This easy lemon cheesecake features a homemade graham cracker crust and a sweet-tart cheesecake filling, all topped with creamy lemon curd and swirls of whipped cream.
Bright, citrusy, and just sweet enough, this lemon cheesecake recipe is the perfect dessert for spring and summer gatherings. When topped with swirls of whipped cream and lemon zest, it’s impossible to resist!
Many people assume that homemade cheesecake is tough to make, but it’s actually fairly quick to assemble and requires minimal effort on your part. The key to making a good cheesecake is in how you bake it.
Yes, this cheesecake is baked in a water bath, but don’t let that intimidate you. I walk you through the process step-by-step in the recipe card so you feel confident when making this recipe.
Once you take your first bite of this homemade lemon cheesecake, I think you’ll agree that those few extra steps to create a water bath were worth it!
As with any baked cheesecake recipe, it’s important that all of the ingredients are at room temperature before beginning. This will ensure that the cheesecake filling turns out perfectly creamy and that it bakes evenly in the oven.
Now, let’s go over the ingredients needed to make this lemon curd cheesecake:
- Graham cracker crumbs: You can buy pre-made graham crackers crumbs, or you can pulse full sheets of graham crackers in a food processor until they’re sandy in texture.
- Granulated sugar: I sweetened both the graham cracker crust and the cheesecake filling. You need some sweetness to balance out the sour lemon juice.
- Unsalted butter: I always use unsalted butter in my baked goods because the amount of salt in salted butters can vary between brands.
- Cream cheese: Be sure to use brick-style cream cheese and avoid using the cream cheese spread that comes in a tub.
- Sour cream: Use full-fat sour cream for best results.
- Lemons: You will need about three lemons to get enough lemon juice and zest.
- Vanilla extract: I prefer using pure vanilla extract, as it delivers the strongest flavor.
- Eggs: If you forgot to bring your eggs to room temperature, set them in a bowl of warm water for about 10 minutes before proceeding with the recipe.
- Lemon curd: You can use either store-bought or homemade lemon curd. It acts as the lemon topping for the cheesecake and is a simple way to elevate this dessert.
How to Make a Lemon Cheesecake
First, you’ll need to assemble and pre-bake the graham cracker crust. Combine the graham cracker crumbs and granulated sugar in a mixing bowl, then mix in some melted butter.
Press the mixture into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan, making sure to create an even layer. You can use your hands to press the crust down, but I like to use the bottom of a measuring cup for this step.
Bake the crust in a 325ºF oven for about 10 minutes. Set the crust to one side while you prepare the cheesecake filling.
Before you start on the filling, set a pot of water on the stove to come to a boil. This will be needed to create a water bath later on.
For the filling, beat the cream cheese in a large mixing bowl until smooth. Add the sour cream, followed by the granulated sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, and pure vanilla extract. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to make sure everything is fully combined.
In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the beaten eggs to the cream cheese mixture and stir until just combined. This will ensure that you don’t over mix the eggs, which could cause your cheesecake to crack.
At this stage, you’re ready to create a water bath. Wrap the springform pan containing the crust with aluminum foil (it’s okay to do a couple layers). Then, place the pan into an oven bag, and fold the oven bag down the sides of the springform pan.
Pour the cheesecake filling into the prepared pan. I like to gently tap the pan on the counter a few times to release any air bubbles in the filling. You can pop them with a toothpick, if needed.
Remember that pot of water you boiled? Pour the boiling water into a roasting pan until it’s about 1 inch deep. Then, carefully place the springform pan (oven bag and all) into the roasting pan.
Bake the lemon cheesecake until the edges are set and the center is still slightly jiggly. Then, turn off the oven, crack the door, and let the cheesecake cool in the oven for 1 hour. This will allow the cheesecake to cool off slowly, which helps to prevent cracks.
After 1 hour in the oven, set the cheesecake on the counter to cool to room temperature. It will then need to chill in the fridge for a minimum of 5 hours before it can be topped with lemon curd and whipped cream.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can This Recipe Be Used to Make Mini Cheesecakes?
If you’d like to make mini cheesecakes, I recommend following my Mini Lemon Cheesecakes recipe instead. I’ve tested that recipe multiple times and know it works.
I didn’t use lemon curd in the mini cheesecakes recipe, but you can spread a spoonful over each cheesecake if desired.
Can This Be Frozen?
Yes, you may freeze this lemon curd cheesecake for up to three months. Simply wrap the cheesecake tightly with plastic wrap and freeze in a large freezer bag/freezer friendly storage container. Thaw overnight in the fridge when ready to eat.
Note that the cheesecake should be frozen without the lemon curd topping or the whipped cream.
What Makes a Cheesecake Crack?
If your cheesecake cracked, don’t panic. The lemon curd topping will hide any imperfections.
In short, a cheesecake can crack if you skipped the water bath, overmixed the eggs, or the cheesecake was exposed to sudden temperature fluctuations. I explained the reasons why a cheesecake cracks in my Classic Cheesecake recipe, so head over to that post for more details.
- For best results, use full-fat ingredients to create the creamiest, thickest cheesecake filling.
- Likewise, make sure the ingredients are all at room temperature before starting this recipe.
- The whipped cream on top of the cheesecake is technically optional, but highly recommend. Homemade whipped cream and stabilized whipped cream are both good options, but you may also use store-bought.
More Lemon Dessert Recipes to Try!
For the graham cracker crust:
- 1 ½ cups (180 grams) graham cracker crumbs
- ⅓ cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
- 5 tablespoons (70 grams) unsalted butter (melted)
For the lemon cheesecake filling:
- 32 ounces (907 grams) brick-style cream cheese (softened)
- ½ cup (120 grams) full-fat sour cream (room temperature)
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (225 grams) granulated sugar
- ⅓ cup (80 ml) fresh lemon juice
- Zest of 2 medium lemons
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 4 large eggs (room temperature)
- ½ cup lemon curd
- Optional: Whipped cream
- To make the graham cracker crust: Preheat the oven to 325°F (163°C). Add the crushed graham cracker crumbs and granulated sugar to a medium-sized mixing bowl and stir until well combined. Add the melted butter and mix until all of the crumbs are moistened.
- Scoop the mixture into a 9-inch springform pan and firmly press it down into one even layer (I like to use the bottom of a measuring cup for this step). Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly while you make the filling.
- To make the lemon cheesecake filling: Set a large pot of water on the stove to boil for the water bath before getting started with the filling.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large mixing bowl using a handheld mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until smooth. Add the sour cream and mix until fully combined, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Then mix in the granulated sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, and pure vanilla extract until fully combined.
- In a separate mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the beaten eggs to the mixing bowl with the cheesecake filling and mix on low speed until just combined. Use a rubber spatula to turn the filling a few times to make sure everything is fully mixed together.
- Wrap the springform pan with the pre-baked graham cracker crust in aluminum foil, then place it into a large oven bag. Fold the oven bag down the sides of the springform pan.
- Pour the cheesecake filling into the springform pan and smooth it out into one even layer. Tap the pan on the counter a couple of times to bring any air bubbles to the top, then use a toothpick to remove any large air bubbles.
- Add the boiling water you started before the filling to a large roasting pan until it is about 1-inch deep. Carefully place the wrapped springform pan into the roasting pan.
- Transfer the roasting pan with the cheesecake to the oven and bake at 325°F (163°C) for 60 to 70 minutes or until the edges of the cheesecake are set and the center is still slightly jiggly. Turn the oven off, crack the oven door slightly, and allow the cheesecake to cool in the warm oven for 1 hour.
- After the cheesecake has cooled for 1 hour in the oven, remove it from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, cover tightly and transfer to the refrigerator to chill for at least 5 to 6 hours or overnight.
- Run a thin knife around the outside of the cheesecake to loosen it from the pan, carefully release the springform pan. Add the lemon curd to the top of the cheesecake and spread it around into one even layer.
- Pipe the whipped cream around the edges of the cheesecake, then slice into pieces, serve, and enjoy!