don’t overbake:  Overbaking the cheesecake causes the filling to shrink and crack.  You want the edges to be firm but the center to wobble slightly when shaken. If there is no wiggle, the cheesecake is overbaked and likely to crack.
  • Chill gelatin.  Make sure to let your gelatin cool slightly before mixing it into the whipped cream, you don’t want it to be too hot when you add it to the bowl.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, don’t wait to long or the gelatin can harden.  If it has hardened, microwave it again for 10 seconds.
  • If the cheesecake cracks:  If you follow the above tips for success, you shouldn’t have any cracks!  If you happen to have a crack in your cheesecake, cover the entire surface with whipped cream and/or raspberries no one will know!

HOW TO STORE

  • This key lime cheesecake should be covered and stored in the refrigerator.  It is at its prime 24-48 hours after making, but is good for up to 7 days. 
  • I like to use a cake container to cover the cheesecake so I can pipe on the whipped cream and cover it without smooshing the topping. If you don’t have a cake container, you can use a large inverted bowl or tent with foil. 

HOW TO FREEZE

  • Cool cheesecake completely and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.
  • Place chilled cheesecake on a baking pan and place, uncovered, in the freezer.  Freeze until firm.
  • Remove from the freezer then wrap cheesecake in plastic wrap followed by heavy duty aluminum foil and finally in a large heavy duty freezer bag.
  • Freeze for up to 2 months.
  • To thaw, remove key lime cheesecake from the freezer to the refrigerator.  Let thaw overnight.
  • Top with whipped cream and serve.