Foodie Firsts: My First Vegan ‘Cheesecake’

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Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food.  Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie.  In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts.  Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you.  My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined.  Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you.  You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try!  Let’s be bold and eat good food!

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Welcome to the inaugural entry in my new weekly series.  I’m excited to continue to push my boundaries with food and cooking and share it all here.  I commit to sharing each adventure, whether it is successful or, well, disastrous.

It pleases me to no end, however, to say that this first post is one of success!  I decided to start off this column big.  I feel like I really went for it this week.

Homemade.  Vegan.  Cheesecake.

partial whole cake pic 2 - edited

I went into this little experiment totally prepared for it to fail.  Not expecting it to, but prepared for the possibility.  Let me give you some history.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Move Eat Create for introducing me to cheesecake to begin with.  I had never tried it until well into my twenties.  Blasphemy, I know!  Here I was, going through my life, thinking that cheesecake was absurd.  Why on earth would anyone make a cake out of cheese??  What was this horrid concept???  Were people mad????  Mr. Move Eat Create was, because he was a fan.  A big fan.  So he had some; I tried it, and my world was never the same again.

Now, you may think I’m being dramatic (and maybe I am), but it blew me away.  I had never tasted anything like it.  I wanted to devour it all the time.  I tried to restrain myself, but cheesecake was always a wonderful treat.  A rich, decadent reminder of how many things I had yet to taste in my life.

Whole with slice cut out - edited

These days, as you may know, I eat a mostly clean, healthy and plant-based diet, so cheesecake is a very rare item on my plate.  For a while, I’d been tossing around the idea of trying a vegan cheesecake.  I’ve seen several versions featuring vegan cream cheese (which I’m sure are delicious and I WILL try sometime), but, I was feeling sort of . . . ballsy.  I decided to go all out when I came across this recipe for a raw strawberry cream cake at The Veggie Nook.  A soft, creamy cake that mimics the experience of a cheesecake, but totally vegan?  I was in.  No questions asked.

So, as I stated, I was prepared for this to be a fail simply because I’ve never, ever eaten or made anything like it before.  Plus, the crust (which is yummy) is made solely out of almonds, dates, and salt.  The last time I tried to puree dates, I had a bit of a disastrous gooey mess that went quickly to the garbage can.   The recipe indicated a strong food processor would be needed and ours is a fairly small, simple model.  Would it do the job?  And, would my cheesecake-loving boyfriend enjoy this for what it was or would I be eating it all by my lonesome?

Single slice with coulis 5 - edited

I officially declare this foodie first a success!  While this is certainly not going to pass for a traditional cheesecake, it doesn’t need to.  It is delicious in its own right and it does provide a similar experience to feasting on cheesecake.  It’s soft, cool, and creamy.  It strikes a chord between sour/tart (from the lemon juice – a very important element) and sweet (strawberries, dates, vanilla and agave) and the strawberry coulis drizzled on top is fresh and bright.  The process of making this was a breeze, really.  I had to puree in batches (so as to not overwhelm my food processor), but the steps were straightforward and unfussy.  Plus, the possibilities with this are limitless.  Chocolate drizzled on top would be amazing.  I can imagine any berry subbing for the strawberries with success.  Vanilla bean mixed in would be rich and luscious.  Skip the berry layer altogether and do a caramel cream with chopped nuts on top.  Endless possibilities.

Notes & Final Thoughts:

The recipe can be found here:  Raw Strawberry Cream Cake  Whole with side of pan off - edited

Modifications:  The only thing I did differently was to use agave and additional vanilla extract instead of stevia.  I didn’t have any stevia on hand and decided to sub instead of purchasing some.  I doubled the vanilla extract and added agave in 1 tablespoon at a time, tasting as I went.  I found that about ¼ cup was the right amount for me.

Lessons Learned:  Simply because something doesn’t taste just like its inspiration, does not make it a lesser product.  Do I still think traditional cheesecake is delicious?  Of course I do.  But this option is so good and so satisfying that it is more than just a substitute.  Plus, the nutritional components mean a lot to me these days and knowing I can feel really good about the ingredients in this dessert is pretty fantastic.

Plus, I am constantly amazed by the humble cashew.  What can’t this little nut do?  Cashews = food chameleons.

Finally, making this taught me a bit about patience.  I don’t have much of it and when I cook, I like to keep things moving, see results, work on the next component.  The fact that my food processor is small made me have to work cautiously and in small batches.  I was forced to slow down instead of tossing everything in at once.  It actually was quite good for me to experience.  To have it pay off in the end was highly rewarding.