When it comes to cheesecakes in the vegan community, they traditionally fall into two categories: cashew-based or tofu-based. The first time I came across a cashew cheesecake I was sceptical. How can cashews ever replace cream cheese? Won’t it taste nutty? It was like comparing apples to steak. The copious quantities of nuts and (often) coconut was another impediment because it translated to high amounts of fat. However these photogenic cakes kept popping up, further piquing my curiosity and tempting the will. With creations like Raw Cashew Dreamcake by My New Roots and the tantalizing array at Fragrant Vanilla Cake and Sweetly Raw, how can you not be inspired to create one? And so my adventure began. With the abundance of strawberries, I set out to make a miniature version of the classic raw strawberry cheesecake.
The crust is typically made from nuts (walnuts, macadamia, almonds, pecans etc.) and dates. I usually find the recipes too sweet and so I upped the ratio of walnuts:dates in favour of the former (approx. 2 1/2:1)
The crust ingredients are pulsed and pressed into a springform pan. It pays to oil the base, or sprinkle it with extra shredded coconut, to ensure easy removal of the base when serving.
The cheese is made from soaked cashews, which softens them and produces the creamy consistency when blended. It really helps to have a powerful high-speed blender that is able to whip the heck out of the cashews, which my brandless blender unfortunately falls short of. Another reason to invest in a Vitamix! Also in the cheese mix is a sweetener (honey, agave or maple syrup), the fruit (strawberries) and some oil to get the mixture smooth. To help firm up the texture, I used agar powder, a gelling agent derived from seaweed and completely vegan. Melting the agar powder reminded me of the tedious hours in lab preparing LB agar plates, which ironically I quite miss now. The agar is optional; you could omit it or substitute with other thickeners such as cornstarch, though I’m not sure how that will work out exactly.
The strawberry cheese is then poured over the crust. Flecked with specks of strawberries, the rosy pale pink batter reminded me of girlish innocence. The horrible lighting definitely does not do it justice; I took it at dawn and so had to use flash.
The cake frozen and ready to be decorated. I used an easy & clean strawberry coulis made from just pureed strawberries, chia seeds and a touch of honey. The mixture is chilled in the refrigerator to let the pectin from the strawberries and soluble fiber of chia to work their magic. The mixture turns into a soft strawberry jelly, a consistency very amenable to decorating and forgiving to beginners of food art. I imagine this coulis would make a very good PB&J sammich too!
Initially I planned on doing swirls but the cheese layer was frozen solid and I was too impatient to wait for it to melt. The alternative was a simple flower design. As the finishing touch, I studded the sides of the cake with extra chopped walnuts just for that extra crunch!
Now you can have your pink cake and eat it too! The color is charmingly fabulous and au natural; the coulis may even border on being garish but I swear there’s no food colouring involved nor did I enhance the colour.
And so the weekend ended in style with a generous slice of the st(raw)berry cheesecake post-dinner. And now I’m a convert; I don’t claim this to taste like a real cream cheese cheesecake, but it is superbly light, rich, creamy and yummy in its own right. The berry flavour was smack-in-your-face intense, elevated by the zing of lemon juice and grated zest. I’m not sure if the agar powder did its job because it was still slightly soft, but freezing then slightly thawing it should produce the right texture. First attempts at recipes seldom produce great results, but this was a rare exception.
More cake-porn. Enjoy!