Definition: Cheesecake (from Wikipedia):
‘…a sweet dish consisting primarily of a mixture of soft, fresh cheese (not always cream cheese), eggs, and sugar; often on a crust or base made from crushed cookies or graham crackers, pastry or sponge cake. It may be baked or unbaked. Cheesecake is usually sweetened with sugar and may be flavored or topped with fruit, whipped cream, nuts, fruit sauce and/or chocolate.’
Houston, we have a problem. This cheesecake has no cheese. And, uh… no eggs, no sugar and no cookie base. I guess the obvious conclusion is that it’s not actually a cheesecake. At all.
Having said that, the concept of a raw vegan ‘cheesecake’ definitely isn’t a new one. A quick search via Google reveals over two million variations on the raw vegan ‘cheesecake’ concept. Granted, most of them are from late 2012 to early 2013 (arguably, a period where raw food has burgeoned in popularity) however the Laura-Jane aka The Rawtarian posted a raw cheesecake recipe in February 2011 that has since formed a basis for many adaptations around the blogosphere. Like this one, created last week (by me, the skeptical omnivore) as a going-away-party contribution for my gorgeous friend Kerryn (who has her own vegan blog, Lawn and Tofu Salad; hilarious hand-drawn photo extract from Kerryn’s blog below) who will soon be departing for a six-month trip around Europe.
I’m kinda jealous, but happy for her at the same time (don’t you hate mixed feelings!); she’ll be doing an organic farmstay, visiting family and friends, tearing up London and attending a Jane Austen Festival in the birthplace of Austen; Bath, Somerset, in South West England. If there’s anyone who was born to dress as Elizabeth Bennet and dance with Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy, it’s Kerryn. Though, upon reflection she may have fated quite poorly in male-dominated 18th Century (the birth time of Jane Austen). She’s one of the strongest, most opinionated and intelligent women I know; despite being absolutely beautiful, she’s more known for her love of chemistry, superior intellect, vegan diet and sharp wit.
Actually, she and Jane, both with ‘extraordinary endowments of mind’ probably would have become fast friends and started a revolution. But again, I digress… back to the going-away-party (those words don’t really require hyphens but I just felt like putting them there).
It was held on a cold Tuesday night in a hearth-warmed kitchen in suburban Perth. With cold hands, we sipped homemade tomato soup from vintage earthenware bowls before devouring spicy bean chilli with organic corn chips, cashew sour cream, cashew cheese and guacamole. I ate and ate. Then ate some more, and washed everything down with a couple of glasses of Sauvignon Blanc. Everything was delicious, but notably cashew-dominant.
After finishing the savouries, we sat around the communal table and contemplated life’s big questions (mostly political issues, with a dash of life and travel). I sipped from a cup of steaming Earl Grey tea with a dash of almond milk and realised that I was very full; not uncomfortably so, but to be honest I wasn’t looking forward to eating a wedge of dessert-style cashew cheese. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’d be aware that I’m quite a fan of vegan food. I make many vegan salads and I love using flax eggs, chia seeds and nutritional yeast. However, despite the fact that my diet has been about 80% plant-based for over a year, the idea of cashew cheese, cashew sour cream and raw dessert was entirely new to me. And, perhaps by bad design, I consumed all three in one night.
So, the main event (aka the central theme of this post): at about 9.30pm, the vegan cheesecake appeared. It looked beautiful; glossy, rich, thick and dark against the ripe red strawberries. The scattering of cacao nibs resembled chocolate chips and all mouths at the table (vegan, coeliac, omnivorous and 50% carnivorous) uttered words of absolute praise and expectation. My stomach turned. I dished out small pieces to all guests at the table, making sure to include a few ripe strawberries. To be honest, this cake is exceptionally appealing. The layers of vanilla (speckled with date) and chocolate were distinct and moist in texture, with scattered ribbons of peanut butter and crunchy cacao.
My first bite was a delicious surprise. This cake is moist, creamy and texturally pleasing; each bite had a crunch of bitter cacao, sweet notes of date and banana, and undertones of rich chocolate. The date and nut base was chewy. I can only describe it as ‘savoury but sweet’ due to the toasty notes of almond and walnut, enrobed with sweet Medjool date and pure cacao. Murmurs of pleasure could be heard around the table, alongside some obvious flavour analysis: ‘I can taste banana… oh, and there’s some date in there’; ‘…yeah, there’s some peanut butter, but I’d call it Banofee Pie’.
For a first attempt at a raw vegan cheesecake, I was quite happy with the feed back. Especially from those in the carnivorous category. But strangely, half-way through my slice, I paused. My spoon hovered over the cake and my brain switched into ‘dislike‘ mode. I was quite confused, and attributed the negativity to ‘cashew overload’. I pushed my plate away.
The following evening, I completed a ‘cake post-mortem’ with my husband after a dinner of homemade lamb koftas, flatbread, tzatziki, carrots with pomegranate molasses and amped-up tabouli with lemon oil and goats cheese. He simply commented that the cake ‘tasted good’, but as a ‘cheesecake’, it failed dismally. I scraped the last shiny pomegranate beads off my plate, chewing my last piece of meat thoughtfully. Yes. It made sense, as… well, vegan cheesecake sans cheese is really a nut pie. Delicious, but… well, pointless if you’re an omnivore and you’re hankering after a creamy slice of cheese heaven. After savouring several chunks of smooth, salty and utterly creamy goats cheese, I understood. My brain, my sensory memory and my mouth had been in absolute, unresolvable conflict. It hurt.
So, after that ridiculously long introduction… let me just say that this cake is delicious. If you’re vegan, feel free to call it a ‘cheesecake’ as it’s composition (discounting ingredients) resembles the aforementioned dessert quite well. However, if you’re an omnivore like me, I’d recommend calling it a Nut Pie; this may avoid personal confusion, cheese withdrawal symptoms and painful (unnecessary) brain activity in the middle of the night (for a food obsessive like me). Either way, make this cake. It’s a deliciously healthy addition to any dessert repertoire.
Makes one 20cm cake
- 1 1/4 cups nuts (I used half almonds and half walnuts) soaked for 1 hour
- 3/4 cup chopped and seeded Medjool dates (substitute any dried dates)
- 2 tbsp cacao powder (substitute Dutch processed cocoa)
- 2 ripe bananas, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
- 2 cups raw cashews, soaked for 1 hour
- 1/4 cup chopped and seeded Medjool dates (substitute any dried dates)
- 1/4 cup agave syrup (substitute any liquid sweetener, e.g. maple syrup or honey)
- seeds from one vanilla bean (substitute 1 tsp natural vanilla essence)
- 2 tbsp cacao powder (substitute Dutch processed cocoa)
- water, as required
- 4-6 tbsp organic (no salt or sugar added) peanut butter
- 5 tbsp cacao nibs
- 1 x 200g punnet of strawberries (optional)
- 1 banana, peeled and sliced (optional)
To make the crust: Blend the soaked and drained nuts in a food processor until they reach a coarse breadcrumb-like consistency. Add in the chopped dates and cacao. Blend until the mixture starts to stick together.
To make the filling: Blend the soaked and drained cashews in a food processor until they reach a fine consistency. Add in the dates, bananas, coconut oil, agave syrup and vanilla. Continue to blend until the mixture reaches a creamy, smooth consistency (add a little water to the blender if the mixture gets ‘stuck’ around the blade, or if it appears to be too thick).
Separate the mixture into two bowls. Add the cacao powder to one, stirring vigorously until the mixture is smooth and chocolately brown with no dry patches of cacao. You now have two batches of filling to create attractive layers in your cake: 1) vanilla with banana and date, 2) chocolate.
To assemble: Remove your cheesecake base from the fridge. Pour or spoon over the vanilla filling and smooth with the back of a knife. Warm your peanut butter briefly in the microwave until it’s smooth and easy to drizzle. Pour half of the peanut butter onto the vanilla filling, ensuring that it’s evenly distributed. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp cacao nibs.
Now it’s time for layer two: carefully place spoonfuls of your chocolate mixture over the vanilla layer, taking care not to displace the ripples of peanut butter and scattered cacao nibs. Smooth the mixture out until you have an even layer, with no patches of vanilla showing through. Tap your tin softly against the bench top to ensure that no air pockets remain.
Ripple over the remaining peanut butter and sprinkle with 2 tbsp cacao nibs (reserve 1 tbsp for serving). If necessary, use a knife or spoon to ensure that the peanut butter is evenly distributed on the final layer of the cake. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least six hours, or preferably overnight.
To serve: carefully loosen the sides of your springform tin. Use a large flat-bladed knife or spatula to ease the cake away from the base of the metal tin. Remove all traces of the baking paper and transfer to a serving platter.
Cut half of your strawberries (optional) and scatter some over the top of the cake. Place the rest of the strawberries around the sides of the plate, to be eaten alongside the cake (*I didn’t have an extra banana to spare, but definitely add some fresh slices to the top of the cake if you have one on hand. The fresh fruit compliments the rich chocolate and banana filling perfectly). Top with the remaining 1 tbsp cacao nibs.Warning: This cake is very (very!) rich, so I’d recommend serving it in small slices with a hot cup of tea (even for those with big appetites; err on the side of caution. You can always have a other slice if you finish the first one with gusto. Don’t say I didn’t warn you).
- Use the best quality blender or food processor you have to make this cake. Anything less will either result in blender burnout (adding a ‘burnt’ taste to your mix or breaking your blender altogether… uh, yep that’s me) or a grainy consistency within your filling. Invest in a good blender for the long-term (I have recently ordered the Ninja online, can’t wait til it arrives! Thanks Whit and Sally!)
- If your mixture seems too firm/viscous and gets stuck in your food processor, feel free to add a little more water or another complimentary liquid (e.g. a little bit of almond or oat milk). If your mixture becomes too loose, it may require a few hours in the freezer to set before serving. Leave it out for 15-20 minutes prior to serving.
- Feel free to substitute different nuts for the base layer of this cake. Great complimentary flavours include macadamias and pecans. I wouldn’t recommend switching the cashews for another nut in the cake filling though; cashews are a reasonably neutral, subtly sweet nut. Other varieties such as almonds and walnuts would likely become overpowering.
- This cake would work beautifully in individual tart pans or jars for a dinner party. Make sure you grease each pan or jar well with coconut oil (as it would be difficult to line each with baking paper) and sprinkle the sides with raw dessicated coconut to prevent sticking. Take a look at this beautiful vegan chocolate cheesecake from The Bojon Gourmet, served in individual jars. Perfect for an extra-special vegan indulgence.
- I also considered topping this cake with a drizzle of Coconut Chocolate Butter from Loving Earth, but my jar of butter sadly solidified in this chilly Perth Winter weather. Next time, I am going to blitz the sucker in the microwave briefly, before succumbing to a delicious river of chocolatey, coconutty goodness. I recommend that you do, too.
*Have a wonderful trip Kerryn! Can’t wait to follow your blogging adventures at the organic farmstay!