raspberry and lemon baked cheesecake

cakefaveThose of you who are regular readers of this blog would know that I’m a very instinctual cook. I disregard both measurements and recipes, and tend to rescue my food from the oven by sight, smell and touch rather than adherence to cooking times. I used to view this ‘freestyle’ cooking ability as a strength; something born of experience and personal creativity. Last Friday, I definitively changed my mind.

Let me take you on a little trip down ‘memory lane’: it was 11:00am on a cold-but-clear Friday morning. The sun was high in the sky, casting shadows across the coffee table as I tapped out answers to emails on my laptop.  I coughed, watching steam rise from my coffee cup as my eyes flickered absently across the computer screen. In approximately 19 hours, four men would be arriving at my door to eat a pork belly roast in honour of William, a friend of ours who’s leaving Australia for good this coming Thursday. I wanted to create something delicious for dessert; something meaningful, indulgent and worthy of the occasion. For some reason I decided upon cheesecake. Specifically, lemon cheesecake, as a tribute to William’s uncanny ability to eat three of my glazed lemon muffins in two minutes (yep, true).

sccheesemontAs you can probably imagine, I’ve got my own ideas about making cheesecake. I’ve made quite a few before, all successful, but… well, as I was seeking perfection I made the unusual decision to follow a recipe.

After a few clicks through various websites, I chose this one from taste.com.au. Now, if you inspect the link you’ll see that this recipe isn’t actually for lemon cheesecake; however, I was sold by the convincing user reviews. I figured I could add in some homemade lemon curd and all would be dandy, right? So, I set to work: snap, melt, blend, press. Refrigerate crust. Check recipe. Shake, measure, blend, stir. Fill chilled crust. Looking good. Now, lemon; let’s dollop in some lemon curd. Raspberries? Yeah. Top up with vanilla filling. Check recipe. Oh no.

I stared at the beautiful, glistening cheesecake on the bench top. It looked perfect; dense and creamy, with a crisp biscuit crust and smooth vanilla filling. But… I’d forgotten the eggs. And the recipe called for three.

Darn it.

lemonrindmontI stared dismally at the cheesecake, my brain ticking over possible solutions to the ‘egg problem’. The preheated oven creaked menacingly as I mentally berated my poor ability to follow recipes. Any sane cook would have placed the cheesecake in the refrigerator to firm up overnight, as without eggs, it would have worked perfectly in its unbaked form.

Me? Hah. Well, my stubbornness kicked in. I rummaged through a drawer for a flat, wide spoon before attempting to skim off the top layer of vanilla filling. I chucked it back into the blender, cracked in an egg and… soon it resembled a vanilla milkshake. I added in a little more sour cream then poured it back over the cheesecake base. I hoped for the best.

Oven opened. Cake went in. Heart sank. I waited, hoping that my cheesecake might at least be a little bit better than my husband’s favourite packet abomination from White Wings.

raspstrawbmontFast forward three hours. The cheesecake had baked and cooled for two hours before emerging from the oven. It looked fine. Good, even. The milkshake layer had set nicely; it was glossy and crack-free with the slightest bit of wobble in the centre. The crust had a lovely golden hue.

But still… I had no idea how the egg-free layer turned out. I placed the tin in the refrigerator, covered, to set overnight. I then washed up, broke a glass, lost a hairpin in the remaining sour cream and saturated my shirt. I decided that I should just go back to bed. So I did.

The next day, the cheesecake emerged. It was decorated, served and eaten. Yes, you’ll get to see how the cake turned out… after reading the recipe. I’ve posted in full as it should have been; my modifications are mostly in italics, including the addition of lemon curd, fresh berries and dollops of frustration.

cakeRaspberry and Lemon Baked Cheesecake

Serves 12 (adapted from New York Baked Cheesecake by Katrina Woodman, at taste.com.au)

  • 250g packet plain sweet biscuits (I used Arnott’s Marie)
  • 125g butter, melted
  • 2 x 250g packets of full-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup white caster sugar
  • 3/4 cup full-fat sour cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp finely grated lemon rind
  • 3 eggs (I used one)
  • 3/4 cup lemon curd
  • 1/4 cup raspberry conserve
  • 200g (about 3/4 punnet) fresh strawberries, washed
  • 200g fresh raspberries (not frozen, or they’ll leak juice all over your cake)
  • mint, to serve (optional)

Preheat your oven to 160 degrees C (320 degrees f. If you have a fan-forced oven, use 140 degrees C/280 degrees f). Grease and line a round 22cm springform cake pan with baking paper, then set aside.

MariecookieIn a food processor, process the biscuits until they reach breadcrumb consistency. Add in the melted butter and process until just combined. Press the mixture over the base and sides of the pan, leaving a 2cm gap from the top. Use the base of a glass to press over the base and sides of the pan for a firm, smooth consistency. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.

crustAdd the cream cheese, sugar, sour cream, vanilla and lemon rind to your food processor bowl. Process until smooth*.

bowlofcheeseAdd the eggs, one at a time, processing until just combined (omit this step if you are Laura). Pour half of the cheesecake mixture into the prepared pan. Top with half of the lemon curd and a few teaspoons of raspberry jam. Swirl to create an even distribution.

layer2cakePour over the rest of your cheesecake mixture (then scrape it off, blend it with an egg, add another dollop of sour cream and pour it back on – see the bubbles? Milkshakey, eggy goodness).

topBake for 60-65 minutes (40-50 minutes if you’ve made the two layers as I did; the base cheesecake layer doesn’t need baking) or until just set (the centre should still wobble slightly). Allow the cake to cool in the oven for two hours with the door ajar. When sufficiently cooled, cover and refrigerate overnight.

To serve:

Release the sides of the springform tin. Carefully lift your cake from the base and remove the baking paper. Transfer to a serving plate.

curd.likeWarm your remaining lemon curd in the microwave for about 15 seconds, or until it’s spreadable.  Carefully cover the surface of your cake with the remaining lemon curd (emphasis on carefully, as the surface of the cake may be a little delicate). Refrigerate whilst you prepare the berries.

berryjammontSlice your strawberries into quarters, then place them in a bowl. Melt the rest of the raspberry jam (until slightly warm and pourable, not hot and bubbling) then combine it with the berries, stirring until each piece of strawberry is coated and glistening. Pile the strawberries onto the centre of the cake, adding the fresh raspberries and mint, if desired.

cakebench2So. The verdict: absolute, unexpected, gloriously delicious success! The cake was creamy, smooth and perfectly set, with a gorgeous layer of fresh lemon curd and raspberry jam in the centre. The textural difference between the top and bottom layers of cheesecake filling actually worked well; the upper layer was pillowy soft and light whilst the bottom layer was dense, creamy and decadent.

cakeslicemontThe boys who tasted it said that it was reminiscent of a lemon meringue pie mixed with a cheesecake and a Victoria sponge. Strange but entirely accurate. William was altogether pleased (he laughed when we recalled the muffin story. Ah, memories).

I love it when disasters redeem themselves (but I still need to learn how to read recipes).

jamjar*If you’d like to reproduce my accidental cheesecake triumph at home, I’d suggest dividing your whipped (eggless) cheesecake filling into two halves. Pour one half over your refrigerated crust, then top with lemon curd and raspberry jam. Return the other half to the blender with one egg. Blend until just combined, then pour over the rest of the filling. Bake as instructed.

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peanut butter, banana and cacao ‘cheesecake’

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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.

nibsmontHaving 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.

DBAVtoattractguysI’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).

coconutoilmontIt 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.

cakemont2So, 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.

toppings2My 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.

pbmontThe 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.

caketopPeanut Butter, Banana and Cacao ‘Cheesecake’ (aka ‘Nut Pie’)

Makes one 20cm cake

Crust:

  • 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)

Filling:

  • 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

Extras:

  • 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.

crustmixPress into a greased (I used coconut oil) and lined 20cm springform tin, ensuring that layer of mixture is even and around 3-5mm thick. Refrigerate whilst you make the filling.

cashewsoakmontTo 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).

bananadateSeparate 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.

layer1To 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.

layer2Now 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.

layer3Ripple 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.

layer4To 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.strawbsWarning: 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).

strawbdateNotes:

  • 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!

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