Japanese style lemon rare cheesecake is a light and refreshing dessert, perfect for summer! The biscuit base is flavoured with lemon zest and the cheesecake mixture is made with yogurt and soft cream cheese creating a well balanced no-bake cheesecake with the perfect amount of zing!
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What is Rare Cheesecake?
Rare cheesecake is basically the Japanese term for a no-bake cheesecake. The best thing about no bake cheesecakes is of course, you don't have to bake! This is great seeing as owning an oven in Japan is still considered a bit of a luxury.
Not only that, but in the summer many people don't feel like baking... but we still need dessert in summer right?!
No-bake cheesecakes are usually not as heavy as their baked counterparts, but they can be equally delicious!
A brief history of cheesecake in Japan
Japan's first cheesecake-like product existed during the Meiji period (1868-1912), and at that time it was called rice cheesecake. It was a combination of rice and cheese and was not well received and never became popular. The fact that Japanese people at that time were not yet familiar with the smell and taste of cheese is thought to be another reason why it did not become popular. After the war, the American people brought baked cheesecake, which was popular in the U.S. at the time, and it finally became known as cheesecake in Japan.
With the rising popularity of cheesecakes in Japan came new variations of the popular dessert. It is believed that the first rare cheesecake appeared in 1964 and was created by the specialised Western style cake shop in Asakusa, Tokyo called "Tops".
How is Japanese Rare Cheesecake Different to regular no-bake cheesecake?
While baked cheesecakes often hold their shape by using eggs, many no-bake cheesecake recipes use whipped cream to help make the mixture thick and stable. However the main difference between regular no-bake cheesecakes and Japanese rare cheesecakes is the fact that they are usually set using gelatine instead of whipped cream.
Because of the use of gelatine, you can make Japanese style rare cheesecake with softer ingredients. I use yogurt in my recipe. The yogurt adds a little bit of sourness and makes the cheesecake lighter. It also becomes a little more calorie friendly compared to using double cream.
The great thing about this cheesecake is that it uses simply and easy to find ingredients! The main ingredients are:
- Cream cheese
- Vanilla essence
- Gelatine powder
It wouldn't be cheesecake without cream cheese! Use a good quality cream cheese as it's one of the key ingredients. I often use Philadelphia because it's easy to find worldwide and you can't go wrong with it really!
Another key ingredient for this recipe in particular is yogurt. I use plain, unsweetened low-fat yogurt. It helps balance out the richness of the cream cheese with a hint of sourness, it also makes the cheesecake lighter and more refreshing.
I use the zest of a whole lemon and mix it in with the biscuits and butter for the base, this means you can enjoy the lemon flavour throughout the whole cheesecake. I also squeeze the juice of half a lemon into the cheesecake mixture itself to add lemon flavour.
I also like to decorate the final cheesecake with lemon wedges, if you cut 1 slice just past the middle and pull the halves in opposite directions you can make a nice curled lemon slice.
While many people would argue that vanilla extract is always better, vanilla essence is more readily available in Japanese supermarkets and because I don't use vanilla that often, I find essence is enough for me. If you want to use extract instead, half the amount in the recipe otherwise the vanilla flavour might become too overpowering.
Similar to the vanilla essence vs extract situation, it's a lot easier to find gelatine powder than gelatine sheets in Japan. Whenever I make gelatine desserts I always use powder. Here are my tips for using gelatine powder.
- First, measure out the cold water and sprinkle the gelatin on top. This helps prevent lumps of gelatine compared to adding the water to the gelatine.
- Use cold or lukewarm water, not hot. If you use hot water, the powder expands too quickly and could cause inconsistency in the texture of the cheesecake.
- Leave the gelatin in the water for 5-10 minutes so it can 'bloom'. This is when the powder granules absorb the water and expand.
- After 10 minutes, the gelatin gets thicker but will still be lumpy.
- Before adding it to your cheesecake mixture, you will need to heat and melt the gelatine. You can do this in a bain-marie over a saucepan of water, but microwaving is quicker and easier. Heat it in 20 second intervals until all the lumps have disappeared and the mixture is smooth.
- Be careful not to overheat the gelatine, if the temperature goes over 75°C (167°F) the strength of the gelatine starts to degrade. This is why I recommend heating it in 20 second increments to avoid overheating. Stop once the gelatine is melted completely.
Substitute: Gelatine Sheets
Some people claim that gelatine sheets or "gelatine leaves" are better than powder so if you want to use them you can! (I use powder because it's more easily accessible where I live.)
2 sheets are equal to approximately 2 tsp (6.6g) of gelatin powder. In this recipe I use 7g of gelatine powder so about 4 sheets should be enough, although check the instructions to be sure.
Soak the sheets in cold water for about 5 minutes, then take out the sheets, squeeze out the excess liquid and melt them in 60ml of hot water. You can then just add them to the cheesecake mixture, the same as the powder. Make sure the sheets are fully dissolved before adding them to your cheesecake mixture.
Instructions for how to make Japanese Style Lemon Rare Cheesecake
Here are the key steps for making perfect Japanese Style Lemon Rare Cheesecake every time!
Melt the butter
Start by cutting the butter into cubes and then melting it in the microwave in 20 second increments. Once it's fully melted grate the zest of one lemon and add it to the butter. Not only will the flavour of the lemon extract in the warm butter, but it will also evenly distribute through the biscuit crumbs.
Crush the biscuits
I place the biscuits in a ziplock bag and bash them up using a rolling pin. I personally like the uneven texture of biscuits I've broken up by hand, it might have a few larger pieces but it adds extra crunch to the base.
Once that's done, pour in the lemon infused butter and seal the bag back up. You can massage the butter around until all the crumbs are coated, it's mess free!
Alternatively, you can blitz the biscuits with a food processor to make the crumbs super fine. This will create a neater and smoother finish. You can also pour the butter into the food processor and blitz again to combine the crumbs and butter.
Bloom the gelatine
Before I start making the cheesecake filling, I sprinkle the gelatine powder into some cold water and allow it to bloom for 5-10 minutes. This allows the granules to evenly absorb water, softening it and making it melt more easily later.
Make the cheesecake mixture
I start by heating the cream cheese in the microwave in 20-30 second intervals to soften up. Alternatively you can leave the cream cheese out to reach room temperature 30 minutes before starting the recipe.
Once soft, whisk until smooth and add the ingredients one by one, whisking each time. I add the sugar while the cream cheese is still warm so that it incorporates better, then the yogurt, then the lemon juice and vanilla.
Add the gelatine
The final step is melting the gelatine. You can do this over a bain marie (a glass bowl over hot water) but I find it easier to just heat it in the microwave in 20 second intervals, mixing each time. This will effectively melt the gelatine powder without overheating it, no additional dish washing required!
Once it's melted, simply add it to the cheesecake mixture and whisk gently, but thoroughly.
Gelatine desserts typically take 3-4 hours to set in the fridge. Leave plenty of time if you are making it for guests, if possible, make it the night before.
This cheesecake will need to be stored in the fridge. It can be kept for about 5 days in a sealed container. Alternatively, wrap it tightly with plastic wrap or foil.
Unfortunately because this rare cheesecake contains yogurt and gelatine, it does not freeze well.
Because of the lemon juice and yogurt, this Japanese Style Rare Cheesecake is a little sour whilst being deliciously light and refreshing! I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!