Before we get to the yummy food, I'd just like to mention that I have finally put up my About Page. I should have done it a long time ago, but I really struggle with writing about myself. My Google Analytics tell me that little Magic Jelly Story book on my sidebar gets clicked a lot, so it was pretty remiss of me to leave that page empty for so long! Now, on to dessert... Whenever I buy a new vegan cookbook I go straight to the index to check out the cheesecake recipes. I am always so disappointed if the recipe starts with "2 tubs Tofutti cream cheese" - I just really prefer making things from scratch. It's so much more satisfying, usually tastes better, & you know exactly what the ingredients are.
So I set out to create a baked cheesecake that was authentic in terms of taste, texture & appearance, & in my humble opinion, this really does taste just like a ricotta-based cheesecake (confirmed by my guinea pigs) & is relatively inexpensive to make! The drawback is, there are a few steps (you're basically making your own cream cheese from scratch!), but none of them are difficult - soaking the beans & nuts overnight, making the cheese mixture next day, letting it chill before making the cheesecake itself, which then has to bake & chill - so give yourself a couple of days preparation. (Please don't be put off by the inclusion of beans -you will not know they're there at all in the final product!)
The other good thing about this recipe is that you can make it with whatever non-dairy milk you like, so it can be soy free if necessary. I made the cheesecake in the photo with almond milk. It's easy to make a gluten free version too by using GF biscuits in the crumb base.
This recipe is for a classic lemon cheesecake, but I've provided some ideas for variations. Just think of the "cheese" mixture as a neutral base that you can flavour however you like. It's not tasty enough to be eaten alone in place of cream cheese, but works perfectly as a ricotta/Tofutti alternative for cheesecake. But you needn't stop there - you can also use it as a creamy base for dips & spreads, etc. For example, last Christmas I used the "cheese" mixture to make a caramelised onion dip, as well as adapting this cheesecake recipe to make a Chocolate & Raspberry Cheesecake. I added toasted hazelnuts & cocoa powder to the crumb base, omitted the lemon & added melted dark chocolate to the cheese mixture, then when the cheesecake had baked, pierced the top all over with a skewer, drizzled it with Cointreau, then decorated the top with raspberries & poured an agar-based raspberry & Cointreau gel over the top. It was dee-licious!
Vegan Baked Lemon Cheesecake
serves 8-12 ( perfect served with my vegan whipped cream)
1 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight
1 cup non-dairy milk, plus 2 tablespoons (I have used soy & almond milk, & coconut cream - all worked well)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon agar powder (you may try using 1 tablespoon of agar flakes, processed to a fine powder so they dissolve more easily)
1 cup well-cooked Great Northern Beans (other types of bland white beans, such as Navy or Cannellini might be okay too - make sure they're cooked soft, not al dente)
2 tablespoons canola oil (or other neutral oil)
200g (7 oz) plain vegan biscuits (I use digestives)
1/3 cup melted vegan butter, margarine or coconut oil
2 tablespoons raw sugar (optional - depends how sweet your biscuits are)
1 quantity of the chilled cheese mixture above
3/4 cup caster sugar (superfine sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract finely grated rind & juice of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons cornflour (cornstarch)
1 tablespoon egg replacement powder, such as Orgran No Egg (you could maybe substitute arrowroot flour, but I have never tried it)
Firstly, grease & line a 20cm (8 inch) round spring-form cake tin. Line the sides as well as the bottom.
Making the cheese mixture...
Drain & rinse the cashews & put them into the bowl of your food processor with half a cup of milk & process to a thick paste. It will probably still be a bit grainy, but that’s okay. Pour the cashew mixture & remaining half a cup of milk into a saucepan & heat very gently, stirring with a silicone spatula making sure it doesn’t catch on the bottom. Add the apple cider vinegar, salt, & agar powder that you've blended to a smooth paste with the 2 tablespoons of extra milk. Keep stirring until the mixture has thickened & is gently simmering. Allow to simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring constantly – don’t let it catch! Stir in the beans & canola oil, allow them to heat through for a minute or so, then take the saucepan off the heat & blend with a stick blender until smooth. Pour the mixture into a container & put it in the fridge until it's chilled (the cheese mixture may be made a couple of days in advance).
Making the crumb base...
Break the biscuits up a little & process until they are fine crumbs, add the sugar if using. Then drizzle in the melted butter with the food processor running. Spoon the crumb mixture into the spring-form tin, leveling out to an even thickness & pressing down with the back of a spoon.
Making the cheesecake...
Place all cheesecake ingredients into a food processor & process until well combined, then pour into the spring-form tin, over the crumb base, & smooth the top if necessary. Bake at 160C (320F) in a preheated oven for about 90 minutes (but keep an eye on it in case it cooks more quickly in your oven). It should be golden on the edges & coming away a little from the tin, & just set in the middle. Once you've taken it out of the oven, allow it to cool in the tin for at least 60 minutes before removing, then refrigerate once it has cooled. It is not as prone to cracking on the top as ricotta based cheesecakes, so you don't need to worry about cooling it down gradually in the oven.
Please note: if you're not making a lemon cheesecake, the lemon juice should be replaced with 1/4 cup of some other kind of liquid, such as extra non-dairy milk, or else the cheesecake won't be as moist.
Add 1 tablespoon cocoa powder to the crumb base mixture. Omit the lemon & drizzle 125g (4.5oz) melted chocolate into the cheesecake mixture whilst processing. Omit 1 tablespoon of the cornflour or the cheesecake will be too firm when chilled. Replace the lemon juice with 1/4 cup non-dairy milk, or maybe some coffee or liqueur.
Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake:
Omit the lemon, adding 1/4 cup non-dairy milk in place of the juice. Once processed, remove just over half the cheesecake mixture & drizzle 60g (2oz) melted dark chocolate into remaining mixture whilst running the processor. Dollop the plain & chocolate mixtures into the springform tin alternately, then swirl them with a knife to create a marbled effect.
White Chocolate & Passionfruit Cheesecake (highly recommended!):
Omit the lemon & drizzle 200g (7oz) melted vegan white chocolate into the cheesecake mixture whilst processing. Reduce the caster sugar to 1/2 cup, reduce the cornflour to 1 tablespoon, & increase the 1/4 cup non-dairy milk (that's replacing the lemon juice) to 1/3 cup. Decorate the chilled cheesecake with passionfruit pulp (canned is okay) thickened with agar or cornflour.
Use coconut milk as your non-dairy milk in the cheese mixture, replace the lemons with limes, add shredded coconut & toasted macadamia nuts to your crumb base, & decorate chilled cheesecake with passionfruit pulp or orange juice thickened with agar or cornflour poured over pineapple slices. Maybe serve with a mango coulis.
Scrape a vanilla pod into the cheese mixture whilst it's cooking, omit lemon from cheesecake mixture, replacing juice with 1/3 cup non-dairy milk. You might like to add toasted nuts to the crumb base, such as walnuts, hazelnuts or almonds, & decorate the chilled cheesecake with fresh berries.